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Entries during 2009-11

Preserving your hard-earned miles

Q. While I've been busy taking early retirement due to illness, watching my 401K tank, moving from Miami to San Diego, and dealing with other stressful stuff, Delta changed its policy on frequent flyer miles.

The last paper notices I have indicate that my husband and I have roughly 70,000 miles available, due to expire in December.

But it appears that Delta decided to change mileage expiration dates from two years ending December 31 to two years after the last date of activity. The upshot is that we have just 13,000 miles available.

We were never notified of the policy change. This is a mean, cheap trick. Is there any way of getting around it?

A. You could certainly ask Delta to re-instate the miles, but somehow I doubt they will. Changing the mileage expiration rules is one way airlines are trying to remove frequent flyer miles, which are a financial liability, from their books. But there is no reason why anyone should have miles expire. If you shop online, even if you buy a 99-cent iTunes from Apple.com, you should make your purchases through the airlines’ shopping malls. Doing so keeps your frequent flyer account active for another year or two, depending on the airline. Delta, for example, has over 150 retail partners, such as Sears.com, Bestbuy.com, and Apple.com, and they give bonus miles for each $1 spent. But you have to make your online purchases through the airline’s shopping site. The prices are exactly same. Do a browser search for “airfarewatchdog shopping” for handy links to the major airlines’ online shopping malls and make all your online purchases through these sites. Airlines also have dining programs which award miles for dining out, and this activity also extends mileage expiration dates. More on this in the blog.

Frequent Flyer Availability?

Q. I’ve booked a trip to Europe on Continental for next summer using frequent-flier miles, but I’m hoping to get better connections during the intervening six to seven months.  Is there any particular day of the week or time of day when new frequent-flier availability might be likely to appear, or is it totally random?

A. It’s really hard to predict when or if frequent flyer seats and routes will open up. You might try calling Continental’s frequent flyer desk and speaking to a supervisor, and be sure to check often, since people holding the flights you want might cancel their plans. Also, even if all else fails, a kindly agent at the airport might change your flights on the day of travel to the connections you want. So it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

The Best Card Card Offer for Earning Miles

Q. I have been thinking of getting an airline credit card in order to earn miles, especially the bonus sign up miles, which are typically 20,000 or 25,000. Which credit card is best for this?

A. Right now, the absolute best offer is from British Airways’ Chase Visa. They’re offering 100,000 bonus miles (that’s not a typo), 50,000 upon your first purchase with the card, and another 50,000 if you spend $2,000 or more in the first three months. You also get 1.25 miles rather than the usual one for each dollar charged to the card, and if you spend $30,000 in a single calendar year you get a companion voucher good for any class of service. The annual fee is $75. Plus, should you usually only travel domestically, you can spend those miles on BA’s partner American Airlines or other partner airlines. Those 100,000 miles are good for two flights to Europe, assuming seats are available when you wish to travel, or for upgrades. You can apply for the card by visiting http://www.mychasecreditcards.com/britishairways/hp_postpin

Cruise Ship Airfare: Don't miss the boat!

Q. Is there any reason why I should buy airfare from my cruise line rather than through Expedia or whatever? It seems that the cruise lines’ fares are higher.

A. One reason is that if you buy the airfare along with your cruise, the cruise company might make more effort to accommodate you should your incoming flight be late or cancelled, or if the schedule is changed. (By the way, it’s always a good idea to arrive the day before your cruise leaves, rather than on the day, in case there’s a flight problem. Otherwise, you might miss the ship.) Also, cruise line fares might have more flexibility than the lower fares you’re finding on Expedia, etc. But maybe you don’t need to buy airfare at all, depending on the cruise line you choose. Carnival Cruise Lines now fields cruises, some year round, from 20 home ports, which are within a five hour drive of 50% of the U.S. population, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and New York. By the way, if you haven’t cruised on Carnival lately, or thought it was down market, you might be in for a surprise. The food is among the best in the cruise industry, surprising considering how cheap Carnival's fares can be.

Fares to Europe for late 2010?

Q. Fares to Europe for late 2010 are driving me crazy! They keep going up, up, and up. Is September still considered "peak summer?" I thought it was a shoulder season. Also, is October a less busy time to go to Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Rome?

A. Late fall, 2010? Whoa there! It's probably a bit early to start looking for next fall. We'd sit tight for now and just keep on looking. There will be sales, and you may even score a better fare if you're flexible with what European city you're willing to fly into initially. For example, this past year, Amsterdam, London and Paris didn't have that many amazing sales. But we were pretty wowed by the sale fares we saw to cities like Frankfurt, Dublin, Rome, Zurich, Geneva, Madrid and Barcelona. And from those cities, you can always book a cheap flight on Ryanair or any other Euro budget carrier to your preferred destination.

Reduced Fleets: Rental Cars vs. Airplanes

Q. I'm about to take my first business trip to Phoenix and need to rent a car. I'm accustomed to prices for a medium-sized car in the $18-$22 per day range for most of the locations I travel. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded when I looked today and prices were more than double that.  Why are prices so high in Phoenix?

A. It's because rental car companies have reduced their fleets and they can charge more for their product. But that brings up the question: why have airlines not been able to jack up fares the same way? the difference is that renters are a captive audience. Consumers can decide to stay home, but once they decide to fly somewhere, unless they want to take the public bus or have a friend who will loan them a car while they're visiting, they have no choice but to rent. The rental car companies have the upper hand. You might want to check out AutoSlash.com, which checks multiple rental car sites, and makes use of promo codes and coupons you might have otherwise missed.

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