Monday, May 27, 2013

San Francisco to Uganda - Buying Miles

Under certain circumstances, buying miles can be an excellent deal. It can be especially useful if you are buying them to book international first or business class tickets. There are also occasions when the price of economy airfare is so unreasonably high, that it is cheaper to buy miles and book an award flight instead.

I have been helping to track airfare for a family member trying to fly from SFO to EBB (Entembbe, Uganda). By the time they were ready to book, economy tickets had risen to over $2300 and included at least 2 stops or an overnight layover.

While holding out for prices to drop, I began looking at possible alternatives. US Airways frequently runs a 100% bonus on purchased miles, which allows you to buy miles at ~1.8 Cents per mile. Their award chart also allows for a round trip ticket from the United States to Africa for only 70,000 miles in economy (110,000 in Business). Using I was able to search for award availability on star alliance partner airlines. After finding availability, you can call up US Airways and confirm the tickets are bookable. Purchased miles post instantly, so you can complete your purchase while still on the phone with the agent and make your booking all in one call.

During the current 100% purchased miles promo, 70,000 miles cost you $1317. After adding in some booking fees and taxes, the total cost of the tickets came out to $1463.87.  In our case, the flights did not line up exactly as we would have liked so we added a one way from JFK-SFO for $312, bringing the total trip cost to $1775.87. Even with this added expense, the trip is still $500 cheaper than buying a regular ticket. 

It is not the most straightforward process and your experience with a US Airways phone representative can be very hit or miss, but the booking is possible and potentially more flexible than a purchased ticket.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Choose Your Alliance!

"Airline Alliance" that is. This was one of the most important things I learned that really changed everything for me and it is what makes some of the most valuable kinds of award travel possible. 

What is an airline alliance?
Most airlines have formed partnerships with each other that allow you to both earn and redeem points on airlines within the same alliance. For the most part, each alliance has enough partners to cover just about every destination around the world. 

What does this mean for earning? 
It means that you can effectively choose just two or three programs to accumulate points in, instead of trying to keep track of programs for every airline you fly on. Instead of having 10 accounts with 5000 miles each in them, you could end up with 2 accounts with 25,000 miles each. This also means, you do not need to tie your self down to a single airline when you fly because you are worried about leaving points on the table. 

What does this mean for redeeming?
It opens up a world of possibilities. You can redeem United points to fly ANA to Japan, Delta Skymiles to fly Air France to Paris, American AAdvantage points to fly Qantas to Australia. If you have enough miles with any airline, there is almost always a way to get wherever you want to go. 

Who are the Alliances? 
Alliances change often, but here is a rundown of a major alliance. Check out who you might be able to fly on with your miles.
 (As of 2013)

Oneworld Alliance - Air Berlin, American Airlines, Britsh Airways, Cathay Pacific, FinnAir, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines.

Star Alliance - Adria Air, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EYGPTAIR, Ethiopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandanavian Airlines, Shenzen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAM, TAP, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways.

Skyteam Alliance - Aeroflot, Aerolineas Argent, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Air France, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Xiamen Air, and a few other smaller airlines.
Outliers - not all airlines play by the same rules. There are a number of airlines that have various partnerships with other airlines, but don't belong to an alliance. Alaska Airlines for example, partners with both American (Oneworld) and Delta (Skyteam), along with a handful of other airlines. Emirates and the Virgin group also have similar partnerships. Then you have Southwest/AirTran which is a whole different game. I will go more in depth on each alliance and group at a later date.

Takeaway: You have more options for earning and redeeming miles than you might think. Sign up for at least one frequent flyer program per alliance, and focus your actual traveled miles into as few programs as possible to avoid small balances in random programs. However, no points are too small to leave on the table, 500 points could be worth $20 to you someday, so don't hesitate to pick up free points from surveys, promotions, or shopping portals.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why do I play the miles game?

My friends usually role their eyes when I start talking about what they "could" be doing with airline miles. There he goes again... "Miles blah blah, points points, bonus something-or-other, FREE!" Dare I say "Credit Card" and the suspicious looks really pile up. 

People know my wife and I travel a lot, but they probably also think we spend a bunch of money doing it. Ok, travel and money inevitably go together and no trip is ever "Free," but we can certainly stretch our dollars. 

I would like to share some our successful travel redemptions to give you an example of how small and big the rewards can be in this game. 

1. Short Haul British Airways Award - SFO - SEA 7500 Miles + $30 One Way
When my mother was sick and about a 1000 miles away, I wanted to visit her as often as I could afford to. Last minute flights from San Francisco to Seattle can range between $200-$300. When I couldn't book in advance, I often relied on miles to make the trip possible. For just 7500 miles one way or 15000 round trip and a $30 booking fee, I was able to fly on Alaska Airlines direct flights on very short notice.

2. Cross Country American and United - SFO to MIA/FLL 25000 miles + $10
Cruises have become one of our absolute favorite ways to travel (more on that later), but most of cruises we enjoy depart from Florida. Ticket prices can vary widely, but we would expect to pay about $350 for a flight. Finding award tickets on the dates you want can be a pain sometimes, but luckily, United and American, both offer one way awards at half the price of a round trip. Add in the airline partner flights, and you have even more options. For special occasions, 25000 miles one way gets you into First Class, or American's International Business Class with angled lie flat beds.

3. North America to Europe in Business Class - SFO to CDG to LHR to SFO 100000 Delta Miles +$250
Our first real venture into premium, dare I say "Freemium" travel. Our Delta miles secured us business class on Air France to Paris, where we were allowed a stopover for several days before continuing on in Air France to our destination of London as well as our tickets in Delta Business Elite with fully lie flat seats (as close as Delta gets to First Class). The total cost of the flights would have been approximately $7000 each, but if we were to fly economy, it would have been about $1500 for all the flights. 

I'll have to save our latest and most caluable redemption for another post, and perhaps my first ever "Trip Repot" as we try out Internatioinal First class for the very first time.  

Do you know what your points and miles are worth?

Everyday I read dozens of stories from people who use their points and miles to fly all over the world, often in first or business class, staying in luxury hotels, and planning their next trips before they even finish the one their on.

Many of these individuals travel for business and rack up enourmous quantities of points, all courtesy of their employers, while others score giant sign up bonuses after applying for dozens of credit cards a year. It's likely that most of us don't fit into either of these categories, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to enjoy some of the same benefits that the "road warriors" and "travel hackers" are taking advantage of. 

While I love to share information about credit card sign up bonuses and promotions, I find that often the people I talk to are far more familiar with the concept of earning points than they are with redeeming them. Maybe they have 5,000 miles, maybe they have 500,000 miles (more often than not they don't even remember which airline/hotel they have points with). If you can't figure out how to use your travel miles, they really arent worth anything to you. I hope to change this for each and every person that I know. At the very (very!) minimum, you should be able to get at least 1 cent of value out of every mile or point you have. If you really work at it, they can be worth much more. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the potential value of the points and miles you already have, or want to figure out what programs might be best for you, leave me a comment, send me an email, or if you know me, just come say hi. I will happily donate some of my time to give you some ideas for using your points or help figure out how you can start earning even more.

Freemium Travel - Introduction!

What is Freemium Travel? Its the idea of experiencing "Premium" travel and destinations at as close to "Free"  as possible. How? Through a combination of points, miles, promotions, and sometimes just plain awesome deals. 

My goal is to take the vast knowledge of the travel/points blogging community, digest it, and turn it into something comprehensible for all my friends and family. I do not consider myself an expert, but I hope to gain more knowledge with each deal and posting. 

I will start with explaining a few potential deals that currently exist, recap on a few that we have taken advantage of in the past, and finally, what i'm really looking forward to, offering free consultations for anyone that has a stash of points and miles, and doesn't know what to do with them!

I look forward to sharing this information with everyone I meet, and meeting even more people along the way.