Travel Tip of the Week: Cliffs notes of contest submissions I

I’d suggest reading all 398 comments to the Gold Coast post if you have time, but if you are like me I filtered out the duplicates to leave you with the best of the best with my commentary.  Since many posts were the same I am not attaching names to these comments.

Life is short, use those miles!

Remember that miles are only valuable if you use them.  Every year that goes by is 1 year closer to another devaluation so if you have a destination in mind, begin making plans.

Fly within one global airline alliance and credit all of your miles to one FF account. That way, your miles aren’t spread around to different accounts, making it hard to ever accumulate enough to redeem them for anything.

This is the best idea for frequent buyers (people who get most of their points from credit cards instead of travel).  For people who really stay up with the game you may be better off flirting with multiple programs per alliance.  The people on the podcast can manage to participate in United’s frequent flyer program and bmi.  For others it may not be worth the effort.

Define the experience you are looking for – and work specifically to get the points for that!

If your goal is to fly to Australia it makes no sense to focus credit card and other non-flight related points on Southwest since they don’t fly internationally and their points can’t be used on other carriers.  Also determine if you are a hotel or mile person.  Some of you fly internationally in premium cabins to stay with family.  Others like to stay downtown in a big city for a couple weeks.  I use hotel points more than miles because I drive to a few places I like to visit.

If you think you might lose elite status the following year due to changes in travel patterns, focus more on paid (point/mile-earning) flights and stays while you still have status. Two reasons this helps: (A) you take advantage of the elite benefit of bonus earning (10%, 25%, 50%, 100%, etc) that should more than compensation for the risk of devaluation in the coming year, and (B) you will continue to take advantage of upgrades associated with your status in the paid flights/stays. This means avoiding redemption of miles, points, and “free” vouchers (e.g. VDB) that do not earn miles — use these for your family and friends instead, or maybe offer a tit-for-tat exchange (you’ll pay for someone else’s trip using points, and they’ll pay for your similar or less expensive trip using money).

…or just mileage run the next year and keep status…

Don’t overestimate the value of your miles/points or be overzealous of spending money just to collect rewards, since this is counterproductive to your more important personal finance goals (that will fund more travel!). For example, if you would never pay $20,000 for an international first class flight, don’t benchmark your miles based on that cost! If you do the math, you might find that cashback cards will be more beneficial to your pocketbook than mile or point-earning cards. For example, the Schwab InvestFirst Visa gives 2% cash back on all purchases; would you rather have 2 cents in your pocket for every $1 you spend, or one mile/point? If you always redeem for domestic flights for 25k miles, are those limited-availability flights worth $500 to you?

I know some think this is blasphemy, but it is very true.  I think the psychology is that miles MUST be used for travel while cash can be used for day-to-day stuff.  I probably wouldn’t travel as much if I used real currency for vacations.  Depending on your situation that may be better though since more than a couple tickets is much harder to redeem for than just 1 ticket so families may be better off on paid tickets than rewards.

When redeeming your miles it is always better to avoid school holidays and to travel off season to get the best value for your miles with airlines and hotels.

it’s not that exciting, but my top tip is to be sure you’re in the mileage dining program– it makes it easy to quickly top off points and keep accounts “alive” while you’re building the balance.

Redeem awards for places that are expensive to fly to, buy tickets and earn miles on places that are cheap to fly to.

If you’re a business traveler, ask if your company would allow you to charge your air fare to your own card, and reimburse you. That way, you get the frequent flier miles without having paid for the initial air travel in the first place.