The travel industry has been flooded with products and resources that can dramatically improve your travel experience. I average one round trip flight a month and my husband takes as many as six, so we put a lot of time and effort into researching the industry’s next big thing. I’m starting a new series to chronicle all our finds and the first week will focus on booking using miles. Read on and feel all* your travel frustrations slowly evaporating.
The biggest gripe about airline loyalty programs is that it’s hard to use your miles once you secure them. This is definitely true in many instances, but if you know some of the shortcuts it becomes much easier. First, you should know the ideal booking time for your airline of choice. Most airlines open their schedules 330 days to one year out. At this time some, but usually not all, reward seats become available. Airlines don’t want to give away too many tickets that they could end up selling, so most release a few here and there after the initial release depending on availability. You can read more about the best time to book (generally 6 to 9 months out) in this article from Boarding Area (a great resource for travel tips).
The second thing you should be concerned with are the number of miles needed and the taxes and fees that are levied when you book a trip, which vary dramatically by airline and destination. Not all miles are created equal and you want to make sure you take steps to maximize their value. If you are a frequent traveler it helps to have miles on more than one airline to maximize the number of destinations you can reach and minimize the fees and taxes you have to pay. Ideally, the airlines should be part of the same alliance, such as OneWorld, for upgrade purposes. Here is an example of the differences you could see by airline and route: British Airlines (and Iberia which is owned by the same company and shares the same type of miles, Avios) ironically offers the best value per mile for US domestic travel that we have found. I’m flying direct to New York City from Chicago this month at good times for only 7,000 miles each way and $2.50 in taxes and fees. Other airlines may require three times the miles and ten times the fees. Conversely, it makes no sense at all to use British Airlines miles to fly from the US to London because there are taxes on this reward flight itinerary that go as high as $800. Counterintuitive? Definitely! But who has the time to do all this research? The answer is you don’t have to. There are now aggregator sites that tell you what the best reward, point, dollar combo is for your ideal itinerary. Two top resources are MileWise.com and MileValue.com.
So you say that this all sounds great, but you don’t fly frequently enough to earn enough miles to actually book a reward flight? This is a topic of a future article, but I can tell you that you can earn a million miles in a year without even flying due to the all the promotional mileage programs airlines run with their partners. Stay tuned!
*I have no control over the toddler kicking your seat, the chatty person sitting next to you or the unhelpful gate agent.
I took the above photo through the plane window on a flight to LA earlier this year.