JetBlue Lets Family And Friends Earn Frequent Flier Points Together

If you’re one of those travelers who flies every now and then but not super often, you’ve probably all but given up hope of ever racking up enough frequent flier points for a free journey. Now jetBlue is giving less frequent travelers a better chance of earning a free flight by letting them pool their reward miles with family or friends.

The airline says its TrueBlue loyalty program will allow a designated group of travelers to accumulate points together. A family who is pooling its points can include a maximum of two adults aged 21 and over and up to five children. But friends who aren’t related can also decide to form a group for the sake of collecting miles. And you don’t have to share all your points either –- family or group members can choose to contribute a percentage of their miles to the group pool. Anyone who is part of the group can then use the points towards an award flight.JetBlue says the new point-sharing option now removes all the obstacles when it comes to redeeming an award flight. The carrier says it doesn’t have any blackout dates and loyalty points don’t expire, meaning families have better chance of accumulating enough miles to make that free trip a reality.

The Best Airlines For Redeeming Frequent Flier Miles

If your frequent flier miles are languishing unused in your account because you keep coming up against blackout dates whenever you try to use them, then perhaps it’s time to switch airlines, or maybe even rethink your booking tactics.

A survey by IdeaWorksCompany looked at 25 of the biggest frequent flier programs to figure out which carriers were best when it came to redeeming frequent flier points. The study checked each of the airline’s primary routes to see what level of availability there was for travelers looking to book a flight using their miles.The results? Coming out on top were Southwest Airlines, Air Berlin and GOL, which all showed reward seat availability 100 percent of the time.

Among the big players, United Airlines took out eighth place on the list with 80 percent availability. Other large airlines did worse, with American Airlines making reward seats available about 49 percent of the time, while travelers trying to redeem miles on Delta or US Airways would have been successful only 36 percent of the time.

So why did budget airlines fare so well in the study? According to the company behind the survey, low cost airlines focus on offering short- and medium-haul flights that operate multiple times a day – meaning there are simply more seats to go around. The same principle applies if you’re trying to book a short-haul flight on a major airline, with reward availability hovering around 85 percent for flights under 2,500 miles. It’s the long-haul intercontinental flights with lower seat density that drag the big carriers down the rankings.

Some experts also believe the reason budget airlines keep topping the survey is that fewer business travelers (who tend to dominate frequent flier program enrollment) use them – meaning that when it comes time to claim your reward miles, you don’t have to compete with as many people for your seat.

Frequent flyer applies to 13 credit cards in one day to earn points

There’s a whole pseudo-science on the web regarding the art of earning miles and points by means of credit card applications. Many in the mileage running and hoarding business use credit cards heavily to earn special bonus or signup-miles by applying at certain times or hitting minimum spend limits. With a decent credit score it’s a fairly easy game to play, though I’ll be the first to admit that the full ramifications of cyclically applying-for and canceling credit cards are still unknown. Still, that doesn’t stop many from churning out the applications.

Recently I came across the most outrageous example of this sort of activity from a blogger named Ben from The Man From 1000 Places, who actually applied to thirteen credit cards in one day in order to reap a total of more than 500,000 miles and points. Ten of those applications have currently been approved while another three are still pending. With a score in the high 700’s before the application, Ben expects his credit rating to take a brief hit but return to his normally high rate after 6 months.

With the 500,000 points, a wide variety of travel rewards and upgrades are available to the savvy hoarder. Round trip, business class tickets between North America and Europe, for example, cost 100,000 miles on American Airlines, and though the blogger wont be receiving all of the miles in one specific account he’ll be able to combine several of them.

In order to keep those points, he’ll will need to pay $233 in annual fees and then cancel most of the cards to prevent more annual fees. The only other trackable cost is his credit score. Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flyer community and author of the ViewFromTheWing blog suggests:

Applying for credit generates a consumer-initiated pull of your credit score, and every time you apply for credit it’s an indication you might NEED that credit, and may be a bigger risk.

In the long-run you might well improve your score by having more available credit that you aren’t utilizing, and over time as the accounts age by having more older accounts. But the short-run effect of several credit pulls and a younger average age of accounts will make a big dent in your score.

If you see your score drop below 750 you’ll begin receiving higher interests rates on major purchases like mortgages, and those costs will likely exceed any benefits you get from signups. So it’s important to stay away from plenty of new card signups leading up to a home purchase or refinance. Individuals with more borderline credit may experience problems with auto loans.

Taking the time to apply for and earn the cards thus might be a decent way to get some extra points, as long as the financial preparations are made and the credit cards are properly disposed of. Hopefully there’s no long term financial impact beyond the credit score.

[Flickr image via Andres Rueda]

Road test: Expedia’s Rewards Program

Expedia launched a reward program last month in a what might be an effort to recapture some of the market share that they’re slowly losing to the airlines and their respective websites. A spend-based program, users receive points in direct proportion to the amount of money that they spend on the site. Those points are earned in addition to any points earned from the airline, hotel or car rental that the user books and can be spent on either hotel or airline discounts.

Occasionally the site also offers points specials as well, incentivizing users to book particular hotels or packages for double or triple points. Currently, for example, users can earn double points by using their Mastercard for purchases.

Since the program is spend-based, the reward is directly based on the number of dollars that you spend on the travel, so the real value is based on which price points Expedia sets their rewards at. Currently, the travel agency offers discounts on either airline or hotel bookings, with direct airfare booked in the former case and a hotel coupon offered in the latter.

So how valuable are the points? Gadling Labs collected some baseline data for a few flights out of Chicago. Off the shelf, a ticket to Detroit from June 24-26 should cost about $200, while the Expedia Rewards Program bills 20,000 points. That’s $20,000 in booked travel in exchange for a $200 ticket — or a 1% return. Not so great compared to the 2-3% earned from a rewards credit card, but on top of another reward it’s not a bad deal.

Hotel rewards are earned on a sliding scale and come in the form of a coupon. For 3500 points ($3500 in direct spend) the user earns a $25 hotel reward card (or a 0.7% kickback) . On the opposite end of the spectrum, 50,000 points earn a $1,000 certificate (2%). It looks like high end hotel bookings might be the better reward — but that makes sense, since you’re going to be dumping a fatter stack of cash into the Expedia coffers — you should be rewarded.

But who is going to spend the requisite cash to get even the lowest level of rewards? $3500 is a lot to spend on travel, even over two or three years, and a family or casual traveler weighed down with everyday life and a dozen other rewards program is surely going to lose the Expedia Rewards Program in the noise.

It seems that the best fit for the program is for the high volume traveler or the travel agent. One who books tens of thousands of dollars on a corporate card and who can quietly reap the rewards on the side. For those people, making the quick change from the Amex booking engine to Expedia takes only a click, and over three or four months the rewards can really pay off. But for the rest of us common travelers, it’s probably best to stick with the direct bookings (and protections) of the direct airline websites.

White Collar Travel: Five embarrassing confessions of a business traveler

Business travelers love to look poised, in control and too important for mere words, but there’s a dark side to the lifestyle that can be downright comical. Sure, some of it will come across as sad, depressing or simply stupid. When you step back from it, though, it’s hard not to let out a chuckle. The trivial becomes incredibly serious, and almost every situation seems like an opportunity to pull off some grand scam that truly isn’t worth the effort.

I’ll confess: I was guilty of much (well, all) of what you’re about to read. I can take some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t alone, but that also means I spent a lot of years associated with some pretty strange people.

1. Hoarding soap
Might as well start off with the lowest of the low: I’d always swipe the soap. It’ not because I was broke – if I were, stealing soap wouldn’t have done much for me. How much does the average guy spend on soap? Ten bucks a month? I’ve never broken down the expense, but it can’t be more than a rounding error in the average household’s budget. In pocketing the soap, felt like I was somehow winning an undefined competition. One day I realized I had more soap under the sink than I’d ever use and called it quits. Well, it wasn’t a lifetime’s worth – I’d only scrounged enough for around two years.

2. Dashboard Chinese

Expense management was always a priority – and not just for the company. I quickly realized that you could scrounge a few extra bucks if you got creative with your meals. Generally speaking, you could count on at least one team dinner a week, which meant no cash but you got to eat better than a normal human being.

The other meals on the road? Skip breakfast in favor of in-room coffee (or nab something free if complimentary continental breakfast). Lunch was best in a subsidized employee cafeteria, or absent that you go on the cheap with pizza or a burger. So far, the day cost around $5, against $5 for breakfast and $10 for lunch (back then, at least). Dinner’s the tough one, and you only get $20. On one project, I found I could get a quart (yes, that’s how it was measured) of chicken and broccoli at a frightening-looking Chinese restaurant on some back road in Whippany, New Jersey … for $5.

Per diem: $35
Total cost: $10
Difference: $25
X5 days on the road: $125

It may seem demented at first, but that strategy turned into an extra $500 a month.

3. Road warrior
Why fly when you can drive? While the prevailing view of business travelers is that we’re addicted to points, the reality is that we all cave in the face of something far more attractive: cash. Mileage is better than miles, especially since it accumulates more quickly and offers faster gratification. Driving distances that should be flown was a great way to stuff your bank account, especially if you were about to leave the road to look for a new job.

4. Overpaying for points
Well, it’s not always true that we’ll take cash over points. Perhaps the greatest flaw in economics is that human beings are rational – especially human beings who spend 15 hours a week on planes and in airports. There are circumstances in which points trump cash, even though this is irrational behavior. Now, I’m not talking about actually buying points (at least not directly). But, when you have a choice between airlines, it’s often tempting to take the more expensive ticket on the airline on which you’ve been accumulating miles, even if you have to pay the difference personally. It’s rationalized as the present cost of a future upgrade.

5. Accepting a layover
Like overpaying for miles, this isn’t entirely rational (okay, it’s not even close). When the time you spend at home every week is measured in hours rather than days, you’d think nothing matters more than taking the shortest route possible from Point A to Point B. When you’re living on a precarious balance of caffeine, nicotine, liquor, adrenaline and greed, however, there’s little room for that sort of thinking. To keep your miles on one airline, you accept a layover rather than switch airlines to spend less time in the sky. Trust me: it makes sense at the time … even though you’ll never use them.