So now that you’ve started to earn miles, or at least understand what they do, it’s time to get to the good stuff: the rewards (known in the industry as “awards”).
Frequent flyer miles can literally take you anywhere in the world. From Austin to Zurich. Feel like flying in First Class? You can get that, too. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it is and it isn’t.
1) The longer the flight, the more miles it will take. Most airlines base their reward “prices (amount of miles a ticket costs)” on where you are going, based on your starting and end point. In other words, it will cost more to fly from the Continental US to Europe than it will to another destination in the United States. I’ve seen award flights for as low as 4,500 miles and as high as 190,000 miles. One way.
2) When you fly makes a difference. Everyone wants to go to Europe in the summer or to Hawaii over Christmas vacation. Feel like going to Idaho in January? You’ll probably have less competition. So the airlines got wise. First, they limit the number of award seats available on any given route. In other words, there may be only a few seats available to Hawaii in December, while there will be far more to Boise. But they didn’t stop there. They also charge more miles for popular destinations at popular times. And guess who gets to choose what is defined as “popular” versus “unpopular?” It’s not you.
The bottom line is that airlines price award tickets the way any other good gets priced, based on supply and demand.
In the next post, we’ll try to make sense of how to read an award chart.