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50 Answers to Your Frequent Flyer Questions

Techcrunch ran an article a bit ago called “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Starting and Running Your Business” – it was probably the best thing they’ve ever run.

With full debt to that article, I thought I’d answer 50 questions about the frequent flyer world.

1) What frequent flyer program should I focus on?
United. If you’re never going to redeem miles to Europe I could be convinced about American. But United.

2) So only sign up for United?
No – always get miles when you fly, regardless of the program – you never know when those 4,000 miles will come in handy.

3) Which hotel program should I focus on?
Unless you’re traveling 150 nights a year, they all kinda suck at this point. Priceline your rooms and use the savings to bribe the clerk to move you into a suite.

4) There are NO good hotel programs?
Starwood is good, but earning via hotel stays is awful. They have the best range of hotels around the world. Hyatt is probably the most lucrative, but they have so few hotels that it doesn’t matter.

5) What’s the value of a mile?
The first mile you earn is worth next to nothing, the last miles before you earn an award are worth a lot.

6) How many stopovers to I get on a domestic award ticket?
None, except on Delta, where you get 1.

7) How many stopovers and open jaws do I get on an international award ticket?
United: 1 stopover and 2 open jaws (ridiculously generous). Delta: Open stopover and one open jaw. American: Open jaw allowed. Stopover only allowed at North American gateway city. US Airways is disappearing.

8) What do I do with Avios points?
Fly short-haul flights for 4,500 miles each way. And mid-haul flights to Central America and the Caribbean.

9) What shouldn’t I do with Avios points?
Don’t fly to Europe or Africa on any airline other than Air Berlin or Aer Lingus because the fuel surcharges are ridiculous.

10) Sometimes I fly Delta, sometimes I fly American. What should I do?
Put the miles toward Alaska’s program.

11) Everyone knocks Delta’s award availability. Should I bother getting Delta miles?
If it were me, I would earn toward Alaska if I flew Delta. You’re giving up some upgrades (possibly) but you’ll actually be able to use the miles.

12) I’ve heard you have to book business class tickets to Australia 330 days in advance. Is that true?
It is on Qantas. But you can usually get business class award seats to Australia on United much of the year (see Q.1)

13) Do angled business class seats really suck as much as people say?
No. They’re perfectly fine for a day flight. At night, don’t fully recline and that way you won’t slide down.

14) Should I get lounge access?
Get it because it’s relaxing, don’t get it because you think the food is good.

15) What credit card should I use as my everyday card?
Depends: Do you use miles to redeem for international travel? If so, get the Sapphire Preferred. Do use use miles for schmancy hotels? Get the Amex Starwood. If you don’t do either of those, get a cash back card — the Barclays Arrival card if you spend more than $40k/year or the Fidelity Amex if you don’t.

16) What credit cards are churnable?
American Airlines Business cards. Alaska Airlines cards. US Airways cards.

17) What’s the cheapest award to London?
Move Membership Rewards points or SPG points into ANA and it’s 63k points for business class on United.

18) What’s the best way to use miles to Hawaii?
Probably on United, though if you’re on the West Coast and you’re booking early enough in advance you should use Avios points on American or Alaska.

19) Isn’t air travel so much worse than it used to be?
No.

20) But they used to serve food?
It was terrible food.

21) And free drinks!
If you can’t go without a drink for 7 hours, the state of air travel is not your biggest issue.

22) Will I find lower airfares if I wait til the last minute?
No.

23) How far in advance should I book my flight to get the best airfare?
45-60 days.

24) Should I buy that ticket now, or should I wait?
I think of it this way: What’s the lowest fare I expect to pay on the route? How much more is it now? How high could it possibly go? I think of the difference between the lowest fare it can be and the price it is now as an insurance policy against the price going up to the highest it can go.

25) Will those tickets to Florida get cheaper for my Christmas trip?
Yes, but you have to check frequently, because they will also get more expensive.

26) Is it unsafe to fly Airline X?
No. All airlines are safe.

27) Even African ones I’ve never heard of?
It is safer than driving from Bujumbura to Malabo.

28) What’s the best airline?
The best airline for what?

29) You know, the best airline?
OH, the best AIRline? Singapore. Or Emirates. Some people say Cathay. That doesn’t really help you if you’re flying from Cincinnati to Houston, though.

30) I think airline X is the WORST!
Worse than driving from Spokane to Memphis?

31) How can I get to Tahiti on miles?
Use Delta miles to fly Air Tahiti Nui or Air France from LA.

32) Is it worth the extra miles for international First vs. international Business class?
If you have infinity miles, then yes.

33) Can I transfer miles to my parents’ account?
No. Well yes, but it’s really expensive and not worth it.

34) Should you use your own miles to upgrade your parents on their flight to Paris.
Yes, they’re your parents.

35) My friends use their miles to fly business class to Florida from New York. Isn’t that stupid?
No, there are no stupid uses of miles. Well, never using the ones you have is pretty stupid.

36) What are the 10 best credit card offers this month?
Probably the same as the 10 best credit card offers last month.

37) Isn’t it miserable flying to Europe in coach?
Not as miserable as not going to Europe.

38) Best advice given repeatedly about frequent flyer miles?
Always keep checking back to see if seats have opened up.

39) Those fees are annoying.
They’re here to stay, get over it.

40) Should I bother with all that Vanilla Reload stuff?
If you have to ask…

41) Who has the best domestic first class cabin?
No one.

42) That’s not true.
At this point United, American and Delta all fly very nice business class cabins transcon from JFK.

43) Isn’t Virgin America so cool?
Sure, but it doesn’t earn me miles so I won’t be flying it.

44) That Hilton devaluation really stunk, didn’t it?
Yes. But you know what’s worse? Getting rid of the Hawaiian Airlines credit cards, which allowed all of us to print Hilton miles. It just took a little longer to print the miles — until they did away with the cards entirely.

45) Ooooh, look at me! I’m on a plane!
Wrong blog.

46) It’s really bothering me that you won’t give any hotel programs any credit.
Fine – Hyatt has a great program with fantastic redemptions, including for suites at a reasonable rate. They just don’t have enough properties.

47) You haven’t mentioned much about US Airways – I thought you loved them.
I do – but with the impending merger we don’t know what will happen with their program.

48) Do all airlines let you redeem for one-way awards?
No – Delta and US Airways require round trip.

49) Any foreign frequent flyer programs to keep in mind?
Yes – if you don’t fly United often, credit your first 3,000 miles each year to Aegean Airlines and you’ll get Star Alliance Silver status, which gets you free checked bags.

50) Any last words?
Even if you don’t fly much, get the credit card for the airline you fly most often (or get Star Alliance Silver through Aegean) — flying with no status at all while having to pay for bags is just offensive.

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17 Comments.

  1. I like your “refreshing” advice.

    My only difference in advice would be regarding hotel loyalty programs. I agree with you that it would be silly to focus any effort on earning status through STAYING at hotels. But if you’re a frequent traveler, it’s worth trying to get status in as many programs as you can without paying much for it. This often involves getting a credit card — with a generous sign-up bonus for free nights — or perhaps a status match. The more you travel, the more it’s worth the effort. At some point, I think EVERY frequent flyer should get the IHG “priority club” card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott card, a Hilton card, an SPG card, etc. Variety is definitely the spice of life when it comes to hotel chains (every destination is different), and having points and status that you can use in a variety of chains can be extremely useful. And it generally costs nothing (except a credit check and your time) to get the status.

    • For 1st year, yes, get all the hotel cards because of bonus. After the 1st year, you have to consider the annual fees. They all add up, and the annual free night is not as flexible as points because of the 1 year expiration date.

  2. Another great post Jared. Item 45 especially cracked me up.

  3. nice post;
    However, people still check bags? really?

  4. Best blog post anywhere I’ve seen in a while. Just pure awesomeness.

    :lol:

  5. Terrific post, Jared. I’ll definitely be sharing this with my subscribers in my newsletter.

  6. You make me laugh. I know most of these travel bloggers don’t care for the Marriott card, but it works great to me. I have used my free night for a $250 room and it works great for rural options to stay in a nice hotel for a cheap 7500 points. I wouldn’t waste my limited points on luxury, but pay or hotwire it. Booked my first Ryanair trip for March last week. -a bit scared, but I have tons of success on Allegiant and Spirit. So.. hopefully it will go okay. :)

  7. Great post Jared. I think you mean “angle flat” not “lie flat” on #13, right?

  8. You are hilarious. Are you definitely married?

  9. These are great!

    36) What are the 10 best credit card offers this month?
    Probably the same as the 10 best credit card offers last month.

    37) Isn’t it miserable flying to Europe in coach?
    Not as miserable as not going to Europe.

  10. I’m def going to bookmark this post!

  11. Great! And I personally didn’t think Vanilla Reloads are worth the hassle when since I can just put reimbursable spending on my CC’s instead.

    Is earning Starwood points for stays really that bad even when paying with the Starwood Amex (I’m platinum btw)?

  12. Great post – informative and witty.

  13. Isn’t it miserable flying to Europe in coach?
    Not as miserable as not going to Europe.

    Beautiful!!!

    But no, no, no. Grab all hotel credit cards you can and enjoy them. If you only have to grab one, it’s US Bank Club Carlson, actually two including business. Don’t tell me I should’ve paid cold hard cash for my recent stay in Paris… or for all of my other recent stays, for that matter.

    And yes, seriously, Club Carlson is the best hotel credit card on the market today bar none!

  14. “Put the miles toward Alaska’s program.”

    Umm, no. I’d much rather have the MQMs count toward Delta Plat status.

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