I honestly don't know how some frequent fliers 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 status). Many of these expert travelers know how to maximize their elite status. Here are seven tips and tricks worth following.
Get in the airline lounge even if you have an economy-class ticket.
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 travelers 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, Continental's Presidents Club, the United Red Carpet 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.
Earn 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 milestone of flying one million miles? 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, the smartest travelers know that if they attain status in one airline's program, they can often get a competing airline to match that status.
Reach 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.
Know when it's wise to buy miles.
Ever seen those promotions about buying 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. Recently, for example, British Airways was offering a 50% bonus on transferred points (transfer 100,000 points and you actually get 150,000 miles).
(And speaking of American Express points, you're probably aware that later this year Continental Airlines will no longer participate. But since Continental has merged with United, you can take advantage of your Amex points with Continental after the cut-off date by transferring points from Amex to Continental now, and then immediately transfer them, if you wish, to United. Here's how to do that.)
Find secret ways to book 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. Here's the inside scoop.
SkyTeam has its own method of searching for availability (that luckily does not involve the clunky Delta.com 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 websites. 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.
Shop 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 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 Mac iBook? How about collecting your additional 5,000-10,000 miles? Continental might be awarding an additional four miles for each dollar spent at Apple.com, but only if you reach Apple's website by clicking over from Continental's shopping mall first. Buying a $200 pair of shoes at Saks? You might earn an additional 2,400 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. Find links to the airlines' malls here.
Get 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 website says there aren't any.
George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.
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