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Showing posts from November, 2013

some frequent-flier basics (part five: what are your miles worth?)

In the greater frequent flier community there's much debate about what a mile is worth but generally speaking they're worth something around 2¢ depending on which airline they're from. 

When you're pricing out a potential flight you can quickly tell how much your redemption is worth by dividing the number of dollars it would cost to buy the ticket by the miles needed(this is another great reason to look for the flight on Kayak.com before starting an award search). 
Let's say your flight was pricing out at $400 and you look on United.com and find a Saver redemption for 12,500 miles each way (for a total of 25,000). Now just do the math:
$400 ÷ 25,000 = $0.016

So 1.6¢ per mile is a decent redemption rate because you're generally in the ballpark of 2¢. Many frequent fliers aim for 6¢ per mile or more, but the only way you'll ever see a redemption rate that high is if you're booking international business or first class. Domestic economy it's quite difficul…

some frequent-flier basics (part four: searching for redemption)

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So now that you know route and the current going rate if you pay for the flight, it's time to log in to the airline's website and start looking at availability and mileage costs. Make sure you have all of the necessary personal information handy: all travelers' full names, dates of birth, frequent flier number, passport number and expiration date (for international flights) so if you find a great deal you can grab it before someone else does.

In this example, I'll show United.com. Log in with your user name and password, since many of the fees and seat choices will change if you're a member of their program. Select your dates and destinations, make sure to click the Award Travel button, then click Search




Flight availability and pricing is shown for all 3 classes of service – Economy, Business, and First (most domestic flights only have 2 classes whereas international flights tend to have all 3 classes). Direct flights are shown first (both United and Partner flights…

some frequent-flier basics (part three: award charts)

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So in the previous step you found the price to purchase the ticket you want, now it's time to see if you can find a mileage reward seat.

Most airlines publish award charts with fixed redemption rates between regions (e.g., 50,000 miles for flights between North America and Europe). Additionally, most have a concept of a "Saver" reward and a "Standard" reward. Like finding low fares, finding Saver rewards often requires planning a trip pretty far in advance, flying at the very last minute, or flying at an unpopular time of day, but the reward is that you can get the flight for a lot fewer miles — often half of the Standard award. (Some have "high", "medium", and "low" but the concept is the same).


A few airlines (Virgin America, JetBlue) do away with the whole award chart and simply use a flat rate to convert your miles to cash (usually at a rate around 1.5¢ – 2¢ each) and you then pay the current price for the flight you want. So if…

some frequent-flier basics (part two: preparing to redeem)

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So you've flown a few times, banked a few miles and you're ready to redeem your miles. Here's how I usually start the process:

First, visit the English-language version of the Wikipedia page for your home airport (keep in mind many larger cities have two airports) and scroll down to the Destinations section. There you can quickly see every single route that's available and which airline it's on. This can save you time hunting for a direct flight that doesn't exist! 


Visit Kayak.com and price out the ticket. Kayak has a ton of very powerful options to help you find exactly the ticket you want at the price you want. Check the Nearby Airports option if you're willing to travel to another nearby airport for more options. (I also uncheck the Priceline and comparative search options since they just open up a ton of windows that I don't need to look at.)
One of the big reasons I go to Kayak.com first is to make sure I'm not passing up a great deal on a…

some frequent-flier basics (part one)

A good friend was considering getting into the points game so I spent some time writing down a few of the basics. I realized how much I'd learned over the past couple of years and how many of my own misconceptions were shared by many, many others out there on various frequent flyer forums so I'm starting at square one here:
Most Airlines have some kind of loyalty program where you're awarded miles (sometimes called "points") based on how far you fly how much your flight costs. (UPDATE: In 2015 most of the US carriers switched their plans around so you earn points based on ticket cost instead of distance). Some airlines give you bonus miles if you buy an expensive ticket (like business class), others give fewer miles (e.g., 50% of the distance flown) if you buy a steeply discounted ticket. Some also award bonus points if you have Elite Status with them. You can also earn miles when you fly with a partner airline (e.g., you can earn United miles when you fly with L…