Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

Redeeming Miles

Bravo, you have enough miles for a free air ticket, now it is time to redeem it. What do you do and how do you choose from the many options on the website? Is there any trick?

Let’s take a look at what I have on both of my airline accounts, let’s do it together: As of today my American Airlines account only shows 12,194 miles, which is not enough for popcorn right now, let’s leave it alone. Actually, not too bad considering that I just got 2 free air tickets to Madrid.

After logging into my United Airlines account, it shows 60,965 miles so technically I have enough points for one free ticket to either Europe or Latin-America, so I just have to make my mind about where and when to travel.

On United.com under MileagePlus click on Use Award Miles (on American Airlines it is called Book an Award Ticket) and fill in the grids the same way as if you were to search for a regular airplane ticket. Based on your departure date, you will get a long list of flights.  You will notice that some of these free flights are crappy with long layovers or are connecting in cities which are out of way.

I don’t mind long layovers, as a matter of fact, I’m actually fishing for those because it gives me an opportunity to visit another city at no additional cost, furthermore, I don’t mind spending a night there so I can discover more.

What I do mind is the following:

  • If I am arriving between midnight and 6 AM.  After an overnight flight I’m very tired and perhaps even jet lagged; I can’t check into my hotel until at least noon (in best case scenario); I am wasting time. I hate to stick around airports and coffee houses with no sleep, I don’t have energy to do much even if I leave my luggage at the front desk of my hotel.  Nothing worse than starting a road trip dead tired.  Last November I flew to Dubai and Turkish Airlines landed at 2 AM. The flight was so rough that I almost got sick on the plane, I decided to buy an extra night at the hotel (for the previous night) so that I can check in, go to bed and sleep it off.
  • If the connecting airport is out of way: I only take this kind of flights when there is nothing else, when I can’t pick another date.  In August of 2007 I flew from Washington, D.C. to Alaska connecting in Dallas, Texas, which was insane but there wasn’t any better connection during peak season for a free flight, however on the way back it was much better connecting in Portland, Oregon. I just toughed it out, a little more wine helped 😉
  • If redeeming the miles costs too much money. Please note that there is a small fee associated with the redeeming the miles but those are disclosed prior to the purchase. United  Airlines shows this fees next to the mile needed for the flight, American Airlines shows it on the check-out page.  I have a limitation for this, willing to pay up to $50 per person one way, over that I rather choose another airline with perhaps a bad connection but as long as I can save.

Beware of British Airways for free flights! I like the airline with their customer service, in-flight entertainment, food, even the connecting airport in London but when it comes to free flights, they are notorious.  British Airways is affiliated with American Airlines; technically I would only need 50,000 miles for a free round trip ticket between the continental USA and Europe.  This European airline has the nerve to charge over $300 just to redeem miles one way, which comes to over $600 for a round trip ticket. For the love of God, for $600 you can already (or almost) buy your own round trip ticket to Europe so there is no reason to give away your hard earned miles for basically nothing and pay an additional $600!!!

Do you remember when I said that I’m setting my budget for a European ticket for up to $600? Well, I really meant it in all aspects! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Decide: Buying Air Tickets versus Redeeming Miles for Free Tickets

This is how I decide but you can make your own decision, there is nothing written in stone. Please note that my reasons are based on my own personal preference; you can certainly save toward a free ticket to Africa, Asia or Australia but if you want to fly domestic, go ahead and fly domestic.

It “costs” 25,000 miles for a domestic air ticket to fly within the continental USA. I live in the USA and have already been to most US states, seen every national park and waterfalls, famous vineyards, beaches, lakes and major cities. I visited Alaska, every island of Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. I doubt I left anything out so technically I can now cross out the great US of A with Canada and focus on other countries.  In addition to that I would hate to waste 25,000 miles on domestic tickets because if I were to travel locally, I could get good deals.  Additionally, I can physically drive to nearby states from Washington, D.C. to the Canadian border and Florida, stretching west to West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

It “cost” 50,000 miles to get a free ticket to Europe and I gladly choose Europe over anything, there is a lot of history there, metropolitan cities, good food and the Mediterranean Sea.  The countries are very close to each other, you drive a few hours in any direction and people are already speaking a different language.  There are a lot of European airlines to choose from and many of them are participating in reward programs so I’m pretty much covered from British Airways to Lufthansa, from Air France to Alitalia, from Iberia to SAS, etc. and I love free layovers in major cities.  By the way, 50,000 miles will take you to Latin-America too!

If I were to pay for a European air ticket out of pocket: I have set my limit to $600 but you can set your own limit to whatever amount. I’m very savvy and not willing to pay more than that.  What it means in my case is that if a ticket costs over $600, I rather wait until I have enough miles to fly for free.  European air tickets below $600 are very reasonable so no need to waste 50,000 miles. If I have 50,000 miles I rather save it for more expensive tickets.

Wow Air is one of the lowest cost carriers on the east coast so don’t be surprised to find airfares to Western European and Scandinavian countries for a few hundred dollars one way.  From Boston to Iceland fares start from $99 one way, from Baltimore to Iceland they start from $199! No wonder it is called WOW air! 🙂 I would never waste my miles to these cities, I rather pay for these and save my miles for something else I cannot afford!

Any questions? 🙂

Posted in Flying on Miles

The Value of a Mile

When you are earning miles, you certainly don’t know the value of it until you have to buy one.

When do you buy miles? When you need to redeem your points for a free ticket but you don’t have enough points.  You are a frequent flyer now, so go ahead and log in, make your selection for a free ticket and put it on hold without a credit card (only members can do that, American Airlines will hold your reservation for 5 days with no obligation to buy). The website will calculate how many miles you need for the free ticket and how many miles you are missing so you won’t need a calculator.  If you still haven’t purchased your ticket by midnight on the 5th day, the airline will cancel your reservation without penalty and release the seats for purchase.

When you don’t have enough miles for a free ticket you can purchase the missing miles from your airline, which are immediately deposited into your frequent flyer account after payment.  Miles are sold in batches and the more miles you buy the less they cost.  Also keep in mind that over a certain amount of miles you get free bonus miles so if let’s say you need 11,000 miles technically you only need to pay for 10,000 because you are getting 1,000 for free.  Over 25,000 miles you are getting 10,000 bonus miles for free!  When your purchased miles are deposited into your account, go ahead and “pay” for your reservation (which was now on hold) and your miles will be deducted from your frequent flyer account.

Here is an example of air mile costs:

1,000 miles cost $29.50

2,000 miles = $59

3,000 miles =  $88.50

4,000 miles = $118

Over 5,000 miles you will receive 1,000 bonus miles for free and pay $147.50

10,000 miles + 1,000 miles for free  = $295

Over 25,000 miles you will received 10,000 bonus miles for free and pay $737.50

40,000 miles +10,000 miles = you pay $1,180

So officinally, when you need 50,000 miles for a free European ticket from the continental USA; you had zero miles you would need to pay $1,180. Now you know, how important it is to earn miles and wait till you have enough for a free ticket. In my 25 years of traveling I only bought air miles once because I wanted us to fly together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

Cash-Back Credit Card versus Airline Credit Card

Here it goes folks, which one benefits you more? It is time to compare them!

Your cash-back and mile awards depend on your spending in both cases but there is a huge difference, and correct me if I’m wrong, you get your cash-back at the end of the year while you are earning the miles as you go, so you may have enough points for a free ticket before the end of the year.  The cash-back percentage is between 1%-2% of your total annual purchase, while airline credit cards deposit between 1-3 miles per dollar spent depending on the type of credit card (regular, business, gold, platinum, etc).

When you are a frequent flyer of an airline holding their credit card, you are not only earning miles from the credit card company but also from the online stores you shop at via the airline’s web portal, restaurants, hotels, rental cars and many other merchants, who are participating in the program with the airline, this is what I call “Double-Dipping”.  There many different ways of earning miles, which I have already explained in my previous blogs (How to Fly for Free 1-4).

Now, when you get cash-back after your annual purchases and let’s say you want to use that money for air tickets, you can simply buy that on your own from any website, BUT your money may not be enough!  You have x amount of money (cash-back) in your hand but your air ticket could cost 2x (depending on where and when you travel).

When you have miles you don’t worry about the cost of the ticket; this is how it works: There is an award chart showing the mile requirements for each zone.  Take my example: last year I went to Sardinia, Italy on miles; flew from Washington DC to Olbia.  Washington DC is in the continental USA and Italy is in the “Europe Zone” so a free round trip ticket between these two destinations “costs” 50,000 miles.  The continental USA means 48 states and the Europe Zone means a lot of countries in Europe from Portugal to Turkey, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean.  With other words, it does not matter where in the continental USA I fly from to which European country (even if it is a small, remote island) as long as the airline (or their European partner airline) flies there, it still “costs” 50,000 miles round trip.

Now let’s break it down to the dollar value; I guarantee you gonna love this! Take my example again:  My ticket from Washington, D.C. to Sardinia, Italy “costs” 50,000 miles per person in the month of August, which is considered to be a peak season.  At the time of redeeming my miles the cheapest airfare was advertised for $1,980 per person on Expedia, then imagine how much it would have been with my airline! Since I took my husband with me I would have paid $3,960 for the 2 of us, which is insane for air tickets alone.  If I lived in Los Angeles (which is still in the continental USA), I would have paid approximately $2,300 per person to Sardinia, if I had purchased tickets from my own money but if I had used miles from Los Angles to Sardinia, Olbia, it still would have been 50,000! Capish?

Flying to Europe from the east coast does not always cost that much, it all depends on the season, country and the airline.  In April we are going to fly again on miles, from Washington, D.C. to Madrid, Spain.  April is pre-season and at the time of redeeming my miles the cheapest airfare was advertised for $960 per person for the same dates as mine and we are two people. Let’s translate this into miles: Washington, D.C .again is in the continental USA and Spain is in the “Europe Zone” so again, it “costs” 50,000 miles per person round trip.

Maybe you can see the difference now on REDEEMING MILES for air ticket versus BUYING an air ticket from your cash-back by your credit card company.

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

“Double Dipping” 101

“Double Dipping” is a faster way to earn miles while killing two birds with one stone.

  1. As a frequent flyer: Log into your account and purchase your airplane ticket, for your airline or it’s partner airlines.
  2. Use your credit card affiliated with the airline for the online transaction.
  3.  Take the flight and make sure your frequent flyer number appears on your boarding pass as well not just your on the reservation – you will be earning miles for the flight as well (depending on partner airline, your booking class and cabin type) but the airline will deposit miles into your account anywhere between 50-100% of the miles flown within two weeks from your trip.

PLEASE NOTE: YOU CAN BUY YOUR AIR TICKETS FROM ANY WEBSITE INCLUDING TRAVEL AGENCIES BUT YOU MAY NOT ALWAYS EARN MILES FOR THOSE FLIGHTS.

The way the system works is that certain booking classes do not qualify for award miles, so when you book outside of your airline’s webpage there are no guarantees that you are getting miles for those flights.  You will certainly get your tickets and fly wherever you need to go but you may not get the miles for it.  When you shop outside of your airline’s website you don’t know what class they will book you on and you certainly don’t have any control over it.  In those cases you will only know the booking details after purchase, which is when travel agencies email you the receipt and electronic tickets.  Rule of thumb: if your ticket was one of those super-duper deep-discounted fares most likely your flight won’t qualify for miles (buy hey, you got a good deal which also matters).

I don’t want to complicate this even more but it can also happen that you may get booked on a “higher” class on the first leg of your trip and on a “lower” class on the second leg of your trip (or vice versa), so in those cases you earn different percentage of miles for each leg of your trip (or none at all if one leg does not qualify).  It happens with super cheap tickets.

I have been fighting with Turkish Airlines since last November because they confirmed (“booked”) my E-ticket on “W” class after purchase; however my boarding pass shows a “Y” booking class for each leg of the trip.  This seems like an administrative error but it is worth the fight since there are thousand of miles at stake from Washington, D.C. to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Dubai and back to D.C. via Istanbul.

I always wondered how many booking classes are out there. Let me tell you, a lot! Imagine it like the ABC, first/business classes are beginning with “A”, “B” and “C”, economy classes are ending with “Y” and “W”, while “Y” still qualifies for miles but not “W”.

My advise is this: Buy your ticket directly from your airline whenever you can so that you have options to choose between different booking classes prior to purchasing the ticket. If there is a significant price difference between your airline and a travel agency, then go ahead and buy the cheaper one.  You never know, your cheaper ticket may still qualify for miles, just make sure to mention your frequent flyer number when you buy it and mention it again when you check-in at the airport.

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Fly for Free – Part 4

Now that you have been using your airline’s credit card, learned to shop on the Eshopping web portals, are already familiar with “double dipping” so now let me share one more way to earn additional miles.

Do you ever send flowers or gift baskets? FTD will give you 20 miles per dollar spent, 1-800 Flowers will deposit 15 miles per dollar spent while Teleflora rewards you with 1,000 miles for each order. Not too bad and you will look like a hero for sending a gift! 🙂

Do you like wine? If you join Vinesse, a wine club in California, you will earn 2,000 miles just for signing up and 5 miles per dollar spent on your future orders.  I have tried this myself, they picked a great selection of domestic and international wines, both red and white in each shipment. Over a certain order amount they include a free gift as well; I got  a nice corkscrew.  Drink it up, buddy!

Do you ever go to theaters, opera or exhibitions? Guess what, from now on you can earn up to 2,200 miles per ticket purchased for participating Broadway shows! I live in Virginia so I don’t not have any luck here but perhaps folks in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago or Las Vegas might benefit from this but check it out for sure!

Want to relax? Go get a massage or facial, use SpaFinder and earn 3 miles per dollar spent! I especially liked this!

Do you fill out surveys online? E-Rewards will give you up to 250 miles per survey so sign up on this website and start filling out surveys. Occasionally companies send you a product to test and you may even keep it while earning some miles! I tried it, not bad!

Do you ever rent a car from major agencies? If you do, start renting from Avis, Budget, Alamo, Payless, National, Dollar,  Hertz, Thrifty, Carmel, Europcar, Sixt, Groundlink and Supershuttle because each of them will earn you miles as long as you give them your frequent flyer number at the time of reservation or when you pick your car up. Depending on which car rental agency it is or and what your frequent flyer status is, you will earn anywhere between 500 and 1,250 miles per rental term (not days).  I have taken advantage of this many times.

Dine out in restaurants affiliated with the airline and earn miles while stuffing your face. I wish Pho places participated but I cannot have it all. In order for you to earn miles for dining you must open an account in the Dining Network and register your credit card otherwise you won’t earn miles from the restaurant just from your bank! Please see my blog on How to Fly for Free – Part 2 on this topic!

Do you stay in leading hotel chains? If you do, consider Hilton, Wyndham, Intercontinental, Choice, Starwood, Marriott, Shangri-La, Radisson, Hyatt, La Quinta, Best Western or many other smaller hotel chains? If you do, you will earn 250 miles for each stay (not per night).

Do you ever take cruises anywhere? If you do, check out all cruise liners, from small ships to mega boats because they all participate in frequent flyer programs, your earning potential is anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 miles per cruise (depending on the cruise liner, destination, room category, etc) but this is another great way to kill two birds with one stone. Take me with you!

Do you ever park at airports? Try PreFlight Airport Parking and earn 1 mile per dollar spent. You will earn a free day for every 6 days you park with them! Hello!

Are you planning on buying or selling real estate? I got news for you! HomeMiles are giving you 2,000 miles for every $10,000 of the sale or purchase price; or 1,500 miles for every $10,000 when you refinance. You will earn an additional 5,000 miles if you move state-to-state with Allied, North American or Global Van Lines.

If you want to invest money, you can earn between 15,000 and 50,000 miles with Fidelity Investments after your deposits. Or try BankDirect who is also rewarding you miles on bank account deposits and opening CDs but there are a few more options for you in this category, I just picked two. LendingTree used to be an affiliate years ago but it now seems they broke up with the airlines.

You can now earn miles for signing up for DirectTV or switching your energy bills to any of these (in certain states): Energy Plus, Everything Energy, Gexa Energy, NRG Home Solar or Reliant. Range of miles is between 5,000 and 30,000 per subscription. At one time Netflix was an affiliate as well which I did sign up for but they are no longer available for this program.  At that time Netflix used to be $18 a month. Can you believe that? It is now $7!

Donate money to Susan G. Komen or the National Foundation for Cancer Research and earn 10 miles per dollar spent with both organizations. You may be able to write your donation off so everybody wins but you double dip! 😉

Stay tuned, there is more, the next blog will be about “triple dipping”!

Image: moneysavingexpert

 

 

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Fly for Free – Part 3

You don’t need a a PhD to earn miles, if I can do it, so can you. Today we are going to take the next class of double dipping, which will bring you the most amount of miles and earn you a free air ticket faster.

Go on your airline’s website and find a link for Eshopping under Earn Miles. Please do not confuse Eshopping with those SkyMall magazines you get on the airplanes. Ehopping is basically online shopping but instead of going on a store’s website directly you will access the store via your airline’s web portal. I know it sounds complicated but it is very easy.

This is what you do:

On your airline’s website, under Earn Miles, find a shopping link; American Airlines calls it AAdvantage Eshopping (Mall), United calls it Mileage Plus Shopping.  You will have to click around to find this link but once you have it you may want to save it in your Bookmarks to make life easy.  Create an account here as well. After you log in, get familiar with the website because this is what you will be using the most.  If you used to drive to stores, forget it (unless you are happy with less miles), if you used to order everything online, great, keep on doing it because now you will be earning miles left and right. Look around who is particing in the program and whatever your budget is, they cater to you they from Walmart and Kmart, from Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.  If you love Groupon and Livingsocial, like me, guess what, they participate as well, so from now on you are not only getting good deals but also miles from these online stores, and if you use your credit card for the purchase, you will earn miles from your bank as well. Bang!

Over 200 stores participate with airlines so you can search a specific merchant just by typing the name and see if it pops up but you can get the full list of stores.  If you are shopping for a specific item, like a microwave oven, just type the word “microwave oven” and the website will list all online stores who sell microwave ovens. You can then compare which store gives you the most amount of miles and at the same time you can compare prices and shipping costs as well. YOU WILL EARN MILES PER DOLLAR SPENT! Some stores only give you a mile per dollar spent while others reward you with 15 miles per dollar spent. Occasionally the airline runs a promotion, they can double or triple the amount of miles so watch out for those near holidays.

MY ADVISE: If there is only a small (nickel and dime) price difference between the stores for the same item while one store gives you more mile per dollar spent than the other, go with the slightly more expensive one.  Keep in mind that miles are very valuable and you need them fast. PS: Use a coupon if you can to lower the cost! 😉

Another plus: There are more online coupons, promo codes than regular printable store coupons and if you reach a certain amount, you will get free shipping as well or just use a coupon for free shipping.  You will save gas, time and frustration it you shop at home in your own convenience wearing your favorite PJs; no more driving, fighting for parking, lining up at the cashier or waiting on a shopping cart. Imagine Black Fridays or the Christmas fever! Ew, not me!

You may not know this but there are more sales online than in the stores! Have you heard of Cyber Mondays?

Miles will appear on your frequent flyer account within a couple of weeks from the date of purchase but you will get a monthly statement from the airline as well so you can track your earnings. In case you are missing any miles, you can dispute that online.

Stay tune, folks, there is more!

Image: moneysavingexpert

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Fly for Free – Part 2

All right, now that you received your credit card in the mail and activated it, start using it!

I set up all my bills for automatic payments from this account (whoever allows you to pay with a credit card), use it at the doctor’s office, pharmacy, gym, buffet, grocery store, gas station, hair salon, dog’s groomer’s salon, Starbucks, 7-11, any store. Basically, you will be shopping and paying your bills the same way as before, just instead of using your other card with no (mile) benefits, you will be using your credit card associated with your airline account.

You will have to keep in mind one thing: the airline credit card has a high interest rate and depending on your credit you must have qualified anywhere for a 15-22% interest rate, so use your card wisely. I don’t like paying interest but after divorce I needed to focus on fixing my credit and use the bank’s money. If you can afford to pay off the whole amount in the same month, go ahead, people like me with a bad credit should be paying back about 80-90% of the total amount. Now, please note that I am not talking about extraordinary spending here, simply your bills and regular expenses you would have on a monthly base.

Next what you do is this: Go on your airline’s website and check if they participate in a dining network.  Create an account and register your credit card.  Whether you dine out occasionally or regularly, you can start benefiting from joining this program; every time you pay your bill at the restaurant, you will 3 earn miles per dollar spent from the restaurant and also one mile per dollar spent from credit card.  You are already double dipping! Good job, way to go!

Stay tuned, there is more!

Image: moneysavingexpert

 

 

Posted in Flying on Miles, Travel

How to Fly for Free – Part 1

I think this is the moment all my friends are waiting for so I’m letting my secret out.

It does not matter where you live and where you would like to travel but this is how I do it.  Since I live in the United States I picked two American airlines that are affiliated with airlines in Europe, Africa, Central and Latin-America, the Middle-East, Asia and Australia.

Please keep in mind that major airlines fly to Hawaii and other remote destinations as well so there is no need to sign up with stand-alone small airlines simply because they don’t give you the same benefits. Wow Air is a low cost airline which I find very appealing but they did not partner up with anybody so I only fly with them if there is no other alternative to save money, given they fly to my destination.

Ok, after you picked your airline now go ahead and create an account, you officially become, what I call is, a frequent flyer, which will open your world for free traveling. You will learn how to earn miles and redeem points for free air tickets.

Now that you became a member of an airline, familiarize yourself with the credit cards they are offering. If you own a business you certainly benefit more from credit cards that reward you with higher number of miles per dollar spent while they give you the most amount of miles as a sign-up bonus, if you do qualify.

Keep in mind that airlines send you credit card offers in the mail as well. If you throw away junk mail without reading, start keeping an eye on these offers because they give you a better sign-up bonus than the ones online. That is what I did.  American Airlines offer 30,000 miles for online credit card applications but I waited until I got their junk mail offering me 50,000 and jumped on the opportunity. You don’t have to mail anything back, the junk mail offers are also done online with a promo code they give you, just make sure to write your frequent flyer member number on the application; your credit card will be associated with your airline account.  Once you qualify it will take about a week to get your credit card in the mail, activate it immediately and start earning your miles and fly for free, like I do! Do not buy anything until you get your credit card and if you can last that long, wait with putting gas in your car as well 😉

I will teach you how to earn miles just by doing what you would normally do on a daily base and how to maximize your earning potential by “double dipping”. I will also show you how to redeem your miles for an award one way, round trip or a multi-destination; when to travel, how to redeem the least amount of miles, how to choose partner airlines for better connections, just to name a few!

Stay tuned folks, more to come!

Image: moneysavingexpert