Points, Miles & Avios... Oh My!

Travel… for those of us in love with it, we are always looking for a way to travel. That love comes at a cost, a monetary cost that is sometimes difficult to offset. In order to go to all of these destinations we need to save money, and attempt to fly at the best price available. There are many tricks to knowing when the best prices are available, but there is a way to get flights for far less.

Loyalty programs are so widespread these days that it’s almost no longer surprising when you enter the most obscure store that you’ve never run across before and they offer you a saving card. It happens so often, that I accidentally have 2 Staples loyalty number now… didn’t even remember I had one already. How does this help you though? Well Staples isn’t going to get you to Tokyo anytime soon, but airlines, hotels and rental car agencies have become famous for their air miles promotions that seemingly pop up everywhere. Well those, are your friends.

If you want to go to Hawaii next year, these points can not only get you there for cheap, but they can get you there in first class as well.

I will normally focus on American Airlines for a few reasons. My start in miles was with US Airways, but they are now part of American Airlines, which just so happens to be one of the best loyalty programs out there. They still earn miles based on miles flown instead of money spent… Delta and United have both switched to revenue based miles. Secondly, American Airlines has some of the best exchange rates for points, getting you all over the world in business class or first class for far cheaper than most. This will all probably change once American Airlines comes out on the other side of the merger with US Airways, but for now American is the best in this arena.

There are ways to maximize these points, but I’ll start with flight miles. This is not the best way to earn miles, but it is the 2nd most miles I earn, following behind credit card offers which I will cover in a coming article.

Flight miles are earned by sitting your butt down in a seat and flying to a destination. Sitting in that seat is required, no way around that part of the agreement. However, there is are ways to maximize your earnings.

First off, find the cheap flights… the really cheap flights. Airlines offer discounts for very short periods of time to a range of destinations. As an example, US Airways ran a discount flight from Philadelphia to Las Vegas a few weeks ago for $37; that’s crazy. Now there are restrictions, you have to be very flexible on your dates, but this is an extreme example. Many of the deals I find are on international travel and will cover a number of months, but you have to catch them, these deals go away fast. When I say fast, I mean you need to act within 1-2 days.

There are websites that find these deals, look them up, subscribe to then, check them daily. This is especially true if you know that a trip is coming up. Keep an eye on the deals and don’t hesitate when a really good one comes along.

Second, maximize your earned miles with elite status. This requires you to fly a certain number of miles with the airline every year. American Airlines has 3 status levels. Gold Elite requires 25,000 butt in seat miles, more well known as EQM’s or Elite Qualifying Miles. Platinum Status comes at 50,000 miles flown, and Executive Platinum at 100,000 miles. Now I’m going to tell you up front, as I’m sure you’ve figured out. Executive Platinum is hard to get if you don’t travel extensively for work. I travel occasionally for work and take quite a few personal trips and I’m going to be at Platinum status only.

These statuses give you bonus miles. Gold gives a 25% bonus, Platinum and Executive Platinum give a 100% bonus. So being a Platinum member, I get double the miles for every mile flown… keep in mind these bonus miles do not count toward your elite status, but they can be redeemed all the same for award flights. Earned miles are going to get you to Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore or wherever you want to be on your next vacation.

If you’re already flying, take advantage and start saving the miles they are willing to give you.