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The following section about Frequent Flyer Programs is from my book Winning the Airfare Game. It was written over 12 years ago. How much of this information is still valid today?–I wonder…
Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Winning the Airfare Game by Charles McCool, © 2001, Hawk Ridge Press
Frequent flyer programs were created to encourage passengers to continue flying on the same airline. It is worth joining several frequent flyer programs—they are free to join—just to receive their member newsletter. Frequent flyers may be eligible for lower airfares that are not available to the general public. They may also receive coupons and special offers by mail and in the newsletters.
Frequent flyer programs are similar to restaurant or retail store programs where consumers buy a certain number of products and get one for free. Five cross‑country round-trip flights, roughly, earn enough points for one free domestic U.S. flight—25,000 points are needed in most programs. Some programs offer multiple awards at a discount, such as two domestic tickets for 40,000 rather than 50,000 points.
Airlines are not consistent with the amount of points needed for awards to similar destinations. For instance, one airline may require more points than other airlines for an award flight to Asia but less for an award flight to Hawaii. Another airline might offer First Class awards to Europe for much less than other airlines. For award flights to Brazil, one airline might “charge” 50,000 points, while another uses a partner airline and charges 85,000 points.
Once you are familiar with several programs, select a target destination and award. Your preferred airline should be convenient to use, fly to destinations that you intend to go, and have the best award structure. Book your award flight with that airline when you have enough points.
Here are requirements for First Class award flights to Asia:
Airline One Ticket Two Tickets
American 120,000 240,000
Delta 120,000 240,000
Northwest 80,000 160,000
United 120,000 180,000
A First Class award ticket to Asia requires 33 percent fewer points on Northwest. For two First Class tickets to Asia, United would be a better choice than Northwest, depending on convenience, quality, reliability, and point accumulation opportunities. For example, if your primary airport is O’Hare (Chicago), Dulles (Washington, DC), or San Francisco, then most of your flights will be on United rather than Northwest.
Consolidating flights on one airline enables you to accumulate points faster and get more rewards. Members that fly most are called very frequent flyers (VFF) or elite members. Not only do they accumulate points more quickly by flying more, but they also receive bonus points for being VFFs. For instance, a 100 to 150 percent bonus may be awarded to members flying over 100,000 miles in a year.
Frequent flyer points can be earned from several sources besides airline flights. Additional points can be earned by staying at hotels and using rental car companies that partner with the airline’s frequent flyer program. You can also earn 10 points for every dollar spent at participating restaurants. Buying certain products, using the airline’s credit card, or making telephone calls with the partner long distance service can earn more points.
For any offer, be aware of the requirements to earn points. Make sure that a product’s price is not inflated more than the value of the bonus points. It is not a good deal to pay too much for a product simply to get more points. Frequent flyer points are worth 2 cents; 500 points are worth $10 and 1,000 points are worth $20. Product prices are often inflated for frequent flyer point offers. If 1,000 points are awarded with a $100 purchase, determine whether the product, like flowers, would cost less than $80 ($100 cost of flowers minus $20 value of points) elsewhere. Paying $100 for a $40 product in order to get $20 worth of frequent flyer points is not smart.
McCool Rule: Value of Frequent Flyer Points
Each frequent flyer point is typically worth 2 cents; 500 points are worth $10 and 1,000 points are worth $20. A 25,000 point award is worth $500.
Then again, paying an inflated price to get points could be a good strategy when only a few points are needed to reach an award level. Most of the time, it is less expensive than paying for an unnecessary flight. Some programs, including Continental’s OnePass and United’s Mileage Plus, allow members to buy points. OnePass members can buy up to 20% of the needed points in 1,000 point blocks for $25 each block. If you need 3,000 points for a 100,000 award, you can buy the points for $75.
To maximize the value of frequent flyer awards, redeem them for flights that would cost more than the award value. Basic awards for domestic flights are worth $500 (25,000 points at 2 cents per point). Using a domestic award for a flight that costs $199 is not a good value. Emergency, last minute, and business flights are usually expensive and ideal situations for redeeming frequent flyer awards.
Most airlines charge a fee for booking award flights with less than three weeks notice. Avoid paying the fee, and potential disappointment, by booking award flights more than three weeks before flying. Award flights can be booked up to 360 days in advance and free flights to popular destinations are booked very early. If needed, reserve award flights as far in advance as possible, then change the dates and times closer to the start of the trip. There is no fee for changing the dates and times of an award flight; completely changing the itinerary incurs only a $75 fee.
Discounted awards may be available for off-season flights or other promotions. A program may offer award flights to Europe for 40,000 points between January 15th and March 15th and 50,000 points for the rest of the year. Award flights may also be discounted when a new partner airline is introduced. Shorter award flights of 500 miles or less “cost” only 15,000 points on many airlines.
People flying once or twice a year should follow the principles in this book to get lower airfares, rather than trying to accumulate enough frequent flyer points for free flights. Frequent flyer programs are beneficial but it is not worth paying more for flights on a specific airline simply to earn frequent flyer points.
McCool Rule: Frequent Flyer Programs
1. Join Several Programs (they’re FREE!)
2. Analyze Award Levels and Select a Preferred Program
3. Consolidate Points
4. Redeem Points for Emergency and Last-Minute Flights
5. Take Advantage of Non-Flight Point Accruals
What has changed about frequent flyer programs? Do you use frequent flyer programs?
Previous McCool Travel post ====> Effective Trip Planning: Declutter Your Mind
To read previous posts in the Road Trip Diet series click here.
© 2012, Charles McCool
A couple of weeks ago I paid only $82.50 for a $914 flight.
Are you curious to learn how I saved over 90%?
Just to let you know, I did nothing tricky or against any rules. I really did pay only $82.50 for a flight that was listed for $914. The trip was within the continental USA but the itinerary was not a standard round-trip. That routing, plus purchasing the flight only two days before flying led to the extremely high price.
Basically, I wanted to book a last-minute six-day trip and selected Santa Barbara, California as my starting point. Initially I planned to return home from Eureka/Arcata but I changed my itinerary because of the weather forecast. Instead, I returned home from Phoenix, Arizona.
My flight itinerary was actually Dulles to Santa Barbara (via San Francisco) and Phoenix to Dulles.
Yes, that flight would cost $914 when booked only two days prior to flying. Insane!
OK, so that is some background.
Now, how did I pay only $82.50?
Short answer ======> I used frequent flyer points
Detailed answer follows…
Believe me when I say that I do not travel as much as I would like to. I did have enough points (25,000) in my frequent flyer account to redeem to a flight within the continental US. However, I am guessing that less than 10% of those points were from actual flights. I earned points from a variety of sources and you can too!
I earned points from buying things on the internet (electronics, gift cards, music, and more), dining at restaurants (10 points per dollar), and other offers (completing surveys, accepting targeted emails). Plenty of online sources detail how to earn hundreds of thousands of points, including by signing up for credit cards.
Indeed, there are many ways to earn frequent flyer points without flying. Here is a current post outlining how to get 30 points per dollar spent of flowers for Valentine’s Day. You can even buy points but look for bonus offers.
Now you know that you can easily earn frequent flyer points. It might take some time and work but you can do it!
After earning a pool of frequent flyer points, you can also redeem for high ticket flights, like I did. In fact, last-minute flights, expensive open jaw flights, and first class upgrades are some of the best redemption values for frequent flyer awards.
Why did I pay $82.50?
A $7.50 fee had be paid for airport fees ($2.50 per airport used). If I would have booked this itinerary a year in advance, I would still be required to pay the $7.50. That fee depends on the itinerary. If I had returned from Eureka, then I would have paid $10.
I had to pay a $75 fee for booking within 21 days of the flight.
My multi-city itinerary was super easy to book on the airline’s website.
What is the best frequent flyer award deal you have found?
You can contact me directly by email (CharlesMcCool -at- gmail -dot- com).
© 2012, Charles McCool
Once upon a time, frequent flyer points did not expire and infrequent travelers (most of us) could slowly accumulate points for a desired reward. Now, airline’s frequent flyer programs wipe out entire account balances with no warning.
As part of McCool Travel’s year-end series, I want to help you to ensure that your frequent flyer accounts remain active. Other recent McCool Travel posts include 2011 Resolutions, 2010 summary, travel memberships, and travel contests.
2 quick steps to make sure a frequent flyer account remains active:
- check your frequent flyer account balance
- post activity
For your inconvenience, airlines have different rules about frequent flyer account expiration. One may require any activity within 12, 18, or 36 months, while another may require a flight. Here are two articles with summary information: InsideFlyer and ezine. Note, of course, that the information may not be current (they list different expiration periods for American Airlines, for instance). I suggest that you login to each frequent flyer account, via the airline’s website. The account information will list when the miles expire (as does United) or date of last activity (American). Here is a comprehensive list of airlines with links to their websites.
Posting activity to a frequent flyer account means earning or spending points. For some airlines, you may be able to earn points by changing your account preferences or signing up for a newsletter. Earning points does not necessarily mean taking a flight. You can earn points by shopping, dining, donating (or receiving a gift of miles), or taking surveys. I have been able to reset the expiration status on frequent flyer accounts by purchasing something as inexpensive as a single iTunes song ($1).
Even if your account is inactive and your balance has been eliminated, you may be able to restore your points. Some programs will return your points to your account if you sign up for their credit card or pay a reactivation fee. This might make sense if you have at least 25,000 points (enough for a free domestic flight). Avoid this situation by posting some activity every year.
Have you had expired miles restored? Any other tips for keeping accounts active?
Happy travels, whether frequent or infrequent.
© 2010, Charles McCool