¨Going abroad to study as a teenager, and joining the United Nations at 22, confirmed my ease with the world of the frequent flyer. I saw the average airport terminal as a familiar haven, like a friend’s sitting room. But 9/11 changed all that.¨
Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles and Points
While many travel hackers talk a lot about earning frequent flyer miles and points, some brush over the art of redeeming frequent flyer points. Fifty-Plus Nomads need to pay attention to both earning and redeeming frequent flyer miles.
How are Frequent-Flyer Miles and Points Calculated?
- Until three years ago, American and United gave a frequent flyer mile for every mile flown. Today they give points based on money spent on buying tickets from the airline (generally five points per dollar spent after taxes and fees). I sometimes used to book flights from American and United and their partners, even if they were slightly more expensive, to get points on American and United airlines. Nowadays, I think twice about doing this because:
- Sometimes, flights on some partner airlines (a partner of United Airlines), are not eligible to earn points if you use their low-cost tickets.
- I only get between 500-1500 points for most flights on American and United. (I used to get 2-3 times often this much before the airlines determined mileage based on the dollars spent on the ticket).
Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles
- Using Frequent Flyer award points for flights has another advantage over buying them with cash: It is much easier to cancel or change a trip. Generally, if you cancel a flight, you can redeposit your points back into your account online for a modest fee. ($75-125 on United; $150 on American plus $25 for each additional ticket that you cancel at the same time. Note: You may not have to pay this fee if you have some exclusive -i.e., executive- credit cards).
- If you want to get a ticket that requires a small number of frequent flyer miles to redeem, expect the trip to be inconvenient. I have several times ended up spending the night in a connecting city to take advantage of a low point Frequent Flyer flight.
- That said, long-distance, transatlantic flights and business-oriented flights purchased with Frequent Flyer miles are often as convenient as those obtained with cash. (This is particularly true with short-haul flights with regular departures throughout the day).
- Sometimes, you can get better deals by booking your frequent flyer and regular tickets on an airline that is in the same alliance as your preferred airline. Until recently, for example, many travel hackers recommended using British Airlines for booking flights for members of the OneWorld alliance (instead of American Airlines).
More Tips for Making the Most From Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles
Ensure Airlines Credit All Your Flights
- I always try to enter the appropriate Frequent Flyer membership number whenever I book a flight online. The membership number you enter should be from an airline that is a member of the same alliance as the airline. In other words, if you are booking a flight on British Airways, you need to enter the American Airlines membership number on the British Airways website upon ticket purchase. (British Airways and American Airlines are both members of the Oneworld alliance). If I cannot figure out how to enter the number quickly (this is rare), I will call the airline and ask that they enter the number into my passenger record. While you won’t always get points from the partner airlines, you will often get some points. A few of the partner airlines even award miles based on the number of miles flown. (I had a pleasant surprise in 2015 when I received around 15,000 American Advantage points for flying on Fiji airlines from Los Angeles to Sydney).
- I recommend that you keep your boarding pass after you finish a flight. Sometimes, airlines fail to give you points for a trip, particularly if, for some reason, the airlines have re-booked you on a different plane at check-in. (Fortunately, it is relatively rare that airlines do not credit your flights nowadays). You need the flight boarding pass to make a claim online for the airlines to credit these points.
Pay Off Your Credit Card Every Month
Be careful to pay your airline-branded credit cards off every month. Many airline-branded credit cards charge interest rates between 15-20% a year and high annual fees. Finding a credit card without a fee and lower interest rates is not hard if you have decent credit.
Assuming you, like most Americans, carry a $6,000 balance on your card, you will pay approximately $1000-$1500 more per year in interest and fees using airline credit cards. (Note: the 6000 Frequent Flyer miles that you will get from spending $6000 on a credit card will only save you approximately $90 on a future flight.
Want More Information About Frequent Flyer Miles?
If you want more information on redeeming and earning frequent flyer miles, check out Nomadic Matt’s book How to Travel Hack and Get Free Flights and Hotels is the best guide to travel hacking available. In addition, if it all seems too complicated for you, let Trevor Wright at Mile Method help.
Some Additional Post About Air Travel
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- The Internet Has Changed the Face of the Travel Industry More than Any Other Major IndustryThe internet has changed the travel industry probably more than another industry. This article discusses how these changes affect the consumer.
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- Business Travelers Versus Leisure TravelersThe travel industry gets most of its clients from leisure travelers. However, it makes more money from business than leisure passengers. The airlines put up with us leisure travelers because they couldn’t survive without us. However, they don’t hide their preference for business travelers.
- Why Are There So Many Connecting Flights? A Discussion of Why Airlines Love the Hub-Spoke Model More than ConsumersUnbeknownst to most consumers, the cause of most of our airline-related complaints is the hub-spoke model. Unfortunately, however, the hub-spoke model is also essential to the airline industry’s financial viability.
- Airline Schedule Changes: Why Don’t Airlines Keep their Promises?Learn why airlines change their schedules after you buy your tickets and what you can do about it.
- How Many Taxes, Fees, and Other Charges Do Consumers Pay For Airfare, Hotels, and Other Travel Services?The amount and number of travel taxes, fees, and other charges added to your bill will probably surprise you. Many are hidden and like everything else, taxes keep going up.
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- The 3 Reasons Travel Prices Are So Radically Different than Other Products: Perishability, Capital Costs, and Yield ManagementHave you ever wondered why travel products seem to be priced so crazily? Learn the three economic factors that contribute to the pricing of travel products: perishability, high capital costs, and yield management.
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- Why Buying the Cheapest Airfare is Often a Big MistakeI am surprised how often I can get significant improvements in convenience and comfort when I don’t buy the cheapest ticket. Often, for example, I can fly in business class from the US to Cancun for only $20-40 above the cost of the cheapest ticket. Often for a few dollars, I can get much more convenient flights as well.
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- Finding the Cheapest Flights 101: A Simple GuideA synopsis of my experiences with finding the cheapest flights and using search engines. The article also covers many tips for finding the cheapest flights, some of which are not discussed that widely elsewhere.
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- Frequent Flyer Miles: A Lazy Man’s GuideThis is a synopsis of my use of frequent flyer miles during my round the world travels from 2011 to 2015. It should help you to see how the programs have changed in the 2010s and give you some ideas how you can design a frequent flyer strategy that works for you.
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- Getting to the Airport Trouble-Free: 6 Simple TipsGetting to and from the airport and airport parking will be easier if you follow the six simple tips in this post.