The Best Airlines For Redeeming Frequent Flier Miles

gTarded, Flickr

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.

Fees Waived, Heightened Security At Boston Airport After Bombings

The world was shocked and saddened to hear about the Boston Marathon bombings yesterday, but what does it mean for people flying in and out of Boston’s Logan International Airport? Two things: flexible rebooking schedules and increased screenings.

USA Today is reporting
several carriers have instituted flexible rebooking policies for those scheduled to pass through Boston. American, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, United and US Airways have all instituted exceptions, most of which cover customers flying through Boston between Monday, April 15 and Wednesday, April 17. Although exact rules vary by airline, the waivers generally allow fliers to make a change to their itinerary without paying the customary fees or resulting fare differences.

Thomas Glynn, CEO of the Massport agency that operates the airport, told the news outlet there is also heightened security on surrounding roadways, on the airfield and in terminals – which means travelers should plan for longer security lines at the airport. According to ABC News, FlightAwaredelays reported 30 to 45 minute delays on Boston departures Tuesday morning.

[Photo credit: Joseph Williams / Wikimedia Commons]

Everything You Need To Know About Flying With An Infant Turning 2


flying with infant turning two

After flying with an infant to over a dozen countries and on nearly 50 flights in her 20 months, I figured I pretty much have baby travel down to a science, as much as you can call it “science” when dealing with a person who is often unpredictable and doesn’t respond to reason. While each flight gets more challenging, I’m relishing this travel time before she has opinions on where to go and what to do, and while our baggage allowance has grown, our travel style hasn’t changed much since having a baby. As her second birthday looms in July, I’m preparing for the biggest change to our travel style: having to pay full fare for her tickets as she “graduates” from infant fare. The FAA requires that all children over the age of 2 secure full fare and sit in their own seat, while babies under 2 can fly free domestically and at a fraction of the adult fare (usually 10%) internationally if they sit in a parent’s lap. So what happens if you take a trip to celebrate your child’s second birthday and they turn 2 before your return? Do you have to buy a ticket for the whole trip, just the return, or try to sneak under the wire (don’t do that)? We asked airlines for their policy on flying with a baby turning 2.

Note: These policies ONLY apply for the situation of flying with an infant under 24 months one-way and over 24 months on the return. Unless otherwise noted, a child age 2 or over for all legs of the trip will pay regular fare.Air New Zealand – Flying with the Kiwi carrier over a birthday will mean you will need to purchase a child fare (where available) for the entire journey, 75-80% of adult fare for economy tickets. Air New Zealand offers a variety of kid activities and meals, and we think the Skycouch option is perfect for young families.

American Airlines – Here’s one policy we hope new partner US Airways will honor: children turning 2 on their trip will get a free ride home with American Airlines. You will generally pay taxes and/or a portion of the adult fare for international trips, call reservations for details.

British Airways – One of the few airlines that make their policies clear on the website (they also tell you what to do when you are booking for a child who isn’t yet born!), British Airways will offer a free return for a child turning 2. More reasons to fly British: discounted child fares, families board early, you can “pool” all of your frequent flier miles on a household account, and special meals, entertainment and activity packs (ages 3 and up) are available on board for children.

Cathay Pacific – If your baby turns 2 in Hong Kong or another Cathay destination, you’ll pay a discounted child’s fare for the return only. Note that some flights might require a provided safety seat instead of your own car seat, but all flights provide infant and child meals, and “Junior VIPs” age three-six get a special activity pack.

DeltaDelta (along with partners Air France and KLM) requires you to purchase a ticket for the entire trip if your infant will turn 2 at any time before return. The good news is that on certain international routes, discounted children’s fares may be available, call reservations for details.

JetBlue – I’ve found JetBlue to be one of the most baby-friendly airlines, thanks to the free first checked bag, liberal stroller gate-check policy and early boarding for families with young children. Of course, the live TV and snacks don’t hurt either (my daughter likes the animal crackers, while I get the blue potato chips). Kids celebrating a second birthday before flying home on JetBlue will pay a one-way fare. You can book the one-way online, but should call reservations to make sure the reservation is linked to the whole family.

Lufthansa – A child fare (about 75% of adult fare) is applicable for the entire trip. The German airline is especially kid-friendly: the main website has a lot of useful information about flying with children, including how to pass time at the airport and ideas for games to play on board, and a special JetFriends kid’s club website for children and teens. On the plane, they provide baby food, snacks, and toys, a chef-designed children’s menu and special amenity kits in premium class. A nice additional extra for a parent traveling alone with a kid: Lufthansa has a family guide service to help navigate the airports in Frankfurt and Munich.

Qantas – For flights to and around down under, the child’s age at departure is used to calculate the fare, so the infant fare is honored on the return. Qantas offers meals for all young passengers, limited baby supplies and entertainment and kits on board for kids over three. On the website, kids can also download some fun activities and learn about planes.

Singapore Airlines – Good news for families flying on one of the world’s best airlines: if your child turns 2 during the journey, Singapore will provide a seat without charge. Once they graduate from infant fare, they pay 75% of adult fare. Singapore also offers a limited selection of “baby amenities,” such as diapers and bottles, and children flying on business class or higher tickets can choose from special kids’ meals.

United – A United rep declined to clarify their policy for this specific case, only emphasizing that any child 2 or older is required to purchase a seat. Assume you will pay at least one-way full-fare.

Virgin Atlantic – Virgin charges an infant fare for the whole journey, but the new 2-year-old will have their own special seat on the return. One of the world’s coolest airlines is also pretty cool for the small set, with free backpacks full of diversions (on flights from the UK), dedicated entertainment and meals.

With all the airlines above, Junior can start accruing frequent flier miles when he turns 2. Hoping to book the whole trip with miles? In general, you’ll spend the same number of miles for your child as your own seat, while lap infants traveling on miles will pay taxes and/or a fraction of the full-adult fare (this can get pretty pricey if you are flying in premium class).

Now where to plan that birthday trip?

For tips on getting through the actual flights, check out our guides to flying with a baby, winter and holiday travel with a baby, traveling abroad, and more in the Knocked Up Abroad series.

[Photo credit: Instagram KnockedUpAbroad/Meg Nesterov]

How Frequent Fliers Might Be Affected By Airline Merger

frequent flyerSpeculation seems to be running rampant about potential losses to frequent flier accounts via the merger of American Airlines with US Airways. A new study recently analyzed American Airlines AAdvantage program and US Airways Dividend Miles program and found several pros and cons, many depending on which airline’s existing program is adopted for both.

Comparing programs, TravelNerd looked at some possible scenarios and came up with some interesting “what if?” results. Not all are bad either. US Airways members would come out ahead, for example, if the combined airline sticks with American’s meal program, enjoying meals on three-hour flights.

That’s good news. Not-so-good news: increased baggage fees could be a result as well. If the American Airlines program is adopted for both airlines, US Airways passengers will have to pay $25 more for three or more bags, and $10-$25 more for overweight bags

Thinking the new alliance means less countries, TravelNerd says US Airways will say goodbye to Star Alliance and join Oneworld, so Dividend Miles members will lose access to 44 countries.On the other hand, I am a member of both loyalty programs and received emails from each saying not to worry and that everything will stay the same. TravelNerd cries foul.

“Airlines are aware that mergers make consumers nervous and will send newsletters to members to ensure that their miles and status are safe,” Amy Lee TraveNerd Senior analyst told me via email. “This is true there are usually no changes in the short term.”

But Lee believes that change is coming and once the merger is complete and has passed government regulations, the streamlining will begin.

“One way they plan to do this is to bring Dividend Miles members into their AAdvantage program,” notes Lee. “In the American Airlines Merger Investor Presentation, they wrote, “US Airways members join AAdvantage, the first and best developed loyalty program in the world.” This implies that they plan to maintain one loyalty program – presumably AAdvantage since American Airlines brand will be taking the helm of this merger.”

Travelnerd points to the United-Continental merger as an example, noting that merger was announced in May 2010 but frequent flier accounts were not linked until March 2012.

More bad news from the study is the notion that more members equals less upgrades. TravelNerd predicts that with a combined total of over 101 million members, frequent fliers will have a tough time upgrading their seats.

Our first thought: Why? Are they going to sell off a bunch of planes? We’ve heard nothing of decreased capacity.

“Regarding upgraded seats, you’re right there are going to be the same number of seats available,” replies Lee. “However, Dividend Miles members currently enjoy many upgrades due to their smaller frequent flier program (30 million members). Once the merger finalizes, the AAdvantage members (71 million members) will make it harder for the Dividend Miles members to enjoy as many upgrades as they currently do because of the increased number of frequent fliers.”

Admittedly, much of what we have here is speculation. But if Merger History 101 tells us anything it’s that change is inevitable. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

For a closer look at the merger from an unbiased source, we turn to public broadcasting and their sobering view on the topic:




[Photo Credit- Flickr user the queen of subtle]

US Airways And American Airlines To Officially Announce Merger

American Airlines and US Airways are set to officially announce their merger plans today, after months of speculation and planning. The joint operation between American, the currently bankrupt carrier based out of Dallas, Texas, and US Airways, the twice-bankrupt carrier based out of Tempe, Arizona, would form the largest airline in the world.

According to multiple sources, the airline would keep the American Airlines name while Doug Parker, the current CEO of US Airways would take the top management seat.

Full intentions of the merger are scheduled to be announced today in a 10 a.m. CST conference call in Dallas. Once the formal announcement has been made there are dozens of extra regulatory steps to be made prior to an official merger, including approval from the Federal Trade Commission, but most believe that the process will encounter little resistance. Complete joint operation is expected later this year or early next year.

As to how this will affect consumers, there is plenty of analysis in the airline community to read before going to bed, but the basics are pretty straightforward. With slightly less competition between carriers, consumers may expect to pay more out of pocket moving forward, but can expect a stronger airline better capable of handling economic downturns and volatile oil prices.

Based on previous mergers (among them, Delta and Northwest to form the then-largest airline) neither frequent flier program nor the miles therein will be gutted, but consumers can expect either AAdvantage or Dividend Miles to adopt the most cost-effective facets of the other program.
Until the airlines agree on all of the details further down the road, however, the community is only left to speculate on the full effects of the merger. Expect numerous updates as the year goes on.

[Flickr image via Fly For Fun]