Weekend Updates

A few updates this weekend:

  • I started on the glossary, which is now its own page.  If you have any suggestions for terms, particularly ones that I have used, that should be in there, please let me know.
  • I added direct links to the various alliances in the post about airline alliances.
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An easy way to earn miles: e-Miles.com

One of my favorite types of posts is ways to earn miles without actually flying.  As we saw in the “Shopping online” section, it can be easy to earn miles on the ground.  Rarely do you hit the miles jackpot with these options (It’s usually 500 miles here, 1000 there, etc..), but they add up.  Surveys and ads can be an easy way to do so.

One program that I use is called e-Miles.  Sign up at this link and then fill out the short form.  On the last page, choose your interest in their various categories.  Hint: the more “High Interest” categories you have, the more mileage opportunities they will offer you.  And that’s it!  Disclosure: I may get something from e-miles if you use that link.  Thank you in advance.

Note: They do not send ads to your inbox, so you won’t be getting spammed.  Instead, you go to e-miles.com and log in.  Once you log in, you’ll see a list of opportunities.  Some will look like this:

 

offer preview Disney: Great Fall Savings at Walt Disney World Resort! 5No thanks, remove

 

You’ll click on the “5” and then hit “Continue” on the next page.  You can ignore any ads that pop up, answer 3-4 yes/no questions on the following page and you’re done, five points richer.  The whole process should take you about 15 seconds.

Other ads will look like this:

offer preview Everything you need for your Gatlinburg vacation is right here in the Free Vacation Guide and Gatlinburg Emails. You’ll be thankful to have this information to help plan your vacation! 5  +  5No thanks, remove

Note the plus sign.  That means you get five points for clicking on the link plus another five points for taking an additional action.  Some actions can earn you hundreds or even thousands of points, so it could be worth a few seconds.  In this case, the reward is much lower, but all they want you to do is submit your e-mail address in the ad for those five points.  That will add you to their mailing list, but you can avoid spam by having a back-up email.  I have two addresses: my primary one and one to receive these types of promos.  That way, you never have to see the emails if you don’t want to.

What can you earn?

Rewards are very easy to earn on this site.  In terms of airlines, 500 e-Miles points will get you 500 frequent flyer miles on United, US Airways, Southwest, Frontier or Alaska Air.  But you can also get gift cards, such as a $10 Amazon or Starbucks gift card for 600 points.

There are no real downsides to this program.  It is free and redemptions are free.  Generally, I can earn 500 miles every week or so.  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 25,000 miles per year!  Enjoy.

Want to subscribe? Just enter your email in the box above (and to the right) and click on the confirmation. GMailers, check your Social or Promotions boxes!

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Elite Status: Extra freebies for frequent travelers

For those travelers who fly more than 25,000 miles per year on a particular airline (or airline alliance), you may be eligible for Elite Status on that airline.  Think of it as a bonus on top of the miles that you are already earning.  The airline keeps track of not only the miles that you have flown in your lifetime (which are redeemable for rewards, as discussed here) but also what you have done in a calendar year.  The more miles you fly in a year, the better your perks will be for that year.  For example, on American Airlines, if you fly 25,000 miles in a year, you’ll get to check a bag for free and use a priority security line.  If you fly 100,000 miles, you’ll receive “Executive Platinum” status, which not only gets you that free bag and priority security access but also a special phone number to call, chance for a free upgrade and, when you land, your bag will be tagged as the first one to come off the plane.  Note that these are only some of the benefits that you receive, with the entire list available at each airline’s website.  While each airline has individual nuances for its program, the benefits tend to be very similar from program to program.  It’s also worth noting that airlines will often reward you with elite status based on the number of flights you take, in addition to the miles you fly.

One nice thing about elite status is that it lasts for at least two calendar years, the year you earn it and the following year.  So if you fly 25,000 miles on a particular airline in January, 2014, you’ll receive their first level of elite status for not only the rest of 2014 but also all of 2015 (in addition to a bad case of deep vein thrombosis.  Most airlines have only three tiers, which begin at 25,000, 50,000 and 100,000 miles flown in that calendar year, although some have two and some have four.  You’ll want to check with your particular airline to see what its program offers.

Since elite status can be so valuable (First class seats are awfully comfortable!), some airlines are making it trickier to earn.  For instance, Delta and United Airlines have added annual spending minimums to achieve elite status.  Others are making cheaper tickets only count 50% toward your elite status qualifications.  Charges like bag fees and upgrades are very profitable for airlines; the carriers have become reluctant to give them up.

Note that hotels offer similar programs, although the rewards vary so much between brands that each chain needs to have its own post.  But the goodies are there for your stay, as well.

Want to subscribe? Just enter your email in the box above (and to the right) and click on the confirmation. GMailers, check your Social or Promotions boxes!

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Airline Alliances: What are they and how do they work?

We’re moving into FF Miles 102 territory, but it’s important to understand the ideas behind airline alliances.  Simply put, an alliance is a partnership between two or more airlines, making long-distance travel easier.  There are three main alliances: Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam.  And while two US Airlines can be in the same alliance (US Airways and United are both in Star Alliance, for instance.), the greatest benefits come from domestic and international partnerships.

Example: You need to book a flight from Miami to Munich.  Since American Airlines is the largest operator out of Miami, you choose them for your flight.  But American doesn’t have a flight to Munich.  Rather, it relies on British Airways, its Oneworld partner, to pick up the connection in London.  You’ll fly American from Miami (MIA) to London Heathrow (LHR), land at 8:40 am, and then change to a British Airways flight there for the connection to Munich.  Here is how the page on American’s website looks.  Note that it tells you that the connection is on a different airline but allows you to book the whole thing on its site.  This way, you don’t have to search for connecting flights yourself.  

 

AA logo 56 07:05 pm MIA 08:40 am LHR
AA logo 6545

Operated by
British Airways
12:40 pm LHR 03:30 pm MUC
  • Overnight flight or connection
  • Terminal change

 

From a mileage perspective, these partnerships are extremely important, because airlines usually allow you to earn miles on a partner’s flight.  In this case, the passenger can earn American Airlines miles (or British Airways miles, if you are so inclined) on not only the portion flow on American but also the portion flown on British Airways, thus building your collection of miles on one airline.

On this flight, the two airlines also have a Codeshare Agreement.  The codeshare means that more than one airline are selling seats on a particular flight using different flight numbers.  For instance, in the above example, American Airlines is selling you the flight from London to Munich as part of your connection from Miami.  For you, that flight is AA 6545, although it is flown by British Airways:

 

American Airlines

6545

Operated by British Airways

London (LHR)
November 13, 2013 12:40 PMTravel Time : 1 h 50 m
Cabin Class : Economy
Seat : unassigned
Munich (MUC)
November 13, 2013 03:30 PMBooking Code : Y
Plane Type : 319

But you’re not the only passenger taking that flight.  For instance, if a passenger in London simply wanted to book the London-Munich portion, they’d go to British Airways and book the following:

 

12:40 13 Nov 15:30 13 Nov
British Airways BA0952

Only 5 seat(s) left at this price

  Only 5 seat(s) left at this price Lowest

Same flight, same plane, but a different flight number, in this case BA 0952.  Note the “BA,” since it was booked through British Airways.  And to complicate matters, there may be people from all over the world with several different flight numbers, even though it is the exact same flight!

Fortunately, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.  The flight number represents the original airline that booked the flight and is simply a way to facilitate connecting.  For you, it doesn’t matter how many different flight numbers there are; the computer does all the work for you.  You simply need to know that your flight is called AA 6545, even though it is actually operated by British Airways.  There’s the benefit of the partnership: American is delivering a passenger to BA, who picks up where American left off, allowing passengers to make a virtually seamless connection instead of having to find their own way among airlines.

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Choosing a frequent flyer program: Which one is for me?

So you’re just getting started and about to build your frequent flyer account.  You’re now ready for the most important question: What airline’s program should I choose?

And the single best answer is: It depends.  Sorry about that, the answer may not be so easy.

Truthfully, like many things in life, the best program for you may be chosen for you, rather than the other way around.  If you live in a city where one or two airlines dominate, such as Philadelphia (US Airways), Seattle (Alaska Air), Dallas (American Airlines or Southwest) or many other major cities, the best option is simply to choose to fly the dominant airline.  That airline will have the most options for you, including non-stops, and it simply doesn’t make sense to choose a program that is going to make flying inconvenient for you.

But if you live in an area where there is no dominant carrier, you have some options.  So here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Is there a city that you fly to often?  If so, see what airlines have non-stop flights.
  2. Do you have family members that like a particular airline?
  3. Do you have a preference for an amenity on a particular airline?  For instance, if you have a family with small children, you may want to choose an airline that has television onboard, such as Jet Blue.  If you need wi-fi on every flight, try a carrier with strong wi-fi coverage, such as Southwest or Delta.

But here’s the bottom line: When you’re just starting out, choose your flights based on price and convenience (and not necessarily in that order).  It is rare that you should be choosing a flight based solely on frequent flyer miles (although there are a few occasions, which I will discuss over the next several weeks), so when you’re starting anew, do what’s going to make your travel easiest and let the program choose you.  You’ll probably find that you are flying one carrier more than others over time, and you can take it from there.  Eventually, factors such as elite status and alliances (relatively simple concepts that I will discuss next week) will also impact your choices.

 

Want to subscribe? Just enter your email in the box above (and to the right) and click on the confirmation. GMailers, check your Social or Promotions boxes!

Follow me on Twitter @FFMiles101 or share with the Facebook button below.

And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!

Earning miles without flying: Earn by shopping

The internet has become the great equalizer for shopping.  With a few clicks, you can compare prices for just about anything.  Thus, stores have turned to bonuses to get you to shop there.

Before we go any farther, here’s a key point: You should never, ever buy anything online without determining if you can get some sort of rebate, whether it’s frequent flyer miles, cash (Yes, there is a way to do that and I’ll get to it in a future post.  Contact me if you want the details now.) or something else.  For now, we’ll stick to miles.

Virtually every airline has a shopping portal which will give you miles for shopping through them.  The merchants buy miles from American and award them to you for making purchases.  Why would merchants do this?  Well, it’s for the same reason that frequent flyer programs exist: they have to.  Their competitors are doing it, so they need to, also.  Some airlines require you to set up a separate user name and password for the shopping portal, some do not.

If you want direct links to each airline’s shopping portals, they’re at the bottom of this post.  But here’s an example of how to navigate a site to find them, as well.

For this example, we’ll assume that you are going to buy flowers and want to earn miles on American Airlines.  Your first step is to visit American’s site at AA.com.  In the top right-hand corner, you see “Aadvantage,” which is the name of their frequent flyer program.  Click on it and then click on “Earn Miles” in the drop-down menu.  Choose the category  (Retail and Dining) and Aadvantage eShopping Mall.  Then, click on “Shop Online” in the blue bar and “All Online Stores” in the drop-down menu.  Someday, somebody will have to explain to me why the airlines put in so many steps, but at least it’s fairly intuitive .  Still, for the future, if you want to skip all of the above, here’s the direct link to the shopping portal.

Let’s buy some flowers now.  On the left-hand side, you can see that “Flowers, Food & Gifts” is a category, so go ahead and click on it.  Click “Flowers” and then look at the merchants.  Merchants are awarding anywhere from 4-30 miles per dollar spent.  FTD.com has the biggest payout, at 30 miles/dollar.  Click on “Shop Now” and you’ll get the following message:

You’re on your way to FTD.com!

one moment please

Place an order now, and you will earn 30 miles/$.

It’s that simple.

Thank you for shopping through the AAdvantage eShopping mall.

And that’s it!  Shop as you normally would and the miles should show up in your American Airlines account within days.  It’s also worth noting that if you already know the merchant you want to shop with, in the middle of the page, you can simply click on the first letter of the merchant’s name.  Virtually every merchant you can think of is represented, with the glaring exception of Amazon.

Remember, never shop online without finding a way to get something back!

Alaska Air

American

Delta

Southwest

United

US Airways

Understanding an Award Chart

No one has ever accused an airline of making things simple, and that includes figuring out how many miles you need to use to get somewhere.  In this post, we’ll look at an award chart and make some sense of it.  Please note: These things can get complicated, so don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense the first time around.

 

From U.S. 49 (excludes Hawaii) & Canada: Economy Class BusinessElite®, First or Business Class
Miles shown are each way based on round-trip purchase.*First Class / BusinessElite
Saver Standard Peak Saver Standard Peak
Within Continental US, Alaska and Canada 12,500 20,000 30,000 22,500 /
30,000*
40,000 /
55,000*
50,000 /
70,000*
To Hawaii 20,000 32,500 45,000 37,500 /
42,500*
67,500 /
72,500*
90,000 /
95,000*
To Caribbean 17,500 27,500 37,500 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Mexico 17,500 27,500 37,500 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Central America 17,500 30,000 40,000 30,000 50,000 70,000
To Northern South America 22,500 35,000 50,000 45,000 65,000 90,000
To Southern South America 30,000 47,500 65,000 50,000 100,000 162,500
To Europe 30,000 47,500 65,000 50,000 100,000 162,500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you see here is a snippet of the Delta Airlines award chart for passengers originating in the US or Canada.  There are, of course, similar charts available for other countries.  Let’s break it down.

Across the top, you see that you have two choices: You can fly in Economy (coach) or Business/First.  In Delta’s case, there are only two types of cabins, coach or business, but some airlines have as many as four.  Right now, that distinction is not important.

Down the left-hand column, you see destinations.  That column is pretty self-explanatory, simply giving you options on where you can go from the US 49 and Canada.  Note that I have cut off portions of the chart to make it easier to read.  If you want to see the entire chart, you can look here.

Finally, underneath the class of service options (Economy or Business/First), you have three “time” options: Saver, Standard and Peak.  Not all airlines use these exact terms, but they all have similar concepts.  These options reflect the popularity of the destination at a particular time of the year.  The more popular, the more it will cost.  When you search for an award, the airline will show you a calendar indicating what category your flight falls into.  Here are a few quick definitions:

Saver: Think of it as the award being on sale.  Saver awards are to unpopular destinations and/or during lighter times of the year.  The airline knows that it won’t be able to fill the plane with paying passengers, so it makes the award cheaper.

Standard: This is the “base case” for the airline.  Planes will be pretty full but not overly so.

Peak: As the name implies, you are traveling to a popular destination at the busiest time of the year.  The airline knows that it will be able to fill seats with paying passengers, so it makes very few seats available for rewards, and those that are available will not come cheaply.

Example 1: You’re going to visit your Aunt Gladys in Fargo North Dakota next February.  Brr, awfully cold.  Not a lot of people will want to be on that flight, so the airline designates the flight as a Saver award.  You live in Minneapolis, so you go to the left-hand column and choose Within Continental US, Alaska and Canada.”  It’s not a particularly long flight, so you figure that Economy class is fine.  Using those criteria, the flight will cost you 12,500 miles.

Example 2: You have such a nice time with Aunt Gladys that you decide to take her on a whirlwind trip through Europe next April.  You’re going to start the trip in Amsterdam and backpack around the continent.  You want to make the flight a good one, so you decide to pay up for Business Class tickets.  Your trip leaves on April 20, a very popular day to be flying to Amsterdam.  In fact, that day is so busy that Delta categorizes it as a Peak day.  So let’s triangulate again: Europe is all the way at the bottom of the left-hand column and you need to use the Business Elite, First or Business Class designation.  Even worse, it’s a Peak day, meaning that the ticket will cost that many more miles.  Sure enough, a peak ticket to Europe in Business is 162,500 miles.   Are you sure she doesn’t want to just visit you in Minnesota?

 

 

 

 

Using your Frequent Flyer Miles (the good stuff)

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.

 

So what is a frequent flyer mile, anyway?

Before we go any further, I want to make sure everyone is aware of the unit that we’re discussing, the frequent flyer mile.

A frequent flyer mile is a simple enough concept.  It is simply a unit of “airline currency” that you earn through flying, using credit cards, etc.  You generally earn one mile (sometimes referred to as “points”) per mile that you fly or dollar that you spend with an airline affiliated credit card.  There are exceptions to this rule but, for right now, we’ll stick to the “1=1” concept.  Each airline has its own program and its own rules but, for the most part, the basics are the same.  The programs are always free, so you should sign up for one whenever you fly an airline and hold onto your unique number.  When you book a flight, the airline will ask you for your number so that it can give you credit.

Example: I fly from Boston to San Francisco with a layover (stop) in Dallas.  The flight from Boston to Dallas is 1,562 miles, while the connecting flight from Dallas to San Francisco is 1,464 miles.  I would earn a total of 3,026 miles.  

A few days after your flight, you would simply log in to your airline account and it will be updated with your new balance.  Miles generally don’t expire as long as you have activity in your account every 18-24 months, but check your airline’s particular program for the specific rules.

Here is a list of links to sign up for the most popular airline programs.  You don’t have to sign up for every program right now, but you need to do so before your first flight on the airline so you can get credit.

Alaska Air

American

Delta

Jet Blue

Southwest

United

US Airways

Glossary

Here is a glossary of terms that you may encounter while managing your frequent flyer miles.  If a term isn’t clear to you, please contact me so I can help!

Want to subscribe? Just enter your email in the box above (and to the right) and click on the confirmation. GMailers, check your Social or Promotions boxes!

Follow me on Twitter @FFMiles101 or share with the Facebook button below.

And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!