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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!