5 Tips for Maximizing Your Points

I get asked often how I travel so much, but really there’s no simple answer to that.  It’s a combination of many things: keeping an eye on flight deals, searching message boards, taking crazy routings, and last but certainly not least, using points.  Points tickets have allowed me to make some spectacular trips, but I do spend a great deal of time trying to optimize them.

For many years I was a loyal Aeroplan customer, part of the Star Alliance network.  However, after continued devaluations of the program, and the fact that United was the partner in the US, I made the jump over to Alaska Airline’s Mileage Program.  Although the program is not part of an alliance, they have many great partners you can redeem on.  I feel that this program is the best for me in terms of point redemption opportunities, but everyone is different.

There are a few tricks to redeeming points and getting the most value out of the ticket.

1. Stopovers

Always be sure to check what the rules are for stopovers on your ticket.  Some airlines only allow stopovers when you’re booking a round trip, however, some (like Alaska) allow stopovers even on a one way redemption.  Be sure to check routing rules and what cities you may or may not be allowed to stop in.  Usually, if they’re allowed, you get a maximum of one per direction.

If you’re okay with squeezing in a city excursion into less than 24 hours you can fit in some more by using a generous rule that if you are in a city for less than a day, it’s not considered a stopover, only a layover.  This is useful if your ticket doesn’t technically allow stopovers.  For example, one way redemptions on Star Alliance carriers don’t allow a stopover, but I did manage to spend 23 hours in Rome on my way to Istanbul.

stopover map
Qantas allows a stopover in Auckland on the way to or from Australia

2. Premium Classes

While you may be tempted to redeem points for an economy ticket, which is an option, you can get much better “point value” if you redeem for premium classes.  Take a trip to Europe, for example; an economy ticket might be 25k-30k or $1000, while a business class ticket will be around 60k but cost around $3000-4000, depending on the destination.  In the latter example you get a much higher value on a per point basis.  If you’re slow to build up your point balance, this might be slightly more impractical, but it is worth noting.

Be sure to check out the reward charts for all the frequent flyer programs to make best use of your points.  Different airlines may have different redemption levels for the same flight.

premium pic
Sometimes it’s just a small premium to move up to the next class

3. Credit Card Earnings

Many credit cards offer significant sign up bonuses for new customers, which may help build up your balances towards those premium redemptions.  There are two types of cards; some cards offer only one bonus per customer, while others offer the bonus every time you sign up for the card.  The second option is often referred to as “churning.”  There is a lot about this on the internet, so I won’t get into too many details here.  If you’re part of a frequent flyer program be sure to check out any affiliated cards.  They sometimes will offer occasional “bonus” points or statement credits too.

The other way to earn points for travel is through a bank’s own rewards program.  There is usually a redemption option to directly buy tickets, but there are also options to transfer points to various frequent flyer programs that are partnered with the bank.

amex offer
Amex offer during a booking on Delta.com

4. Be Flexible

The biggest tip when redeeming points for tickets is to be as flexible as possible.  The best options are to either redeem as soon as availability opens up (usually a year in advance) or close in for last minute availability.  Being flexible  by a week or two on your travel dates also helps.  Also, try to avoid high travel times, such as march break or summer vacation.  If you can’t find what you want, be sure to check back frequently as award availability changes.

Also, if you can’t find exactly what you want, you can always book something that would work, perhaps coming back a few days sooner than you would like, and wait for availability to open up on the preferred flights.  Be sure to be aware if there are any change fees associated with your ticket; some elite levels waive change fees, even up to the last minute.

5. Taking The Long Way Home

If you’re like me and enjoy redeeming and flying in premium class cabins, be sure to look to see if there are ways to maximize the journey.  This could be either trying to fly on a specific aircraft (perhaps you want to test out an A380) or simply maximizing the time you spend on the plane (flying to a different gateway city to enjoy a few extra hours in your suite).  While this might not be for everyone it’s great for those who love to fly.

multi segment map
Crazy routing I planned to take advantage of a business class redemption.

If you have any questions or want some suggestions on the best way to use your miles, feel free to shoot me a message or leave a comment.  Or if you have any tips of your own you’d like to share, please do!

3 ticket, 6 fights, and 56 hours…

In order to get a good deal on tickets, I’m willing to fly a bit out of the way; okay a lot out of the way.  My flight home from Sweden was not only long, but ended up being longer than anticipated.

The journey started out decently.  I found a cheap flight to Istanbul on AtlasGlobal which arrived late on the Saturday night, with plenty of time to make my connection.  Since these were two separate tickets I wanted to allow for a lot of time in case something went wrong; luckily, it didn’t.  AtlasGlobal is a discount carrier based in Turkey, but they are much better than any other “discount” airline I’ve flown, such as EasyJet or Ryan Air.  The flight from Stockholm to Istanbul was on time, and fairly pleasant.  With free food, free drinks, and a row to myself, it was a lot better than many flights in North America.  I will say that someone was allowing their children to run up and down the aisle, jumping on seats.  Some people just have no clue.  I was close to saying something, but then the drink cart came by and blocked them in the back of the plane for a while… and the wine also helped. Continue reading

I’m still here…

 

It’s been a busy few months, and I really have to catch up on editing and posting all my blog posts, but I thought I’d do a quick summary of what’s coming 🙂

Firstly, I’m going to finish off my Swedish adventure with my long trip home (trust me, it was a journey!)  and then the next big trip will be my travels in February!  I was barely home for a month, jumping around between Utah, California, and over to Paris, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein!

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Flashback Friday: First Trip to the UAE

November 2015

Warning to my friends: if you move somewhere, I will come visit you.  This is not an empty threat.  Some friends who had relocated to Dubai found this out first hand 🙂

After a late arrival (or early morning depending how you look at it) my friends picked me up at the airport and I promptly crashed for a few hours to catch up on sleep.  After waking up and reorienting myself, it was off to explore Dubai Marina (the area where my friends lived)! This, of course, included a stop at Starbucks. Continue reading

Flashback Friday: Reykjavik

November 2014

One of the biggest tourist booms in the last few years has happened in Iceland.  No doubt thanks to the free stopover (via Icelandair) and the new discount airlines (like WOW air), almost everyone I talk to is planning, or has just gotten back from Iceland.

I first went to Iceland in 2014, thanks to a super cheap Groupon deal with Icelandair.  Icelandair does have really good deals on their website, but the Groupon basically took that deal and made it irresistible.  So after finding an unsuspecting co-worker to go with me, we were off on an adventure!

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Helsinki for a Day

As I mentioned before, I took a bit of time out of my Stockholm trip to head over to Helsinki for a day with my friend.  When I originally mentioned my intention to go to Finland for a day or two, my friend jumped at the idea, suggesting we take the infamous “Party Ferry” one way. Since her husband had to work during the week, it would just be the two of us on our “girls weekend” to Helsinki.

During the planning, I came across the last minute deals on the ferry website and it turns out that they had a round trip ticket for less than the one way ticket… So we booked a whole cabin to ourselves (on the lowest deck, but we weren’t planning on spending a lot of time in the room) for a grand total of $50 USD. Yes, $25 each to spend 2 nights on a “cruise” ship.

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Out and About in Stockholm

While planning my visit with my friend, we had discussed what there was to do around Stockholm and had compiled a decent list. Of course I was a bit wary of spending a whole week in one place, so I started looking for super cheap flights that we could take… long story short (details to come) we ended up heading to Finland in the middle of my stay.

But first, there was Stockholm!  For those unfamiliar, Swedes love taking coffee breaks with friends in the afternoon.  They actually have made up a term for sitting and chatting with friends while having a coffee and perhaps a snack: Fika.  So of course, after meeting up with my friend at the train station and dropping of my bags, it was time for fika.  We ended up heading to a nearby mall, as they just outside of the centre of town.  We did a bit of wandering through the mall, grabbed some necessities (like some food and wine… and some more wine) and had a quiet evening at home with some board games. Continue reading