I personally believe that being loyal to one airline is very important, and I’ve expounded on this in previous posts. Hopefully you will fly enough to earn status, get perks and of course earn lots of frequent flier miles. But the sticking point for many people is how best to use these miles, and for the longest time I didn’t understand why people had issues with this – until recently. Whenever I’ve used frequent flier miles for award travel I’ve booked almost a year in advance for long haul flights in business class. As it turns out, this is one of the best uses of miles but if you try to book a shorter flight and you book close to the departure date, you’re in for a real shock.
Last week I was playing around on the US Airways web site. I didn’t have anything specific in mind; rather I was just planning imaginary trips as travel bloggers sometimes do. I decided to see how many miles it would take to travel to several different places. I had looked up the rules for various locations and anticipated reasonable amounts. Imagine my surprise when what returned from the search results was hyperinflation, the kind that would make Zimbabwe or inter-war Germany blush. The most egregious fare I found was as follows:
Washington, DC – Brussels in December for two people flying in business class. Now I’ve used miles to book business class to Bangkok before and that fare was 120,000 miles per person for a super long haul flight. So what did US Airways want for this eight-hour jaunt over the Atlantic? To book this flight using miles would cost 350,000 miles per person, plus fees. 350,000 miles! To purchase these miles outright would cost nearly $25,000, when the airfare itself is only $5,000 per person. This is truly insane and my mouth hung open as I stared at the computer screen in disbelief. What could cause such an extreme amount for award travel?
Like everything in a capitalist society, it’s all about supply and demand, and timing. I searched for the flights a scant 3 months before departure; in the world of award travel this is considered last minute. I also wanted to fly during one of the busiest times of the year, the week before Christmas to a location that’s popular for holiday revelers.
Even with these extenuating circumstances, I think 350,000 miles per person is highway robbery and the airline should be ashamed of themselves. So, how do you get the same trip without paying these outrageous fares?
- Book as far out as possible. Award seats are available for booking 331 days in advance. I know this is extreme for a lot of people, but you’ll get the best deals by booking early.
- Check out the options with partner airlines. For US Airways this means any airline in the Star Alliance is available for booking with frequent flier miles. You should be able to find a much better deal on a different airline.
- For maximum value, don’t use frequent flier miles for short flights. If at all possible, use them on long haul or super long haul flights where you’ll see a lot more value for your dollar.
- Be patient. Booking award fares can take time, calling back every day to see if any seats have been released for award travel. Eventually you should be able to get a good deal.
Whatever you do though, never ever pay 350,000 miles for a short flight to Europe. It’s just not worth the time, effort and money you invested into earning those miles in the first place.
Have you ever booked award airfare? What was your experience like?