Frequent flyer hacks only the most frequent flyers know
By George Hobica
I honestly don't know how some frequent flyers manage. Travel can be so discombobulating and disruptive, yet some road warriors spend half their lives on planes, sometimes just to collect miles and attain elite frequent flyer status. One thing that they know that most fliers don't is how to make the best of it, collecting as many frequent flier miles as possible, and using the "status" they earn from traveling so much to their advantage. So here are some tricks of the uber-flier arsenal that you can put to good use.
1. Getting in the lounge even if you're in economy class
Airports aren't much fun, but one way to make the whole flying experience more pleasurable is to wait for your flight in an airline lounge. Savvy fliers know that even if they are flying in economy class, they can access business class lounges when flying overseas. If you're a member of Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge, the United Club, or the US Airways club you can access any Star Alliance business class lounge when flying internationally. No matter what class of service you are flying or elite status, show your club membership card and you gain access to alliance member lounges across the globe. Here's how it works. And if you're not familiar with the range of airport lounges, this article lays it all out.
2. Getting elite status
Elite status is an important tool in every road warrior's bag of tricks, but achieving status can be troublesome if your travel patterns change each year. Did you know that most airlines award elite status for life upon reaching the one million miles flown mark? Sure, it takes a lot of flying to get there, but you are a road warrior and you will live a long time. Which airlines offer this valuable benefit? Read more. And speaking of elite status, frequent frequent flyers know that if they attain status in one airline's program they can often get a competiting airline to match that status.
3. Getting elite status faster
Want a fast track to Grand Poobah status in your fave airline? There are easier ways to achieve alliance-wide status if you are willing to collect miles in foreign programs. Aegean Airlines, for example, awards Star Alliance Gold elite status at a much lower threshold than many of its alliance partners bringing with it lounge access benefits and baggage fee waivers. Here's how to do it.
4. When it's wise to buy miles
Ever seen those promotions about buying frequent flyer miles and wondered if it was worth it? Well there are some promotions (often with US Airways) where buying miles can save you big bucks and help you to fly business class overseas for as little as $1,000, a bargain since most business class fares cost $4,000-7,000. Read about exactly when you should buy miles and when you should steer clear here. And if you collect American Express Membership Reward points, check their site frequently for bonus transfer offers. For example, British Airways has offered a 50 percent bonus on transferred points (transfer 100,000 points and you actually get 150,000 miles).
5. Hacks to finding award seats on partner airlines
When you have miles burning in your account, what’s the best way to redeem them? The process can be complicated, and calling an agent to have them do the work for you is a bad idea. Because they may not do a great job! You have to do the homework first. Star Alliance has a secret backend tool to finding the award availability for your next trip thanks to partner airline ANA All Nippon Airways of Japan. The inside scoop.
SkyTeam has its own method of searching for availability (that luckily does not involve the clunky delta.com web site). Sign up for Air France-KLM's Flying Blue frequent flyer program to search for award inventory on Delta, Air France, KLM, CSA Czech, Alitalia, Kenya Airways and other partners. (And speaking of Delta SkyMiles, you might want to check out this advice on how to spend your miles wisely.)
There's also an easy way for oneworld alliance fans to find seats on partner airlines. If you collect miles in any of the oneworld alliance member programs, you can scour award availability by using the British Airways and Qantas Airways web sites. These give access to most partner availability online so you can do your homework before calling your airline's reservation number to make the booking. Read more.
6. Shopping for bonus miles
Experienced mile collectors know that it's a sin to buy anything online without checking first to see if there are bonus frequent flyer miles to be had. Sure, they collect a mile or maybe 1.5 miles for each dollar charged to their credit cards, but that's chump change compared to the bonus miles. Buying a new computer? How about collecting your additional 5000-10,000 miles? American might be awarding an additional four miles for each dollar spent at BestBuy.com, but only if you reach BestBuy's web site by clicking over from the shopping mall first. Buying a $200 pair of shoes at Saks? You might earn an additonal 2,400 frequent flyer miles with British Airways. Each airline has their own shopping portal through which you can access your favorite stores (you know, the ones you already go online to use for your shopping). And, of course, online shopping is a fine way to prevent your miles from expiring. Links to the airlines' malls.
7. Getting award seats even when you're told no
Yes, it seems to be getting harder to cash in those hard-earned miles, especially on popular routes, even when following the advice above. Tim Winship, editor of Frequentflier.com, offers this advice on how to get the seats you want even when the web site says there aren't any.
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