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« Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #4 | Main | Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #6 »

May 18, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #5

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Yesterday we learned how to use our miles to fly to three cities for the same "price" as one. Today we learn how to vacation in two continents for the "price" of one!

If you think 120,000 miles can't take you to both Europe and Africa -- in business class -- think again. I was blown away by this frequent-flier success story from Aaron, who is Finalist #5 in our Maximize Your Miles Contest:

"Though I flew only four times during the past year, I managed to accumulate 250,000 Delta Skymiles through credit-card bonuses and coin purchases.  My goal? A two-week anniversary vacation in Italy and Switzerland. If I could swing it, a 4- to 5-day hop down to Ethiopia to visit my sister would be icing on the cake.  At 120,000 Skymiles per business-class Saver Award ticket to Africa, I had just enough miles. 

Our schedule was flexible, but only by one week. After several trial itineraries, I learned the secret to reaching my goal: Delta allows open-jaw itineraries with stopovers on partner airlines whose flights originate or terminate in an international hub in the U.S.  I booked a "skeleton" award out of Chicago, with an open-jaw in Europe and a stopover in Ethiopia. The connections were many and the layovers were iffy but, with more than five months until the trip, I banked on being able to make schedule changes. Sure enough, three free changes later, I had the perfect itinerary:

For 120,000 miles each, my wife and I will fly this June, all in KLM business class, from Chicago to Amsterdam (one-day layover), Amsterdam to Rome (two-week layover; open jaw), Zurich to Amsterdam to Addis Ababa (five-day stopover), Addis Ababa to Amsterdam to Chicago."

That's a helluva lot of itinerary for 120,000 Delta miles. There are two key lessons here:
1. Find out what sorts of layovers, stopovers, and open-jaw itineraries are allowed. 
If you can't find this information online via the airline's web site, FlyerTalk, or one of the Boarding Area blogs, call your airline's award desk. 

2. Take advantage of award-reservation holds. 
Most airlines let you put a mileage-award reservation on hold for several weeks and make changes up until the date it must be ticketed. Award-seat availability changes from week to week so, even if an itinerary isn't perfect, book it, then call back several times before the ticketing date to see if better flight times and routings have opened up.

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