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March 19, 2009

Calling All Airline Mileage Experts

by Wendy Perrin

A great question has come in from reader Will Davis of New York City. I don't know the answer, but I have a feeling some of you savvy FlyerTalk addicts might:

"Hi Wendy, I have 5,000 to 10,000 miles on 6 or 7 different airlines. Is there any type of service that you are aware of that will allow me to trade them all in for either cash or miles on another airline?"

Any of you road warriors out there know the answer? Just click on "Comments" below. And, if you like, please include your Web site's URL in the text of your comment so we can click to learn more about you (and discover how you know so much). Thanks!

January 16, 2009

Have You Seen This?

by Wendy Perrin

In his fascinating article "The 5 Million Frequent Flyer Mile Challenge", Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity writes "the true story of how [he] earned more than 300,000 frequent flier miles in the past five weeks, thanks to mileage bonuses from new credit cards." He spent $500 and a few hours of his time, he says, and gained at least $12,000 worth of miles.  It's a must-read. Thanks, WorldHum, for pointing us to it.

January 12, 2009

Don't Give Up on 25,000-Mile Award Tickets

by Wendy Perrin

A quick note just to say that the days of redeeming 25,000 miles for a nonstop domestic flight are not over yet. For the past couple of years, it's been my sad experience that most domestic tickets have required 50,000 miles, especially transcontinental ones. Last week, however, I had no problem finding award-seat availability on a non-stop United round-trip from Newark to San Francisco in March for just 25,000 miles.

I'd love to hear from you regarding your experiences trying to book award tickets lately. With all the empty seats on planes, have you found it easier than usual?

October 28, 2008

Do Mileage-Award Fliers Get Second-Class Status?

by Wendy Perrin

A great question came in from Conde Nast Traveler reader Dore Meyers:

"Could you please talk about the experiences passengers have when they are flying on a frequent-flier ticket and encounter a problem in transit? My husband is convinced that if we use our miles to go somewhere and our flight gets overbooked, delayed, or canceled, that--because we've used "free" tickets--the airline will not treat us the same as paying passengers if we need to get rebooked or rerouted. I recall reading that this is absolutely not the case--that the airlines are bound by law to treat award ticket holders the same as revenue passengers--but no amount of words from me will convince my husband. It would be great if you could tell us what the reality is--not just what the law and the airlines say is supposed to happen. Many thanks."

Well, first of all, "free" tickets are hardly free anymore, given all the fees the airlines now slap you with when you want to cash in your miles.

Second, I've flown at least 20 times using mileage-award tickets, and I can't recall any incident where I received treatment that was worse than what paying passengers received, nor do I recall hearing such complaints from other travelers--at least, not within the past few years.

Continue reading "Do Mileage-Award Fliers Get Second-Class Status?" »

October 22, 2008

How To Get The Mileage-Award Seats You Want

by Wendy Perrin

Sussing out the smartest way to redeem your miles for international flights can be one giant headache. Fortunately, there's frequent-flier expert Gary Leff of View From The Wing. Gary is my hero: Not only has he swooped to the rescue to help Conde Nast Traveler readers with their trickiest mileage conundrums, but he has also published an indispensable guide to booking award tickets. Do not miss it!

July 25, 2008

Help! Mileage Expert Needed!

by Wendy Perrin

Dozens of Conde Nast Traveler readers have asked me to point them toward a human being who can assist them with redeeming their award mileage. They're seeking someone who knows the tricks and strategies for getting those hard-to-get frequent-flier seats to the destinations they want on the dates they want, now that Award Planner is no more.  And they're happy to pay a substantial fee for such a service.  Here's the latest plea:

"I'm looking for an agent who specializes in award-mileage programs and opportunities, so that I may make the most effective use of the 1.5 million miles I have accrued, mostly with American Express," writes Oinkboy. "I subscribe to several newsletters (e.g., First Class Flyer). They provide fascinating and arcane information, but not execution, and when I try to use the information it's difficult working with an agent who generally understands much less than I do. I'd be happy to pay a large fee -- $500 to $1,000 per ticket -- to someone who can really get the tickets, or can walk me through the process each time. For example, it looks like it's possible to get first-class tickets roundtrip from the U.S. to Singapore, with 2 to 3 day stops in Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh, for as few as 125,000 miles on Cathay Pacific through one of its partners (American, maybe), but I can't find an agency that understands all the ins and outs.  I have lots of flexibility in schedule, so I should be pretty easy to work with.  Any ideas?"

The answer to Oinkboy's prayers was, until a couple of months ago, LaDonna Epler, who used to work for Award Planner.  LaDonna continued helping out Conde Nast Traveler readers on a freelance basis after Award Planner closed, and they absolutely adored her.  Unfortunately, however, she's now closed up shop.  So does anyone have a recommendation for Oinkboy?   There are hundreds of us who would be forever grateful!

July 11, 2008

Question About Redeeming Airline Miles

by Wendy Perrin

Trish317 writes in with another question I have no time to research right now. Does anyone know the answer?

"I'm not able to book a business- or first-class mileage award on AA/Cathay Pacific, even though I try for 335 days out, calling at different times of the day and night. Do the agents make a distinction between miles earned by flying vs. by spending money on the affinity credit card? Most of my miles are from credit card transactions. Please advise."

April 21, 2008

Yet Another Example of Airline Mileage Awards Losing Their Value

The_westin_paris_2_2
Attention, Starwood American Express Card fans: You might get better
value using your points for hotel stays than for airline tickets. Above, the new Westin Paris across from the Tuileries.

by Wendy Perrin

Remember a few weeks ago I lamented that the Starwood AmEx Card--which I love because it lets you transfer your accumulated points to the frequent-flier programs of 30 different airlines, usually on a 1:1 basis, with Starwood throwing in a bonus 5,000 points for every 20,000 you redeem--had changed the transfer ratio for trading Starpoints into Continental miles to 2:1? What this means is that 80,000 Starpoints are now worth only 40,000 Continental miles. Actually, that's not true: They're worth 60,000 Continental miles, once you include the free bonus miles. Still, the value of your points has diminished considerably if you're looking to fly Continental.

Now I learn from mileage expert Gary Leff over at View From the Wing that the transfer ratio for changing Starpoints into Singapore Airlines miles has also been lowered to 2:1. Not only that, but soon we'll no longer be able to redeem Starpoints for flights on Qantas.

The good news? Starwood still offers 1:1 transfers with most airline programs. "It's still my favorite currency," says Gary. The bad news is "the tenuousness with which even the best currencies offer a store of value. When you want an award, it's best to redeem it because tomorrow's value is unlikely to be better than today's."

Continue reading "Yet Another Example of Airline Mileage Awards Losing Their Value" »

February 08, 2008

Lament of a Starwood AmEx Cardholder

Starwood_american_express_card_2 by Wendy Perrin

Has anyone else noticed that the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card is growing less user-friendly when it comes to turning your points into frequent-flier award tickets?

I've been a fan of the card ever since Matthew Bennett of Flight Bliss told me about it a few years ago when I was interviewing him for my Credit Card Makeover Perrin Report. When Randy Petersen, the man behind WebFlyer and FlyerTalk, agreed that the Starwood AmEx card would make a lot of sense for me -- given my need for flight, route, and schedule flexibility -- that sealed the deal and I got the card.  What makes it special?  You can use your miles on any of 31 airlines (including every major U.S. carrier and a few minor ones). This greatly increases your flight choices and your chance of finding available award seats. PLUS you earn the equivalent of 1.25 miles per dollar spent:  AmEx gives you 1 point for each dollar, but when you go to Starwood to convert your points into miles on the airline of your choice, Starwood throws in an extra 5,000 points for each 20,000 you redeem.  In other words, for only 40,000 points you get a 50,000-mile award seat.

I've loved the card  . . .  until yesterday, when I discovered certain hurdles that have apparently recently been put in place to annoy cardholders trying to convert their points into miles.

Continue reading "Lament of a Starwood AmEx Cardholder" »

October 24, 2007

I Was A Stop On His Mileage Run

Mileage_run_map
TheGlobalTraveller, a frequent commenter here on The Perrin Post, has spent the past 2 1/2 weeks flying this itinerary for no purpose other than to boost his frequent-flier account balances.

by Wendy Perrin

Yesterday I had one of the most fascinating lunch conversations of my life. It was with someone I'd never met or even spoken to before, but whom I've come to know from his insightful comments here on The Perrin Post and from his Flyertalk blog The Gate, which he co-writes under the name Kiwi Flyer and which is required reading for any self-respecting mileage junkie.

When TheGlobalTraveller emailed me saying he'd be in New York on October 23, I insisted we meet up. (You may recall I promised him lunch back when he guessed my mystery location in a teaser for the last Where's Wendy? contest.)

What I didn't know until lunch yesterday was that his New York trip was only 20 hours long. The night he spent in New York was, in fact, only his THIRD night in a hotel since leaving his home in New Zealand on October 6!  He has spent every other night on a plane.  He's in the middle of a four-week -- yes, FOUR-WEEK! -- mileage run.

Toward the end of each year, frequent-flier addicts the world over fly "mileage runs" -- airline itineraries flown for no purpose other than to earn mileage. Usually a mileage runner's goal is to maintain elite frequent-flier status or achieve an even higher status level.  At this moment TheGlobalTraveller is on the 45TH FLIGHT of his mileage run (all of them in first or business class). He's hit 12 countries and 26 airports so far. If you don't believe me, check out his breathtaking Trip Report on FlyerTalk. (The Trip Report, entitled "It's a Fine Line Between Pleasure & Pain," is written under his FlyerTalk moniker, Kiwi Flyer).

What's most amazing is the size of his luggage, which he wheeled into my office.  He's doing his entire four-week trip with only one 20-inch carry-on wheelie.  He's not even carrying a laptop.  He's blogging, emailing, and adding to his FlyerTalk Trip Report from computers in airline first-class club lounges. He's taking his showers there too.

Continue reading "I Was A Stop On His Mileage Run" »

September 19, 2007

Top Airline-Travel Secrets, Part 2

Dublinairport
Save money on fares to Europe by flying through Dublin International Airport.

By Wendy Perrin

On Monday I shared some of the top 30 travel secrets compiled by yours truly for our 20th Anniversary issue. Here are a few more tips that have garnered the most thank-yous from Conde Nast Traveler readers over the years.

Which are the best days to fly for a long weekend?
Taking two days off work? You'll find cheaper fares and greater seat availability if you fly on a Saturday and return on a Tuesday, instead of going from Thursday to Sunday or Friday to Monday.

How do you bypass the airline phone tree and speak to someone who can actually help?
If a family member has elite frequent-flier status with the airline, use his or her special elite phone number (as well as frequent-flier number and PIN). If not, press the number for booking international flights.

Want to save hundreds of dollars on an international flight?
Find out if it's a code share. When a U.S. airline and its foreign partner both sell seats on the same flight (making it a code share), one carrier's fares could be substantially lower, so check prices on both. The same seat on the same New York-Hong Kong flight could cost hundreds of dollars less through Cathay Pacific than through American Airlines.

More strategies for international flights after the jump.

Continue reading "Top Airline-Travel Secrets, Part 2" »

September 17, 2007

Top Airline-Travel Secrets, Part 1

Itasoftware

ITA Software is a great tool for finding the lowest airfares.

By Wendy Perrin

Here are a few of my favorite travel secrets, collected for our 20th Anniversary issue. These are the tips  that have garnered me the most thank-yous from Conde Nast Traveler readers over the years.

How do you get the lowest airfare?
ITA Software provides the most comprehensive and least biased list of fare and route options. Find out which airline offers the best itinerary for the lowest price, then go to that carrier's Web site to book. Itasoftware does not list flights on foreign low-cost airlines, however, so to find out which fly where, use WhichBudget or WeGoLo.

How do you get the best seat in coach?
Before accepting an airline seat assignment, go to SeatGuru and look up the aircraft you're flying. Seatguru will tell you which seats offer extra leg or elbow room and which to avoid -- such as those that don't recline, have immovable armrests, or have an obstructed view of the movie screen.

How can you snag mileage-award seats to your destination?

Lo and behold, there is someone who can help: LaDonna Epler, who used to work for the now-defunct AwardPlanner, knows the tricks and strategies for redeeming miles to get you where you want to go -- by, say, flying on partner airlines or alternate routes you haven't thought of. E-mail her at ladonna.epler@yahoo.com. Another option: Call the carrier you have your miles with immediately after midnight in the time zone where it has its U.S. headquarters. Typically, award reservations expire if they're not ticketed by midnight, so you can possibly nab the seats that someone else has just forfeited.

Which credit card allows you to collect the most miles you can actually use?
The Starwood AmEx card lets you redeem your miles on any of 30 airlines (including every major U.S. carrier) and earns you the equivalent of 1.25 miles per dollar spent: AmEx gives you one point per dollar, but when you redeem points for miles, Starwood throws in an extra 5,000 points for each 20,000 you redeem.

What's the easiest way to earn miles?
Do your online shopping via airline Web sites. Continental, Delta, and other carriers link their sites to an enormous range of stores -- such as Land's End, Staples, and Barnes & Noble -- where you can earn up to ten miles per dollar spent.

Stay tuned for more top travel secrets over the next couple of weeks!

July 23, 2007

The Best Credit Card For Earning Miles

Starwood_american_express_cardby Wendy Perrin

Remember my post "Surprise Fee For Redeeming Miles" last week?  I warned that when you cash in your American Express Membership Rewards points for airline tickets, you need to pay a fee (of 50 cents per 1,000 miles) unless it's a foreign airline. Frequent-flier expert (and really great guy) Randy Petersen, the man behind WebFlyer and FlyerTalk, and Gary Leff, who writes a blog for mileage addicts called View From The Wing, both stopped by and generously offered their input.  Here's the takeaway:

(1) Diners Club also charges a fee when you go to cash in your points for an airline ticket.

(2) "What I hate is the blatant lie when they try and convince you that it's a government fee they are collecting," says Randy.  AmEx tells you that the fee is to help offset the "federal excise tax."  When I asked the Membership Rewards toll-free rep what that is, she said the tax was instituted after 9/11 "to keep us safe in the skies."  In actuality, Randy says, the fee is a way for AmEx to recoup a portion of the tax it pays the government when it buys miles from the airlines (in order to sell them to customers). Click here for Randy's full explanation.

Continue reading "The Best Credit Card For Earning Miles" »

July 18, 2007

Surprise Fee For Redeeming Miles

Quantas_airways_3 by Wendy Perrin

Attention, collectors of American Express Membership Rewards points: It's cheaper to use your miles for tickets on foreign airlines than on U.S. airlines.

A few weeks ago I exchanged 15,000 of my Membership Rewards points for Continental miles so I could beef up my Continental account enough to buy a free ticket.  When my AmEx bill arrived, I noticed an odd charge: a "Membership Rewards airline tax offset fee."  Huh?  What's that? 

I called the Membership Rewards toll-free number, and the rep who answered said that when you transfer your points to a U.S. airline, you must pay a "federal excise tax fee" of 50 cents per thousand miles you transfer. So let's say you want to redeem 60,000 miles for a flight: You'll need to pay $30. That's on top of the annual $75 Membership Rewards program fee. Yikes!

Continue reading "Surprise Fee For Redeeming Miles" »

April 06, 2007

Finding Hard-To-Find Frequent-Flier Seats (Or: LaDonna Epler Is Back!)

Mileage_guru_randy_petersen_2 by Wendy Perrin

Several of you have asked who you can turn to for help finding available award seats to the destinations you want on the dates you want, now that the premier human source for this, AwardPlanner, is no more. Since AwardPlanner was the answer to many a Conde Nast Traveler reader's prayers, I've been exceedingly concerned about its disappearance.  I asked Webflyer and FlyerTalk founder Randy Petersen (pictured to the left), who started AwardPlanner 20 years ago, why he decided to shut it down and where on earth consumers can get help in its absence.  Randy's answer highlights the frequent-flier seat scarcity I warned you about the other day:

"When we first started helping people cash in their miles and points back in 1987, we could get awards 97% to 100% of the time. Today the percentage is in the low 80s. I can argue that it is not our fault if the airlines and others don't have seats and rooms available, but I do hate to hear any of my employees tell a customer 'No.'  With patience, knowledge, and some elbow grease, we can still find seats for our members, but what took 1 to 2 hours in the past is now taking 3 to 5 hours, and that affects the cost of providing the service."

Continue reading "Finding Hard-To-Find Frequent-Flier Seats (Or: LaDonna Epler Is Back!)" »

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