Point Me to the Miles

Navigating the Path to Great Travel

Archive for the category “Advice”

Burn Your Miles Wisely

Let’s say that you have lots of miles in your account.  Oodles.  Maybe it’s because you know about earning miles by using variety of other tricks, or maybe you are just smart about credit card churning like Daraius of Million Mile Secrets.  Or perhaps you are one those fortunate enough to have flown a lot.  So how do you make sure that your hard-earned miles are put to good use?

I raise this question because I came across it recently, while thinking about two polar opposite cases.

A friend of mine, who tends to be somewhat modest, mentioned to me that they have over 100,000 American Airlines Miles.  On the other side of the spectrum is an individual I know who recently spent 150,000 Delta SkyMiles on an award ticket—for domestic First Class.  Ugghhh….

So how do you balance the two extremes?  You make your miles work for you.

In the first case, Person #1 should realize that miles are not appreciating in value.  In fact, considering the recent devaluations in a number of frequent flyer programs, miles are only going to depreciate in value over time.   As time moves on, more and more people are playing the mileage game, and thus it is getting less and less cost-effective for the airlines.  Part of why I am such a miles junkie is the idea of experiencing travel in an aspirational manner, which I could otherwise not afford.  So my advice to them is to splurge on an off-peak business class award across the pond and go on a nice vacation—do something nice with your miles while you still can!

In the other case, Person #2 needs to understand the value of their miles.  You can get a lot further in with SkyMiles than the other side of the country.  Play your cards right, and you can

The most conservative of estimates for the value of SkyMiles, is at about 2 cents per mile.  So, 150,000 SkyMiles equates to about $3,000.  Thus, Person #2 just splurged $3,000 for a couple of hours in flight.  The sad thing is they are a Gold Medallion, and could receive the same benefits for a small fraction of the monetized cost that the use of their miles cost them.

Even if they were to purchase an upgradeable fare for say, $600, and buy the 25,000 miles to upgrade at $0.035 per mile (despite the Delta often running bonuses for purchased miles, including the 75% bonus) you would still only pay $1500, or half the equivalent that my friend spent.

This brings me back to my point.  In either case, it is important to make your miles work for you, and operate with a goal in mind.  Now it may be different things to different people—it just depends on you and your situation.

For my conservative friend in the first they might keep a chunk of miles for emergency situations.  But still have some to splurge a little on a dream vacation.  In addition, part of making the miles work for you may be using them to make a cross-country trip that may be out of your budget.

And in the second case, a little modesty might go a long way.  One should value their miles, and realize it is somewhat easy to squeeze a lot more worth out of their miles.  Can you always find award availability?  No, but generally it does not take much effort to find reasonable awards.  And who doesn’t enjoy riding comfy at the front of the plane, but is it always necessary?  Sitting in coach a few legs won’t kill you.

So in all modesty, understand the value of where your miles can take you!

Finding Cheap Flights with ITA Software Matrix

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, FareCompare is a useful tool when mileage running on cheap flights. But for simply finding a cheap flight from A to B, FareCompare is generally not the way to go.

I had a friend this past week ask me for some advice on finding cheap airfare, so I thought I would briefly touch on that topic.  One tool that is trusted across the board, by mileage experts and travel agents alike is ITA Matrix Software.

ITA Matrix Homepage

So let’s say hypothetically I want to go from Seattle to Miami in a few weeks.  I pick a Saturday, as this in general is a good day to find cheap flights, and pick February 11th.

And if I wanted to say, come back at the following Friday, I would enter in “6” to the length of stay field in order to return on the 17th.

Once you hit search, a calendar showing trips matching the length of your stay will come up, organized by date of departure.  I stick with my decision to leave on the 11th, as that has one of the lowest fares:

So select your days of departure, then hit “Show Flights”:

Seattle to Miami Flight Results

And I may stick with the $373 over the $371 (American) if I happen to be mileage running or focusing on retaining my elite status with a particular airline.

From here I would go directly to the airlines website or book with Expedia.  In this case I ended up searching American’s website:

American Airlines Outbound Results

American Airlines Return Results

Remember American pricing comes up one-way, not roundtrip.

American Airlines Return Results

Remember, ITA said the flights were $373 and the total comes out $417.20, which suggests ITA leaves out the tax.  This isn’t a great bargain, but it’s not bad for a cross-country trip either.

The Points Guy posted a while back on using ITA to look for mileage runs, which is also an excellent use of this tool.  I also searched the same route he posted about, JFK-SFO and found a roundtrip price of $232, before taxes.  In comparison, the fare The Points Guy found was $330.

New York (JFK) to San Francisco Search

Earn Miles for Dining Out

As I mentioned last week, credit card churning is the most common method for accruing miles, but it may not work for everyone depending on the situation of their credit score and uneasiness about credit cards.  A more “soft-core” approach is to earn miles for dining out through Rewards Network.

You will need to first register an account with Rewards Network, which manages the dining for miles programs for all of the major U.S. carriers.

During registration, you provide the card number (Debit/Pre-Paid cards work fine) for each card that you register, and Rewards Network securely saves this information to track each dine.

They make it seem as though you can only sign up for one program, but in reality it’s one program per unique card that you register.  Although, there have been instances of receiving credit from multiple programs for a single dine! 🙂

Below are the sign-up links for Rewards Dining with American, Delta, United, and US Airways. Incidentally, Continental used to offer a dining program, but shut it down a fear years back.  Eehh, oh well–you can still freely transfer miles between United and Continental if you need to.

The links will direct you to the sign-up pages for a specific dining program with each airline. In addition, each of these programs currently has a new member sign-up bonus for registering then spending $25 or more at participating restaurants by December 31, 2012.  Currently, Delta has the largest mileage bonus at 1,200 miles, while the other programs are only offering 1,000 miles.

American AAdvantage Dining:

Delta SkyMiles Dining:

United MileagPlus Dining:

US Airways Dividend Miles Dining:

Note: Only a select number of restaurants participate.  To find which restaurants participate,  use the search toolbar at the top of each Rewards Network dining page.

Is It Worth Asking For More?

A few weeks back, I wrote about how usually it never hurts to ask for points, especially if you leverage your business and loyalty.

Fresh off of receiving 50,000 Club Carlson Gold Points for the Radisson Big Night Giveaway promotion, I checked and noticed that the promotion was still live(ie 50,000 had not yet registered).  So I set up a new Club Carlson account with a completely different address, signed up for the promotion, (again) and booked a 1-night stay at the Radisson Hotel Dallas East.

I suppose this is where I should point out another lesson: sometimes you can get too greedy.  Instead of booking another pre-paid rate as I had done before, I booked a double points rate, hoping to reap greater points earnings.

My “stay” came and went, yet I noticed no activity in my account.  I got hopeful a few days later when I noticed a charge to my credit card, but I saw no sign of any points posting.

So 10 days after my phantom hotel stay, I called up Radisson to request my missing points.  The customer service rep at least seemed very courteous and helpful.  I provided her the confirmation number, and informed her  that the stay was for the Radisson Big Night Giveaway promotion, even though I did not physically check in.

She kindly informed me that she would need to look into the situation with corporate, but they would get back to me within 48 hours.

A day later, I logged into my Club Carlson account and was slightly dumbfounded.  I was not sure whether to be ecstatic  or upset about their “points adjustment”:

On one hand, I paid a full rate, so I should get the full benefit (50,000 Gold Points) of the promotion, based on my “stay.”  On the other hand, I think maybe I should be satisfied.  I realize I have gamed this promotion further than was originally intended, and still gained (again) for doing so.  As the saying goes I got something, which is always better than a kick in the groin.

While points junkies sometimes get a bad rap for really pushing the envelope *cough cough Mr. Pickles and your US mint coins cough.*  There are a fair number of us–I like to think myself included, who are careful not to take things too far so we don’t completely abuse the system for others.

So, should I call them up again and ask for the full amount of points offered in the promotion, or would I just be pushing my luck?

Mileage Running with FareCompare

It’s the beginning of the year once again and that means one-thing for the miles and status obsessed–time to start mileage running.

Mileage running is defined as the act flying solely for the purpose of obtaining airline status and/or mileage, or maximizing a routing as to accrue to the most miles.

As I mentioned in my year in review post, one of my big travel hauls for 2011 was obtaining Delta Gold Medallion status despite flying just under 25,000 “butt-in-seat” miles.  Between priority check-in, waived baggage fees, expedient call service support, and the occasional upgrade I really have enjoyed my Medallion status so far.  When I decided last year to make Medallion, I never realized how de-valued Silver Medallion would become.

All that said, I am willing to do whatever it takes to maintain Gold Medallion status or higher, including mileage run.  In principal the idea seems very simple, but the difficulty can be finding cheap fares.

One handy tool is FareCompare, specifically the Where-to-Go Getaway Map.  You enter the airport code for an airport that you wish to fly out of, and Fare Compare gets to work showing you the cheapest cities to fly to.

You can even filter and sort the results by price range, airline, cost, and even cents per mile, making FareCompare a great tool to use to maximize your miles and status.

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