Over the past several years I have successfully redeemed hundreds of thousands of frequent flier miles for some pretty awesome trips. I thought my experiences of actually using my miles was normal until I started talking to other travelers. As it turns out, many people express frustration and contempt for frequent flier miles. Everyone wants them, but few know how to use them effectively. Here are some simple tips to get the most out of your miles and book the perfect trip.
1. Plan Ahead In order to maximize your miles, plan ahead. Far ahead. The rule of thumb is that the earliest you can book is 331 days in advance of your travel date. So, if you can plan a year in advance I recommend it. Also, be sure to do research. Look at all of the various flight options your airline offers to your destination and know what your options are before you ever start trying to use your miles. Be forewarned though, just because the flight opens 331 days in advance, that does not mean award seats do. Every airline and even specific flights are different, you may have to be persistent. (see tip #5)
Remember though that if you try to book exactly 331 days in advance, you can only book your departure flight, since the return isn’t available for booking yet. The agent will help you and will be able to go ahead and book the first leg and then complete everything when you are eligible for the return. But don’t waste this time. Some people may be scared of booking a departure flight without a guarantee of coming home, but that’s what makes this a great time to get award travel.
2. Be Flexible Make sure you have a range of dates in mind when you try booking award travel because you may not get your first choice. Luckily, since you are planning so far in advance flexibility shouldn’t be a problem.
3. Think Outside the Box You need to be creative, because the airline may not be. There are more ways of getting to and from your destination of choice than just the obvious. For example, I wanted to book roundtrip award travel to Bangkok, but after weeks of calling the airline no seats were available. Finally, out of curiosity, I asked if there were return seats from Singapore. The answer was a resounding yes. It was easy getting a flight from Bangkok to Singapore (also using miles) and I had my complete round trip award travel. So don’t mentally lock yourself into just one city or airport, be creative.
4. Use Partner Airlines If you are a frequent flier you know this, but an airline alliance is an agreement between airlines to cooperate. There are three main alliances: Star Alliance , One World and Skyteam.
These alliances are important because many times your miles with one airline can be used with another within the same alliance, with certain restrictions. Some airlines have made this process easier than others. Delta.com, for example, allows you to search partner airlines for award travel, which is a wonderful tool. (Hint, hint other airlines) When booking by phone, it is basically the same process as normal award booking, except you ask for the Partners desk. The agents are usually very helpful as they understand the award tendencies of the other alliance members and can help guide you through the process. When you book though, just be sure to ask the agent for the booking code for that airline.
5. Don’t Give Up Booking award travel, particularly business and first class seats, requires patience. From personal experience, getting the right flights can take a few weeks. You have to call every day, ask the same questions and hope for the best. As long as you follow these tips, you should be able to book your ideal trip. So don’t give up, they are your miles but you may have to work a little to use them.