Category Archives: Point Redemption

Books, Tack on Rules, and the Bidding Traveler

Today you’re going to get a little of bit of everything.  The last couple of days I’ve read some really great blog posts and found a web site that I think will be very useful to people looking for inexpensive hotels.

I read a number of blogs every day.  I think of them as my morning newspaper.  Nearly all of them are focused on travel and financial related topics.  One of these blogs, Money and Map, had a great article about how your child can get a book for free this summer at Barnes and Noble.  The post explains exactly how to participate in the promotion.  Essentially the kids need to read 8 books and then they get to pick one book for free from a list of books at Barnes and Noble.  I suggest checking out the other posts on her site as well.  She has great information about taxes, family travel and other financial topics.

Another blog that I love is One Mile at a Time.  This blog is very well known in the travel hacking community for good reason – he knows a ton about the game and knows how to explain it so everyone can understand.  I’ve also found him to be one of the definitive sources for information on the American Airlines frequent flyer program.  And a post this week shows just how well he understands the program.  He wrote about the rules for the North American gateway city stopovers.

Finally, I’m trying to plan a weekend getaway for my husband and 2 friends.  I was searching the various options for booking a hotel room such as using points and Priceline.  While researching the Priceline option, I came across a web site called The Bidding Traveler.  You may recall that a long time ago I wrote bidding strategies for bidding for hotels on Priceline where I talk about how you can get extra bids each day by including other zones that don’t have hotels in the category that you want.  It is a very effective yet manual process.  Well, The Bidding Traveler web site seems to make the process a whole lot easier.  You give the web site the minimum and maximum you’re willing to pay and they execute the bids using the permutations I talked about on the bidding strategies post.  You can read more about the site on this FlyerTalk thread.  I haven’t used the site yet, but I expect to once I know exactly which city they want to go to.

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Airline Reward Redemption Rules

Gosh, I love that my sister is getting into this travel game.  It’s great to have someone else to talk over the pros/cons of different deals.  She’s also relatively new to the game so she points out to me when I’m making assumptions about what people know and she asks great questions that make me realize that I should create a post on a certain topic.  This is one of those times. 

We had a conversation this weekend about how to maximize the use of airline miles, prompted by The Points Guy’s video post on stopover and open jaws.  I would be willing to bet that most people redeem their airline miles for travel that they can book on-line with that specific airline.  And I’d also be willing to bet that they redeem them for a round-trip ticket that simply goes between 2 points.  As a result, many people are missing out on the true potential of their miles.

Each airline has different rules about how you can redeem their points, but there are some concepts across all of them that you need to understand:

  1. Who are their partner airlines?  Most airlines have partner airlines.  These are airlines that you can earn and/or redeem miles on.  The big groups are the One World Alliance, the Star Alliance and the SkyTeam.  The One World Alliance officially consists of: airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines.  There are other affliates, members elect and other airlines that you can redeem/earn miles on outside of the alliance.  For example, you can redeem British Airways miles on Aer Lingus (but you can’t redeem American Airlines miles on Aer Lingus).  The Star Alliance officially consists of: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EGYPTAIR, Ethopian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Luftansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, TAM Airlines, TAP Portugal, THAI, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways.  SkyTeam consists of: Aeroflot, AeroMexico, AirEuropa, Air France, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, Czech Airlines, Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, Saudia, Tarom, and Vietnam Airlines.  As you can tell from the lists, the One World Alliance and Star Alliance are usually preferred by frequent travelers because of the airlines in the alliances.
  2. What are the rules on redeeming miles on partner airlines?  This is a big one.  Each airline has different rules around how you can redeem miles in general and also how you can redeem them on partner airlines.  There are also rules around what direction you need to fly to certain destinations (e.g. on some airlines, you have to fly over the Pacific Ocean when traveling to Asia).  My go-to resource for these types of questions is FlyerTalk.  Most airlines have their own forum in the Miles&Points forum.  Go to the forum you’re interested in.  Within the forum, most of the airlines have a “sticky” post about the FAQs for that airline.  For example, the American Airlines thread is called: “FAQ: American Airlines and AAdvantage – Please check here first!”.  There is also another “sticky” post called: “Award Desk: Information about AA, Partner, and oneworld Awards”.  These are fabulous resources to learn about how you can use your miles.
  3. What are the rules on stopovers and open jaws?  I mentioned the Points Guy’s video post earlier about stopovers and open jaws. Essentially, stopovers are when you are traveling from destination A to C via another city B.  A stopover is when you stay in city B for a period of time before traveling on to C.  So you trip would look like, flight from A to B, stay for a few days, then continue on from B to C.  An open jaw is when you’re traveling from A to D, but you travel via airline from A to B, then you take another mode of transportation from B to C and then continue on via air from C to D.  So in this example, maybe you fly from Boston to Paris, take a train from Paris to Madrid, and then fly from Madrid to Rome.  In these examples, you’re booking all the airline segments at the same time (so they aren’t considered 2 one way tickets, they are one half of a trip, with an open jaw).  Again, check FlyerTalk to learn to use these to maximize your points.  Each airline has different rules.

I’ve talked about how to use some of these tricks to book a free one-way to Hawaii when traveling from South America on American Airlines and the magic of the stopover.  Get creative and you can really stretch the value of your miles!

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Is American Airlines Limiting Award Availability?

I am in the process of planning our 2013 Spring vacation.  My husband’s first choice is Belize.  I was thinking of using our American Airlines miles since a round-trip award ticket is only 30,000 miles.  As with other vacations, I made sure that I was on aa.com exactly when the day opened up for booking.  However, unlike other times, the MileSAAver award availability just wasn’t there.  So instead of 30,000 miles round-trip, it would have cost us 60,000 miles round-trip.  That’s just not viable when we’re trying to fly 4 people.  I even search availability from several airports that are within driving distance from our house and still did not find any availiabity.

I wondered if it was just me or if there was some larger award availability issue.  I went to Flyertalk and found an entire thread on how booking award tickets has been more difficult this year (the thread goes back to 2009, but if you read the more recent posts, you’ll see comments about how it’s been difficult this year).  There is speculation around the cause from the bankruptcy to the glut of people who have miles from the 75k sign-up bonus.  My gut tells me that it’s a result of the bankruptcy and trying to get more revenue out of each flight.  I never had an issue booking an award flight until this year.  And I was on aa.com, refreshing every second, so I know there is no way someone booked all the flights that quickly.

I wanted to alert people that this is happening in case you run into the same situation.  It may be easier this year to use another airline’s miles or book a flight on one of American’s partner airlines instead.

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50% Bonus on Transfers from Amex to British Airways

It’s all over the blogs this week.  I’m posting it in case you don’t read many others.  Until May 31, 2012, you will get a 50% bonus when you transfer Membership Rewards points from American Express to British Airways.  The Points Guy has a great post on examples of good ways to use British Airways miles.

I have family in NC and could travel there for 9,000 point round-trip if I redeem the British Airways Avios on American Airlines.  I had a few Membership Rewards sitting around that I wasn’t sure what to do with.  Now I think I know what to do with them.

Another nice thing about Membership Rewards is that you can generally transfer the points to other people’s accounts if you do the transfer on-line.  So if you’re feeling extra nice today, maybe you could transfer the points to some friends or family.  Think of the experiences you could give to people by transfering a few thousand points.  Any trip that has a air miles distance of 650 or less is only 9,000 miles round-trip.  Remember that each segment has to be calculated separately.  So British Airways miles aren’t great if you have many connections.  (You can check out this post of mine if you need more of an explanation.)

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How Many Miles Will it Take?

Many of us have collected miles in a number of frequent flyer programs.  Most of mine are concentrated between American and United/Continental.  So when I’m planning a trip, I want to make sure that I utilize those miles most effectively.  There are many things to consider when considering that:

  • What airports am I willing to travel from and to?
  • What time of year am I traveling?
  • Do I want to stop in multiple cities during my trip?
  • What type of ticket do I want (ecomony, business, first)?
  • How many tickets am I trying to redeem miles for?
  • Am I flexible with my dates?

Which airline you choose to redeem your miles on will depend on how you answer those questions.  An easy example of this can be illustrated using the recent changes to the British Airways frequent flyer program.  If I want to travel from NYC to Raleigh, NC, it will cost me a minimum of 25,000 miles round-trip if I use American Airlines miles.  However, if I use British Airways miles, it will only cost 9,000 miles round-trip.  Another example is flying between NYC and Hawaii.  It will cost 35,000 miles (in the off season) on American and 40,000 miles on Continental/United.

There is a free on-line tool called Milez.biz that can help you get an idea of how many miles you will need by frequent flyer program.  It doesn’t give you information about high and low seasons, but it’s a great start.  It also won’t give you information about more complicated award tickets, like if you wanted to do stopovers.  You can search between 2 cities and individually choose which programs you want to compare (or leave it blank for all of the programs that they have information on).

Searching between LaGuardia and Honolulu

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