Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flier Programs – Part 3

August 8, 2011 • By

Last week, we discussed how to quickly accrue Frequent Flier miles.  Today, in our final installment, we will discuss how to maximize those miles and make them stretch farther for you.

Frequent Flier

Before we get started, there is one point that I failed to mention last week.  Do yourself a favor and secure a copy of your credit report before you begin to apply for credit cards.  If you are a US resident, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year for FREE.

There are plenty of fake websites out there, but the only one sanctioned by the US government is Annual Credit Report .   If you pull your own credit report, it is considered a soft inquiry and will never hurt your credit.  A hard inquiry is when a credit card company (among others) pulls your credit report to determine if they will grant you a line of credit which can temporarily hurt your credit score.

Remember when I said your credit could take a hit?  This is it.  It will drop your score by a few points, but it’s impact will lessen within a few months (usually six), however it will remain on your credit report for two years.  I do not mind this because I have no plans of buying another house or car which would be impacted by the points drop.

The main reason why you should  check your score is because many lenders have reported incorrect information and those errors could impact your score and creditworthiness, so it’s imperative that you know exactly what is on your report by checking all three credit bureaus once a year.  If you do find some discrepancies, you will have time to correct it before proceeding to attempt to secure more credit and getting wrongfully turned down.


Frequent Flier

How can I maximize my miles?

Another way to maximize your miles is to forego domestic trips altogether unless it’s cross country.  Domestic flights tend to be inexpensive by comparison, so it would make sense to dedicate the miles that you’ve earned for something that will allow you to cross an ocean or two.  Instead focus on international travel in order to get more bang for your buck.  Your miles will spread further if you plan an international trip in segments.

One’s natural instinct would be to book a flight that’s straight from your home airport to your International destination, correct?  Why not make the most of traveling such a distance?  Instead of booking an (for example) Atlanta to Paris trip, how about an Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris trip?  You can stay in each city for several hours to several days and use the same number of miles on one award ticket!

Although my initial destination was Paris, I would be able to sneak in another couple of cities along the way because it’s possible to take several legs to get to your destination.  Most people in their impatience to get to where they’re going don’t think about how they can achieve a maximum benefit with their miles by making stopovers and transfers along the way.  Stopovers usually last for more than 24 hours while transfers last less than 24 hours.

There is a maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between the two cities (stopovers) that you can travel to.   Each airline has its own MPM standards where you can ascertain the maximum distance allowed between any two cities on your itinerary.  So using the example above, You can’t depart from Atlanta, stopover in Los Angeles, then continue on to London.

Also, the routing has to make sense.  Any airline will permit you to circle the globe traveling either east or west of your home airport.  The general rule for RTW trips (for example) is that you must cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at least once.  You can travel between zone 1 (North, South America, Caribbean, Hawaiian and Easter Islands), zone 2 (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and zone 3 (Asia and the SW Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti).  You must end your RTW in the country where you began it.

Frequent Flier

Each airline has its own rules regarding the number of segments you can take during your trip, so you would need to speak to an agent directly about this.  Delta, for instance, allows up to 8 segments (2 US segments maximum for international ticket) on one award ticket.

With that many segments, you could in effect, configure a round the world trip with one award ticket!  Keep in mind that no alliance partner awards can be booked online so be prepared to call the primary airline to book your award ticket.

Here’s One World alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • You are allowed to take two stopovers in total within your continent of origin in order to get to or from a gateway to begin or return from your international travel of which a maximum of 1 stopover is permitted in each direction in the country of origin.
  • After departing from your continent of origin, you are allowed to take up to four flights to explore each of the other continents (six flights in North America).
  • You can book up to two additional flights per continent, at a set rate (online booking of additional segments is not possible).
  • You can fly up to 16 flight segments on your trip. Travel between two airports by surface transportation will count as one flight segment.

Here’s  Star alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Star Alliance allows 15 stopovers, there is also a special “Starlite” Economy-only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers.
  • As in most of these fares, Star’s rules require passengers start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city.

Here’s Skyteam alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Allows six stopovers with a maximum of three stopovers per continent on round the world tickets.

Don’t let all of these rules make your head swim, this is only the rules for now.  These airline policies can easily change, this is only meant to give you an idea of what you can expect when planning to book an award trip.

Additionally, you could maximize your miles by purchasing an open jaw ticket.  An open jaw simply means that you fly into one city and fly out of another.  Going back to our Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris scenario, you would not have to fly from Paris then back to London to get back home to Atlanta.  You would just fly directly from Paris to Atlanta (or if you were allowed to use more segments, you could cover a couple of more cities before going home).  All of this is contingent upon the airline’s rules and regulations, so be sure to check and see what is allowable.  On the other hand, some things are best left to the experts.

I am currently planning a mini RTW (round the world) trip for 2013 and I plan to use the services of Lucky, the young man who runs the One Mile at a Time website that I mentioned in the last installment of this series.  He charges 150 (250 US for two passengers) for booking the best trip for you using your FF miles.  I think it will be worth it to have him to work out the kinks and issues with the airlines and I will just focus on the trip activities.  That will give me a lot of peace of mind.  lol  This is a lot to take in for a newbie…..heck, it’s a lot to take in for anyone…..so continue to do your research, visit the FF boards and learn as much as you possibly can.


Frequent Flier

As promised, I wanted to tell you about a great online FF mile tracking program.  You know the many challenges of keeping track of your frequent flyer miles from different airlines and managing their expiration dates. This challenge has become even more difficult recently because of the continual policy changes made by airline award programs.

According to an Economist article there has been over 14 trillion outstanding frequent flier miles!  The Economist appraisal of these miles suggests that they are “now worth over $700 billion, more than all the dollar notes and coins at large.” This amount is so extraordinary it can be compared to the gross domestic product of Indonesia! If just 20% of these miles expire it would mean a total of $140 billion USD in losses!

AwardWallet.com has however found a solution to this common consumer dilemma.  The solution is a FREE frequent flyer mile management website that takes the hassle out of tracking members’ reward balances so they don’t go unused or expire. AwardWallet is specifically designed to organize the numerous loyalty programs you are enrolled in.

They cover 300+ loyalty programs including: airlines, hotels, credit cards, shopping, rentals, dining, trains and other services like airport parking and online surveys. Furthermore, when a program’s balance is about to expire you will receive an e-mail notification. AwardWallet members never have to worry about losing their precious miles they have accumulated over the years.

Frequent Flier

Hopefully, this series overview will encourage you to jump on the FF mile bandwagon.  If you truly want to be a vetted budget traveler, nearly free travel has to be a part of your portfolio.  By following these tips and utilizing the resources recommended in this series, you will be well on your way to “Sampling the world at a fraction of the price”.