Save With Frequent Flier Miles Using The Right Tools, Attitude

Accumulating frequent flier miles seems to be the easy part of the deal. We fly. We get miles. They add up. However, when we look a bit closer we find there are rules, and that all miles are not equal. Once we get tens of thousands of miles on a given airline or alliance, however, the focus shifts to using them. And that’s when life as a frequent flier can get difficult.

A good first step is to decide if you even want to play the mileage game or not. Frequent travelers, for business or pleasure, may have an easier time of deciding while those who rarely fly anywhere might think there’s no real point to it. Experts disagree.

Some do say frequent flier mileage programs are a scam. Consumer expert Christopher Elliott recently advised, “Remove all the frequent flier cards from your pocket. Grab a pair of scissors, cut the plastic into tiny little pieces and toss it in the trash,” reports John DiScala on his JohnnyJet website.

“I couldn’t disagree more,” replies DiScala who travels over 150,000 miles a year on about 30 different airlines. “In fact, I say do the opposite. Travelers should sign up to as many reward programs as possible because it’s basically free money if you play the game right.”Following that advice, or just falling into having loyalty accounts on a number of airlines, passengers find that figuring out which program to use for any given flight can be a chore. A new tool can help.
is a cross program comparison and calculation tool that can calculate redemption between any two destinations for over 70 different programs.

In reply to our story questioning “How Frequent Fliers Might Be Affected By Airline Merger,” Philipp Gysling of writes, “for people wondering how the value of their miles may change post-merger, they can compare them now to see if they should try to cash some in.”

Entering any two destinations along with a choice of frequent flier programs produces quick results starting with the lowest rate for award flights found in the selected system. You can also transfer rates and calculate the number of points needed to convert and transfer from a hotel or credit card program.

An info button brings some extra information about the program in question and a click on “Login” links directly to the frequent flier program’s login page. Not a member? No problem, clicking “Apply” links to the frequent flier program’s application page.

“Check Rates” links to the frequent flier programs own calculator or rates tables.

Better yet, if the frequent flier program being viewed is distance based and a connection is necessary, the calculator will finds the best connection, then calculates the flight distance through that connection.

Need additional incentive to invest a little time in knowing about frequent flier programs?

“I’ve taken hundreds of flights all around the world thanks to using my frequent flier miles,” says DiScala, “including treating my parents first class to Europe on multiple occasions.”

[Photo credit – Flickr user Slices of Light]

Looking For Holiday Airfare? Better Hurry

When to buy holiday airfare is often the most difficult part of the process. Deciding where to go, when we want to fly there and who we might travel with is easy. Knowing when to pull the trigger on buying airfare seems to require a crystal ball. Since most of us don’t have mystic forecasting abilities, we look to what or who we believe are qualified sources for guidance. Experts seem to agree, the best time to buy is sooner than later.

“You don’t have a moment to lose,” said Rick Searcy, CEO of FareCompare in an ABC News report, cautioning travelers, “Holiday flights are going to be expensive.” Searcy believes that prices will be up to 70 percent higher than normal pricing, depending on routes, and those looking for direct flights can expect up to a 20 percent premium price.

So when to buy?

Those who have not bought flights for Thanksgiving travel are already too late for the best pricing. Looking at Christmas travel, Searcy suggests buying before November 10 for the best pricing and consider traveling during off peak times.Other ways to save on airfare?

Try a travel agent- Expect to pay a fee of $20 to $50 per person on top of the airfare but that fee can quickly become a great investment if a travel agent finds great flights at a lower price in less time than we might invest on our own surfing websites.

To get the best results with a travel agent, have very specific but flexible travel plans. Establish what agents call a “travel window,” basically a period of time within which you are able to fly. Note the time you need on the ground for holiday plans and throw in any hotel, car rental or other needs at the destination.

Also, send along past guest/frequent flyer numbers and available points to that agent to have on file and take advantage of if possible.

Pay attention to airline promotions- I got one today via email from American Airlines doubling miles every time I fly on American Airlines, American Eagle or the American Connection carrier from November 16, 2012, through November 26, 2012. Those miles might mean a lot to me and swing my vote toward American if two options come up roughly equal.

Regardless of what airline we fly, what airport we use or when we go, it’s clear that this year prices will be up and availability down as airlines trim fleets to fly full planes.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user matt.hintsa]