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« Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #5 | Main | Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #7 »

May 18, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #6

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If you've read the 250 frequent-flier success stories and tips entered in our Maximize Your Miles Contest, you may well be thinking, "Who the hell has all this time to spend on the phone with an airline?!"  Seems like stretching your miles as far as they can go requires calling the award desk, then calling back till you get a good agent, then spending lots of time suggesting routes and flights, then calling back again to check whether seats have opened up so you can improve your flight connections....

Which is why I love this story from Finalist #6 Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy. He spends zero time on the phone. Instead, he uses magic tools to find award seats. Here's his story:
"Everyone complains about Delta Skymiles. They've been coined the Zimbabwean currency of frequent-flier miles. However, I'm a skeptic at heart, so I assumed if most people don't get good value out of the program, I probably can. In a short time I racked up over 120,000 Skymiles from dining, AmEx spend and, believe it or not, even flying! On one $248 flight to Zurich, I earned over 40,000 Delta miles thanks to their AmEx bonus, medallion and new route bonuses.  With a strong hankering for a showstopping vacation, I paid $9 to join Expertflyer.com. In 20 minutes I was searching Air France award availability by the week, to far-flung places like Mauritius and the Seychelles. Within one hour I identified award space and booked a business-class flight from JFK to Paris with a stopover for 3 days, then 5 days in the Seychelles on an Air France codeshare with Air Seychelles, then a one-night stopover back in Paris. If purchased, my ticket would have been $15,960. Instead I paid 120,000 Skymiles and $200. It's a good thing I didn't listen to what people have to say about Skymiles! Moral of the story: 1) Accrue miles using multiple angles; 2) Use tools like ExpertFlyer.com to help search for award seats; 3) Think outside the box!"
ExpertFlyer.com isn't the only site that helps you score award seats for your next trip. There's also the AwardPlanner tool offered via MileageManager.com.  And, for those of you needing trips that electronic tools can't handle -- ExpertFlyer.com does not work for certain major airlines, such as Continental and United -- there are real live human beings who can get you the flights you need, on or close to the dates when you need them. Gary Leff of BookYourAward.com, for instance.
At Conde Nast Traveler we recently put five of these magic tools and services to the test. We tried booking three hard-to-get international itineraries and compared the results we got using  ExpertFlyerAwardPlanner, AwardPlannerPlus, and BookYourAward. Check out the chart showing the results of our test (it's a pdf). Note that Gary at BookYourAward.com won. Which is why talking to a human being might just be your best bet after all.

Related Reading:
Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #5

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