November 25, 2009
Help Is On the Way for Your Top Ten Frequent-Flyer Problems
Ten frequent-flying Perrin Post readers have won tickets to a sneak preview of "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney as a road warrior chasing ten million frequent-flyer miles.
Remember a few days ago we introduced the FlyerTalk Challenge? I asked you to share your most frustrating mileage-award problems, and I promised to choose the top ten and get them solved by the world's leading expert on frequent-flyer programs, FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen, and his team of mileage magicians over at Boarding Area.
Well, I'm thrilled to announce the ten winners of our contest. They've each won an early holiday gift: a pair of tickets to a New York City sneak preview of Paramount's new movie "Up in the Air" on Tuesday, December 1.
If you peruse the list of 114 questions submitted by the savvy mileage junkies who entered this contest, you'll get a feel for how tough a time I've had trying to narrow the list down to only ten winners. All of you deserve answers! But I'm limited to ten questions...and am forever indebted to Randy and his FlyerTalk brain trust for being so kind as to offer to answer them. We'll be publishing the FlyerTalkers' solutions to these ten dilemmas starting Tuesday. Meanwhile, read on for the list of questions we'll be answering...and to find out whether you've won!
The ten FlyerTalk Challenge winning questions:
1. When buying a seat using miles, I miss out on so much that has value to me as a frequent flyer:
*Miles from the credit card purchase, plus bonus miles from being linked to that airline
*Miles from the flight, plus bonus based on elite status, plus bonus based on class of flight
*Miles from the flight toward elite-status qualification, plus bonus on class of flight purchased
And the airlines don't let seats go cheaply, in comparison to how much flying it takes to earn those miles. So how do you weigh all the factors that need to be considered when deciding whether to buy a seat using miles or money?
-- Sitting Tight
2. We have frequent-flyer miles for every airline, but the problem is that we never seem to have enough in each one for a free flight! With Delta, every flight seems to be in the "high" season...and every Costa Rica flight during the rainy season! What do we do with all of these random points which never really amount to anything?
3. As a Continental OnePass member who has earned elite status this year for the first time since 2001, what is the best way to efficiently accumulate miles toward maintaining elite status? Also, at what price point does it make sense to redeem miles for a domestic coach reward ticket?
4. I have a lot of USAirways miles. The airline seems to be on shaky ground, economically speaking. Do I need to be in a rush to use my miles for fear of the airline going under, or do most defunct airlines usually get taken over by another airline and the miles get transferred to another program? Is this likely for USAirways?
5. My biggest dilemma when it comes to using points and miles is knowing how to best combine points that fall within the same airline alliance. For example, I know Delta and Northwest merged their rewards programs. How do I best stay on top of airline mergers and know when I can move miles to allied rewards programs?
6. With miles and points constantly being devalued, how do programs expect their members to stay loyal? I run everything through my program credit cads, and I focus on one airline program and one hotel program to maximize my status and points. Do I start over when a program (ahem Hilton HHonors) changes its structure...again? Or do I ride out the storm and hope the program managers come to their senses?
7. I'm a teacher, so can only fly on weekends, major holidays, or at peak times in the summer. I manage to collect points on United, but usually can't find a way to USE those points. Do you have any ideas as to how a non-elite-level flyer can book a flight with points at peak times?
8. When traveling for pleasure my timing is very flexible. Some airline web sites are better than others in showing which days have award seats available (because availability is constantly shifting), and I know of no easy way to watch for seats, particularly at the lowest levels. Is there one? Once someone--maybe it was Randy--had a service where for a fee they would keep checking for you and because of their expertise they would know alternative routings to check. Does such a service exist today, beyond the free help and advice on FlyerTalk?
9. I fly between the U.S. and Europe in paid business class very often. I want to be able to redeem miles for business/first-class travel throughout the world. Which frequent-flyer program(s) should I concentrate my earnings on -- European or American ones? They seem to have different fee structures and award availability.
10. We are planning a trip of a lifetime for our son's future graduation. He has been enthralled with Egypt since he was eight years old and is even considering studying to become an Egyptologist. I have carefully planned for years, and we will have enough frequent-flyer miles one year before we travel for four business-class tickets on United from Hawaii to Egypt. Here are my questions: How far in advance should I book? Is there a specific time of day I should call when frequent-flyer seats become available? What flights tend to have the most frequent-flyer seats available? Is one city better to fly to than another for seat availability? Should we split up and fly in twos? I have often found it very difficult to get frequent-flyer seats from Hawaii and would love to get your advice on the best way to secure four business-class frequent-flyer seats from Hawaii to Egypt.
-- Denise McDonald
Attention, winners: I'll be emailing each of you with instructions for picking up your movie tickets, so watch out for an email from me on Monday, November 30.
And Happy Thanksgiving to all!