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July 25, 2011

One Way to Get the Miles You Need: Swap with a Friend

Informer_001hl Got miles but they're the wrong miles for the flights you need? 

Many of us have collected enough frequent-flier miles for a trip we have in mind, but they're with an airline that doesn't fly where we want or doesn't have seats available in the cabin we want. When that's the case, is there anything you can do, besides seeking help from Gary Leff?  As I learned this past weekend, there is indeed: Swap miles with a friend.

Here’s what I mean: Some good friends of mine need to fly from New York to London in August for a wedding. They have a ton of United miles, but they also have an inflexible schedule, and they can't get what they need on United. The airline that has the flight schedule and seats they want? American. So I offered them my American miles in exchange for an equal number of their United miles. They were thrilled (as was I, since United miles work better for me). So yesterday I logged into my account on AA.com and booked my friends on the flights they need, in the cabin they want.  They gave me their United.com account number and password so that in future, when I want to book tickets using their United miles, I can do so.

But here's what's most interesting about this story: Of the 250K miles that I gave my friends (they're flying in first class roundtrip!), 225K of them I got without spending a dime. Here's how:

Continue reading "One Way to Get the Miles You Need: Swap with a Friend" »

November 16, 2010

UsingMiles.com Claims to Solve a Longtime Problem for Frequent Fliers

UsingMiles.com
Today I'm at the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, watching tech innovators demonstrate cool travel tools that they either launched recently or are unveiling today. If you've read my latest Perrin Report column—on "magic" travel sites that save you money, time, and headaches—then you know which time-tested online tools I consider to be tried and true. Today I'm learning about tools that I haven't had a chance to test yet, but that are worth having on our radar. UsingMiles, for instance. 

One of the biggest quandaries frequent fliers face is: When should I pay for an airline ticket, versus redeeming miles for it? UsingMiles.com, which calls itself "the world's first frequent flyer search engine," promises to solve this problem. It claims to pinpoint the value of a mile in each individual airline program and tell you when you're better off paying cash, redeeming miles, or using a combination of the two. "Our goal," says UsingMiles.com founder Austin Veith, "is to help travelers manage and utilize their frequent-flier miles like a true monetary asset, just like you would manage your investment portfolio."

Interesting, huh? If you decide to give the site a whirl, let me know what you think!

Continue reading "UsingMiles.com Claims to Solve a Longtime Problem for Frequent Fliers" »

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
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.

Related Reading:
May 18, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #4

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Do you use your frequent-flier miles for simple roundtrips between Point A and Point B? Boring!  Instead, why not fly to three destinations for the same "price" as one? 
Today we learn how to combine multiple cities in one frequent-flier trip, thanks to J. Sutton, who is Finalist #4 in our Maximize Your Miles Contest. Here's his success story (edited slightly for clarity):

"In December 2008 I used my American AAdvantage miles to fly me and my wife from Dallas to New York City to Las Vegas and back home. Booking those three first-class flights via American Airlines' web site would have cost me 150,000 miles. Instead, I called the AAdvantage award desk and was informed that an extended layover is allowed to and from a destination. I could make my destination Las Vegas with a one-week layover in New York City en route. The journey, with a one-week stop in New York City and then a one-week stop in Las Vegas, cost only 100,0000 miles because it was treated as a roundtrip flight to Las Vegas. Thus I saved 50,000 miles by calling and booking the tickets over the phone. Technically, we could have stayed a week in another city after Las Vegas before returning to Dallas, for no additional miles. I have used this knowledge to book many multi-city trips since then for the same number of miles as one round-trip. The key takeaway: Speak to a mileage-program agent to find out the maximum number of segments and extended layovers you're allowed for a round-trip redemption."

Related Reading:
Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #3
Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #2
Top 10 Ways to Maximize Your Miles: Tip #1
April 06, 2010

Travel Giveaway: Two Business-Class Tickets Anywhere in the World

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Image: Haisam Hussein

Want a chance to win two business-class tickets to the destination of your dreams?  Then you'll want to enter our "Maximize Your Miles" Contest, brought to you by Condé Nast Traveler and Competitours.

Just share your best frequent-flier success story -- a true-life example of how you engineered a free ticket, upgrade, or other miles- or points-related victory against the odds. Tell us, in 200 words or less, what you got, how you got it, and the lesson that the rest of us can learn from it. The person with the best frequent-flier triumph and tip wins.

Competitours founder and mileage mastermind Steve Belkin will be donating the prize and co-judging the contest with me. Steve is a frequent-flier extraordinaire who, in the past 12 years, has collected more than 17 million miles and has successfully redeemed them for those hard-to-snag free international business-class tickets that so often elude the rest of us.  If you've read my article "How to Maximize Your Miles" in Condé Nast Traveler's April issue, you already know Steve, as he's one of the mileage mavens whose advice I quote.

The two business-class tickets that Steve is giving away in this contest will, in fact, be mileage-award tickets. He will magically turn 250,000 of his own frequent-flier miles into two business-class tickets to get you to the destination of your choice.

Click on "Continue reading 'Travel Giveaway...'" below for details about how to enter Condé Nast Traveler's contest.

Got no frequent-flier triumph or tip to share?  You're hardly alone.  But if you join one of Steve's Competitours trips that are happening in Europe from late May through late July, you'll have a chance of winning a different sort of prize. Competitours is a team travel competition where 17 teams compete for a prize pool of either $9,000 or 320,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points. All that's necessary to accomplish the fun and quirky daily Competitours challenges is the ability to be creative and resourceful. The trips are nine days long and follow a mystery European itinerary that hits both must-see cities and hidden-gem locales.

Click here for more information about Competitours.

Continue reading "Travel Giveaway: Two Business-Class Tickets Anywhere in the World" »

March 08, 2010

Even MORE of Your Pressing Frequent-Flyer Questions Answered!

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Admit it. You wish you knew the answers to all those burning mileage-award questions that didn't get answered by Randy Petersen in our FlyerTalk Challenge.  So do I.  But there were more than 100 of them. Who could possibly have the time, the patience, the sheer mileage obsession, to step up and volunteer to answer them?

The Global Traveller, that's who. If you're a FlyerTalker, you know him by his FT handle, Kiwi Flyer, and by his FT blog, The Gate. If you're a loyal Perrin Post reader, you know him because of his frequent insightful comments here. He's been one of my favorite air warriors ever since he flew halfway around the world to meet me for lunch 2 1/2 years ago (see "I Was a Stop on His Mileage Run").  And, as if writing three blogs -- in addition to The Gate, he writes Musings of the Global Traveller and Real Cheap Air Fares -- didn't eat up enough of his time, he is now digging into your remaining miles-and-points quandaries!  Incredibly nice guy or masochist?  I don't know. All I know is Conde Nast Traveler readers are lucky to have him as their friend.

The first batch of questions he's answered involve elite frequent-flier status: how to work it, how never to lose it, when it's worth killing yourself to attain it and when it's not....

Continue reading "Even MORE of Your Pressing Frequent-Flyer Questions Answered!" »

March 03, 2010

No, I Have NOT Forgotten Your Most Frustrating Frequent-Flier-Mile Quandaries! (I've Just Been Really, REALLY Busy.)

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Mucho apologies to all you air warriors whom I've left hanging for an embarrassing--yikes!--six weeks. As you may recall, I was in the middle of publishing frequent-flier guru and FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen's answers to the top ten winning questions in our FlyerTalk Challenge contest. These included:



Then I dropped the ball, waylaid by a hectic travel schedule and my Condé Nast Traveler print workload. All I can say is:  Thank you for your patience, and I'm making it up to you with a special five-page Perrin Report, in Condé Nast Traveler's upcoming April issue, that's a step-by-step guide to fully harnessing the power of loyalty programs so as to snag as many free flights and upgrades as possible.

While you're waiting for that, here are the final five questions in the FlyerTalk Challenge, along with links to Randy Petersen's inimitable answers:

Continue reading "No, I Have NOT Forgotten Your Most Frustrating Frequent-Flier-Mile Quandaries! (I've Just Been Really, REALLY Busy.)" »

January 14, 2010

How to Get the Flights You Want with the Miles You Have

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I hope everyone's having a happy new year. Mine's been a busy one so far. Since 2010 started I've skiied in Vermont, been to a wedding in Boston, and planned trips to Montreal, Mumbai, and Hawaii all within the next month ... which partly explains my delay in getting back to our FlyerTalk Challenge questions and answers. Sorry about that!

Without further ado, here's the excellent question submitted by reader Kevin:

"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?"

Wouldn't we all like to know? Luckily, FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen, the world's leading expert on frequent-flier programs, has the answers and has graciously shared them with us. Here are Randy's top tips for travelers who want to use their miles for free tickets:

Continue reading "How to Get the Flights You Want with the Miles You Have" »

December 21, 2009

How To Turn Your Hodge-Podge of Miles in Different Mileage Accounts Into a Free Ticket

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Photo: alex-s / CC BY 2.0

What to do when you've got a bunch of frequent-flier mileage accounts, yet not enough miles in any one of them? That's the excellent question from Jennifer G., one of the winners of our FlyerTalk Challenge. She asks:

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!

Frequent-flier guru and FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen has answered Jennifer's question over at FlyerTalk. He's also laid out his top ten tips for combining miles from random mileage accounts in order to scrounge up enough for a free ticket. After the jump, the first five.

Continue reading "How To Turn Your Hodge-Podge of Miles in Different Mileage Accounts Into a Free Ticket" »

December 08, 2009

Should You Stay Loyal to Your Loyalty Program Or Call It Quits?

When your preferred airline or hotel chain suddenly changes its award-program rules, devaluing your precious miles and points, at what point do you bail and throw yourself into another program's arms? That's question #3 in the FlyerTalk Challenge, from reader Jenni:
"With miles and points constantly being devalued, how do programs expect their members to stay loyal?  I run everything through my program credit cards, 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?"
Most frequent travelers are smart to focus their efforts on just one airline and one hotel program, but doing so means that you're at the travel company's mercy when it suddenly changes its award chart. Since many of us have been in the same situation, I was very curious to read frequent-flier guru Randy Petersen's advice for Jenni. Randy recruited two FlyerTalk experts -- KiwiFlyer, who co-writes FlyerTalk's blog The Gate, and Pizzaman -- to weigh in too.

Their consensus? Stick with the Hilton HHonors program for the time being, but keep an eye out for the occasional HHonors award promotion that will double the value of your points, and always be on the lookout for a more suitable frequent-guest program as your travel patterns change. You can read the complete answer to Jenni's question here.
December 03, 2009

Five Ways to Snag the Mileage-Award Seats You Need

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How many months before a trip do you have the best shot at nabbing frequent-flyer-award seats? Is there a best day of the week or best time of day to call the airline?  Is one city better than another to fly into when you're looking for the greatest award-seat availability?

These are some of the questions raised by reader Denise McDonald in her winning entry in the FlyerTalk Challenge:

"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's questions are smart ones, and we now have the answers, thanks to frequent-flier god Randy Petersen, who recruited two FlyerTalk experts -- Gary Leff of View From The Wing and Lucky of One Mile at a Time -- to help solve Denise's dilemma.  You can read their complete solution to her problem in this thread on FlyerTalk.

The solution happens to include five tips for anyone who wants to redeem miles for flights anywhere in the worldnot just to Egypt. Here they are:

Continue reading "Five Ways to Snag the Mileage-Award Seats You Need" »

December 02, 2009

Are Your USAirways Miles Safe?

Last week's FlyerTalk Challenge yielded ten top frequent-flyer-mile questions that we will be answering here on The Perrin Post over the next couple of weeks. And by "we," I actually mean Randy Petersen -- a.k.a. the world's leading expert on frequent-flyer programs -- and his merry band of mileage mavens over at Boarding Area.

First up, this question from reader Ann:

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?

Continue reading "Are Your USAirways Miles Safe?" »

November 25, 2009

Help Is On the Way for Your Top Ten Frequent-Flyer Problems

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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!

Continue reading "Help Is On the Way for Your Top Ten Frequent-Flyer Problems" »

November 20, 2009

Win Tickets to "Up in the Air" and Get Your Frequent-Flyer Problems Solved in our FlyerTalk Challenge

upintheair_pp.jpgI've got an early holiday gift for ten lucky readers: Free tickets to a December 1 New York City sneak preview of Paramount's "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney. 

Any self-respecting mileage junkie will relate to this movie, which is about "a corporate downsizing expert (Clooney) whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles."

Not only are we giving away ten pairs of tickets to the movie screening but, in keeping with the spirit of the film, we're also going to solve your most frustrating frequent-flyer-mile problems. 

Just tell us the biggest dilemma you face when it comes to using your miles and points. Maybe you can never find any award seats to Hawaii. Maybe you're having trouble using your miles for a business-class upgrade to Asia. Maybe you want to know which is the best miles- or points-earning credit card. Whatever your question is, post it here on truth.travel. I'll pick my ten favorite questions, and the readers who wrote them will be our ten contest winners. Here's the best part: The ten winners will have their questions answered by none other than the world's leading expert on frequent-flyer programs, FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen, and his team of mileage magicians over at Boarding Area. Plus you'll win a free pair of tickets to the movie screening.

Post your question in the comment space here by noon Eastern Time on Wednesday, Nov. 25.  That's the day before Thanksgiving, folks.  I'll then choose the ten dilemmas that are the most common, the most puzzling, the most infuriating, or simply the ones we can learn the most from. I'll post the list of winners that evening. Then, starting Tuesday, Dec. 1, we'll reveal the FlyerTalk experts' answers to the top ten questions.  

And if you can't make it to New York for the screening, you can always give the tickets to one of your friends in NYC as an early holiday gift, right?
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