Stretching Your Points for a Rainy Day

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Stretching Your Points for a Rainy Day

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With constant devaluations and tightening of rules by banks (see here, here and here), the gravy train is slowing down.

While there has been a lot of conversation about the why it’s happening, there isn’t much conversation on conserving those points and maybe saving them for a rainy day.

The point (pun intended) to churning, earning and burning is to take trips not specifically to take trips you otherwise wouldn’t; rather, to earn points to make those trips you were always going to take for less, or free. There’s a big difference.

Sure, I’d love to travel abroad more than I go to Chicago, but holidays and other obligations mean I’m going to Chicago 5 – 6 times a year, if not more. Anything else is extra. Fun, and extra. But not necessary.

<End rant>

So what can we do to stretch these points a bit farther while having our cake and eating it too?

1a. Rethink First Class: Go Business or Coach *Gasp*

Before you get all bent out of shape, let’s take this extreme example.

Lufthansa First Class is really, really nice.

While you may not be able to collect this cute Lufthansa First Class Duck, you'll save your hard earned points - Image courtesy of Lufthansaflyer

While you may not be able to collect this cute Lufthansa First Class Duck, you’ll save your hard earned points – Image courtesy of Lufthansaflyer

The most common way to redeem Lufthansa First Class is using United MileagePlus miles, as they do not on pass on fuel surcharges.

But how much will that redemption set you back?

110,000 United MileagePlus miles – each way –  or 220,000 round-trip. 

For two people that’s 440,000 United MileagePlus miles. What can you do with that?

  • Seven – yes, seven – round-trip coach tickets from U.S. to Europe
  • Almost four round-trip tickets in business from U.S. to Europe on United metal flights [alternatively, that would be 3 round-trips and 1 one-way on Star Alliance partners in business from the U.S. to Europe].

You can still go in business, but there’s potential to take the entire family in either class of service.

Air Canada's Business Class - It's not First, but it'll do.

Air Canada’s Business Class – It’s not First, but it’ll do.

1b. Rethink Business Class: Go Coach on Flights 6 – 8 Hours or Less

Raise your hand if you’ve flown from coast-to-coast in coach? *Everyone raises hand*

The flight distance and time between the East Coast and West Coast is only slightly less than flights between the East Coast and destinations like Dublin, London and Paris.

These coast-to-coast flights clock in at about 5.5 - 6 hours

These coast-to-coast flights clock in at about 5.5 – 6 hours

If your butt can survive 6 hours from New York to Los Angeles, it can probably survive 7 hours from New York to London.

Another way to think about – would you really pay a premium of miles to only get 6 or 7 hours in business class?! I wouldn’t. Save them for those truly long-hauls.

2. Always Look at Cash Prices 

This may seem obvious, but sometimes we rush to make redemptions without thinking about the “cent per mile” value – don’t worry about that. Just look at the cash price.

Here’s a good example (continuing with the New York to Chicago trend):

lga to ord cash

This cash ticket is $74!

This same flight using British Airways Avios would be 7,500 Avios. If you value avios at .1 cent a point, then it’s a decent redemption; however, you can definitely do better than that with Avios. I’d prefer to pay cash for this ticket, earn some miles, and save a lot more.

Follow and subscribe to @theflightdeal on twitter for updates on cheap travel (particularly from hubbed airports around the U.S.).

3. If You Need to Book Non-Saver Space…

The major frequent flyer programs in the United States have the lowest level redemptions per class of service titled ‘Saver Award’ space – or something similar. They also have a non-Saver Award chart and those are the redemptions we’re all told to avoid.

Sometimes you need to get somewhere (a family wedding, sick family member) and the cash prices are outrageous. So you book that non-Saver space.

United’s non-Saver space is pretty simple: it’s usually double the saver price (in coach/business on domestic routes). American’s has gotten really complicated and over priced so avoid that.

Delta, on the other hand, does not have reliable award prices – in fact they did away with their award chart – but in that unreliability is a certain amount of reliability.

delta variable pricing

There are four different prices listed here: 32,500, 17,500, 12,500 and 10,000.

That 17,500 is still less than American and United would charge for redeeming non-Saver coach/domestic awards.

4. Maximize Stopovers and Open-Jaws

In our Europe example (1a), those round-trip tickets provide you with a free stopover and open-jaw. So you could book something like this for 60,000 in round-trip/coach for you and the whole fam:

Open-jaw example

Open-jaw example

This is an open-jaw example on United (you can also have a stopover) and fill in that Lisbon (LIS) to Frankfurt (FRA) flight with a cheap intra-European ticket.

United and American, amongst others allow you to have a 23 hour “connection” in a city without paying more miles – that feels like a stopover to me!

5. Pick Transfer Partners That Are Immediate 

When transferring award points from American Express Membership Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, Citi ThankYou points, and Chase Ultimate Rewards, there’s always a risk that once your transfer is complete, the award space will be gone. And then you’ll be stuck with miles and unable to redeem the award you had in mind.

Remember, transfers are generally one-way – so there’s not reverse transfers. It would be a waste to have miles in a program where, perhaps they expire quicker than they otherwise would, or the other redemptions represent a poor value.

Many programs are instantaneous (or a few hours later, at most), but most of the Starwood transfers can take over that. There are occasions when the common Starwood – AAdvantage transfer can happen the same day, but usually it’s more than that. Here’s a Flyertalk thread with data points of transfer points.

Chase Ultimate Rewards – Most airline transfers are instantaneous, with the exception of Singapore which should happen the same day. Marriott, Ritz and IHG can take a bit longer, but in my experience they’re relatively instantaneous.

Citi ThankYou Points – Unfortunately, all transfers can officially take 1 – 2 days, but there are many reports of FlyingBlue miles being transferred instantly.

American Express Membership Rewards – Most transfers are instantaneous with the exception of Singapore, Iberia, Aeromexico, ANA, Virgin Atlantic. Cathay Pacific Asia miles can take some time, but in my experience they’re the same day.

Bottom line

It’s already happened to me several times where I planned what points I’d earn from which new card and which bank, and then wham! The bank changes its rules and I can’t take that trip the way I wanted to.

At the end of the day, you know how many points and miles you’re earning each month or year. If it’s a finite amount, be smart about the redemptions to save them for a rainy day, emergency, or a ‘just because’ trip.

The Miner

 


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