Two members of the Executive Travel team and I just returned home from a 2 day seminar in Las Vegas hosted by Frequent Traveler University. The seminar was focusing on all of the ways you can earn and use your airline miles and credit card points. There are trillions of miles and points people earn every year and some argue they are the new world currency. The problem most people have with their miles and points is they get frustrated not being able to use them or get the most bang for their buck. This seminar had all the experts from around the U.S. show us the best and easiest ways to use miles and points.
Here are my TOP 10 TIPS for using frequent flyer miles and credit card points –
# 1 – American and United have the best frequent flyer programs –
Of the big three domestic airlines AA and UA have web sites that are pretty easy to use and find freebie space. They appear to have a lot more “saver award” space that allows for redemption for a reasonable amount of frequent flyer (FF) miles for both domestic and international free tickets, than does Delta. DL freebie space is easy to find but often requires twice as many miles as other airlines. Perhaps their planes are so full they don’t have enough empty seats to redeem for freebies.
# 2 – Book your free tickets very early or very late –
A lot of airlines open up frequent flyer seat inventory very early (11 months in advance) or very late (7 to 10 days prior to departure).
# 3 – Don’t use miles for upgrades but for free premium class tickets –
It is a much better deal to use your miles for free tickets and not for upgrades. Most airlines today charge a very high number of miles plus cash to upgrade a seat domestically and internationally. You are much better off simply using all miles for a freebie premium seat ticket than messing with buying a ticket and then using miles and cash to upgrade and in some cases not being able to confirm your upgrade until the day before travel.
# 4 – Use your miles for international business and first class –
This is how you get the biggest bang for your buck. It is pretty easy math. Saver award space (low season) takes about 25,000 miles for a domestic round trip ticket ($400 value or 1.6 cents per mile). International economy class to Europe is 60,000 miles ($1200 value or 2 cents per mile). International business class is 90,000 miles ($4500 value or 5 cents per mile) and international first class is about 140,000 miles ($9000 value or 6.4 cents per mile). You can easily see the value in your miles is using them for international business and first class seats.
# 5 – Airline partners often have easier and cheaper freebie tickets than the major U.S. Airlines –
United, American, and Delta all belong to airline alliances that allow you to redeem airline miles on multiple airlines. There are 28 airlines in the Star Alliance with United Airlines. It is often much easier and a lot cheaper to find a premium (business or first class) freebie seat on a United partner airline like Lufthansa, ANA, Korean Air, and Asiana than on United Airlines. You are still using UA miles, just flying on a partner airline.
# 6 – Beware of airline fuel surcharges on free tickets –
Three cheers for AA, DL and UA as they don’t charge fuel surcharges on freebie tickets. International airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways can charge $1000 or more in fuel surcharge fees on free tickets.
# 7 – The best credit card with the easiest to use points is the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (SPG) –
This is my favorite as you can redeem for hotel rooms night as low as 2400 points a night (5 cents a point) at Starwood hotels like Westin, Sheraton and Four Points. You can also use your SPG points and transfer them into airline miles. Here is the best part. For every 20,000 points converted to airline miles you get an extra 5000 miles. So 20,000 points = 25,000 airline miles.
# 8 – I put the majority of my credit card miles into Air Canada’s Aeroplan –
Air Canada is a member with United Airlines in the star alliance so I can use my Aeroplan miles to redeem for UA tickets. Sometimes I can find UA tickets cheaper on the Aeroplan site than on the UA web site. This makes no sense but it happens a lot. I also seem to be able to redeem miles for premium seats on foreign airlines much easier and cheaper on Aeroplan than at United.com
# 9 – Secure your airline tickets first when planning a vacation using FF miles –
The more flexible you are the easier it becomes to find freebie seats using your FF miles. Always start your vacation planning by securing your freebie airline tickets. It is much easier building your hotel stays around your freebie tickets than the other way around.
# 10 – Complimentary upgrades are fast going the way of the dinosaur –
Airlines are dramatically lowering the price of first and business class seats in certain markets to try to get people to buy the seats rather than have all the premium seats filled with non-revenue complimentary upgrade customers. The airlines have figured out in the past that they might sell 4 out of 20 seats in first or business class and the rest were given as complimentary upgrades to their best customers. Now they are trying to lower the price of premium service so that people actually pay for the premium service.
Need information on any of the above? Call our friendly travel advisors…Lincoln – 402-435-8888 Toll-free 800-737-0582