¨I figured, correctly, that Berlin in February was not a destination coveted by tourists. I found good airfares on Lufthansa, an airline I quite like, and got a great rate at a brand new Ritz-Carlton, which clearly hoped to seduce visitors into forsaking Hawaii for Potsdamer Platz.¨
Why I Wasn’t an Active Travel Hacker in the Past
Frequent Flyer miles have been one of the essential tools that I have used to fund my airline travels around the world. Over the past nine years, Frequent Flyer miles have paid for 40% of all the flights I have taken.
I have received a lot of benefits easily just by having three airline-branded credit cards. It has not taken me that much effort or time to master the skills necessary to take advantage of each of these cards’ benefits. Nor should it take you much time.
Sadly, as you will see in the following discussion, airlines are making Frequent Flyer programs less accessible for leisure travelers, such as Fifty-Plus Nomads.
Don’t be surprised if Frequent-Flyer programs eventually become almost useless for all but ardent business travelers.
My Experience with Frequent Flyer Miles
Until recently, my United Chase card came with a $450 annual fee that allowed me to use United’s airport clubs and gave me 1-1/2 points per dollar spent. I used to have a similar card with American Airlines. However, I canceled both my American and United Club cards because I (Note: I still have their standard airline-branded credit cards):
- Seldom used the airlines’ clubs.
- Have noticed that United has diminished the value of Frequent Flyer miles.
- Fly less often than in the past.
- Was able to benefit from the sign-up bonus without renewing the card annually.
- Did not want to pay the $450 annual fees. (My current Citibank and Chase cards cost me $95 a year).
- Do not like that American Airlines charges a baggage fee on all leisure-oriented flights, even if you have the club card.
One of the most significant benefits of airline-branded credit cards is that I do not pay baggage fees on most flights. (As long as I pay for the ticket using the appropriate airline-branded card). I am also usually able to board the airplane earlier than most other customers. Boarding early means that I seldom have to search for a cabin to stow my carry-on bags.
United versus American and Delta
Until recently, if I had to choose between American and United’s cards, I would have selected United for a couple of reasons, including:
- I frequently fly to and from Montreal and Air Canada is a partner airline for United.
- The United Chase cards waive baggage fees on all flights. The American Airlines-Citibank card only waives the baggage fee on business-oriented trips. You have to pay the baggage fee for flights to leisure destinations, such as Cancun. (Note: Neither card waives baggage fees on partner airlines).
- The United website allows you to book Frequent Flyer tickets on all its partners. American only lists flights for Frequent Flyer awards from some of its partners. (Ñote: I have booked flights using Frequent Flyer awards on British Airways, Finnish Airways, and SAS on the American Airline’s website. I was not able to do the same with LAN-Chile).
While these same policies exist, I no longer am a big fan of United as in the past. In April 2019, United Airlines stopped basing the number of miles necessary to get a Frequent Flyer Ticket on the region where you want to fly. (Until April 2019, you needed 30,000-40,000 miles, for example, for most economy flights between North America and Europe). Instead, the miles required for a Frequent Flyer flight now depend on the demand for the given trip. (For more information about this change, read this article from Business Insider Magazine).
United Airlines claims that many flights require fewer miles than in the past. However, every flight I have tried to book on United Airlines has required more mileage than previously. The differences seem so disadvantageous to me that I plan to use my American Airlines card more in the future. I, however, suspect that American Airlines will adopt the same policy soon.
Delta Airlines made a similar change about four years ago, making their Frequent Flyer program not very useful for most Fifty-Plus Nomads. I do not have many reasons to fly Delta because I do not live or often travel to and from their hub cities (particularly Atlanta). I know people who love these cards and would encourage you to read the following article to learn more about American Express’s Platinum Card benefits.
Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles
Points from credit card spending, combined with bonuses, have enabled me to use Frequent Flyer miles for 40% of all my flights over the past eight years. (I usually charge between $25-40,000 a year on these two credit cards).
I have used Frequent Flyer miles for the following trips:
- Quito- Miami; Montreal-Rio de Janeiro; Buenos Aires-Montreal; Merida, Mexico-Sofia, Bulgaria; Montreal-Vienna; Los Angeles-Panama City; Vienna-Milan; Cartagena-Quito; San Francisco-Anchorage; Panama City-Buenos Aires; Montreal-Lima; Miami-San Francisco; Montreal-Copenhagen; Montreal-Paris; Prague-Montreal; Montreal-Philadelphia; Montreal-Detroit; Montreal-Cancun (four times); Montreal-Calgary (four times); Buffalo-San Francisco; San Juan-Cancun; Cancun-Billings, MT.
I estimate that I earned around 80% of my points through credit card purchases and bonuses and approximately 20% from miles flown on airlines over the last eight years. The percentage from credit card purchases has increased markedly over the past three years. I would guess that nowadays, over 95% of my points come from credit card purchases and bonuses.
Earning Bonus Points
Here are some of the ways that I have earned bonus points. (Note: I found out about most of these bonuses through emails sent to me from the credit card companies):
- Credit card sign-up bonuses.These bonuses are the most common way that I earned points, other than credit card spending. I would estimate I received around 150,000 miles from these bonuses.
- Signing up for credit cards, which include access to the airlines’ club (approximately 50,000 miles).
- Using United Cruises for making cruise reservations. (Note: I had to pay $100 to United Cruises when I have canceled cruises).
- Signing up for a Citibank banking account. While this same offer is not available today, you may want to check out sites like Johnny Jet, Nomadic Matt, and One Mile at a Time to find current offers for bank account signups.
Keep in mind that Frequent Flyer tickets are not free. I have paid between $5 (for some domestic flights in the US) and up to $225 (primarily for connecting in London) for award flights. (Note: Even airline employees usually pay these fees).
Some Additional Posts About Air Travel
- Why Alliances are Essential to Travel Providers. Are they Good or Bad for Consumers?Travel industry alliances are essential to the business´s survival. However, alliances have both good and bad implications for consumers
- Extra Fees: What are Ancillary (Extra) Fees and Why Are They Increasingly Becoming A Travel Industry Lifeline?More and more the travel industry depends on the sale of other products to expand and maintain its profitability. Expect to be bombarded with hints to buy other things (ancillaries) on your next cruise, flight, etc.
- 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.
- Travel Industry Cost Saving Techniques: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe travel industry has made several changes to save costs in recent times. Some like using more fuel-efficient planes do not affect consumers that much. Others like reducing staff have made the experience worse for consumers.
- 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.
- Airline Consolidation: What Are the Disadvantages and Advantages For the Consumer?The airlines have consolidated so fast in the USA and Canada that only 5 players dominate the market. Learn what this means for consumers.
- 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.
- Why Pack Light Advice Doesn’t Work for Me (and May Not Work for You Either)I have had more problems because I packed too light than too much. Packing light advice is mainly geared toward people who are going on a whirlwind trip through Europe independently. I usually travel for long periods and stay in only a few places often with great climate variations. I also hate washing my own clothes.
- Some Hard-Learned Packing Tips From My 5 Years Traveling Round the WorldWhile I do not always follow packing light tips, there are many other tips that I use all the time. This post outlines the tips that were most useful during my 5 years traveling around the world.
- 3 Simple Baggage Tips to Avoid Wasting Time, Money, and TroubleA series of simple steps to avoid problems with your bags such as making your bag stick out from the others on the carousel and finding the most durable bag.
- Get an Upgrade to Avoid Uncomfortable Air TravelI have frequently managed to score business class seats either as an upgrade or for a modest additional fee. Learn how I did it and how you may be able to follow in my footsteps.
- Airline Bumping: What is it REALLY All About? Why It is Often a Blessing?Airlines routinely sell more tickets on a plane than there are seats. They expect no-shows. Most of the time this causes no problems. If there is trouble, often they can find volunteers who will receive some compensation to take a later flight. Once in a rare while, airlines have to involuntarily bump someone. This explains your rights if this happens to you and why I am glad I have volunteered to be bumped a couple of times.
- Round the World Tickets 101: Are They Worth the Trouble or Not?Once in my life, I bought a round the world ticket. My experience was favorable but I think the number of times these tickets are useful for most travelers is fairly limited for the reasons outlined in this post.
- Flight Schedule Changes: Simple Tips to Keep Flight Changes from Destroying Your TripIn the last ten years, I have spent nearly half of my life traveling around the world. One of the few unexpected changes is the sheer number of times airlines have changed my itinerary significantly. Sometimes it has worked out to my advantage. Other times, not. This post tells you what you can do if this happens to you.
- 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.
- Top Tip: Eliminate International Flight Connections StressProbably the worst type of flights involve having to make a connection in a foreign country. Here are some tips to make these connections as stress-free as possible.
- Are Budget and Traditional Airlines Really that Different? Why Occasionally You Should Avoid Budget AirlinesOften nowadays there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between budget and traditional airlines (legacy carriers). However, unless the difference in ticket prices between budget and traditional airline is above 15%, I would recommend choosing traditional airlines for the reasons outlined in this post.
- 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.
- Airfare Bundle Tickets: Advantages and DisadvantagesI often buy tickets with a mid-price range of bundled services attached. I often think the few extra dollars are worth it. You may or may not choose to follow in my footsteps after reading this post.
- Travel Hacking: How to Exploit Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs for Your Own BenefitHere are dozens of tips to hack your way toward low-cost flights and hotel rooms using frequent flyer and other travel loyalty programs.
- 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.
- Airport 101: Avoid Immigration, Customs, Airline Check-In, and Security ProblemsWithout a doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of living as a fifty-plus nomad is dealing with airports. In my five years traveling around the world, I encountered several issues I did not anticipate including finding the right terminal, not having proof of onward passage, and unexpected fees. This post helps you avoid some of my mistakes.
- Frequent Flyer Miles: How to Master the Art of Redeeming MilesOnce you earn frequent flyer miles, you then have to figure out how to redeem them efficiently, Here are some tips from my own experience and that of experts.
- Earning Frequent Flyer and Other Travel Loyalty Points Without Leaving HomeI used frequent flyer points to pay for 40% of all my flights during my five-year trip around the world. It was easier to do in 2011-2015 when I traveled; however, it is still a good way to help pay for your travels. Here s a guide to how you can earn miles without traveling by using credit cards and buying affiliated products.
- 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.