By Johnny Jet – For the past 20 years, Johnny Jet averaged 150,000 miles and 20 countries a year. He has been featured in many major publications and appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NBC and PBS.
Like any savvy traveler, you want to find the best deals on flights. Leveraging frequent flyer miles to off-set costs is helpful, but are you getting the most you can out of those miles? Besides having a flexible travel schedule, there are a number of ways to maximize the value of your miles. Keep these tips in mind the next time you book award travel.
Hold Out for Premium Cabin Flights
First-class and business class seats require more miles than a main cabin seat. However, your points can be worth a lot more when saving them for a premium seat. For example, you can fly from San Francisco to Newark with the United Airlines premium transcontinental service. Prices may be up to $1,859 for a one-way ticket. Even with the more expensive Everyday Reward rate where you pay 60,000 miles plus $5.60 fees, your miles are worth 3.1 cents each.
With other airlines and routes, miles can be worth as much as five or six cents each. For instance, a one-way flight from Frankfurt to Singapore in Singapore Airlines Suites Class (which includes a private suite and a double bed) costs 125,000 miles. If you paid with cash, this flight easily costs more than $7,200—making each mile worth 5.7 cents.
Book Alliance Partner Flights
Another way to stretch your miles further is by booking alliance partner flights. For example, you can book a Lufthansa award flight using United Mileage Plus miles. Or, use Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles to fly to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines or United Airlines.
Partner award flights may require fewer points than booking directly through the airline you want to fly. Plus, you might be able to avoid certain airline-imposed fees. It’s easy to forget that award travel requires airline miles plus a cash payment for airline fees and government taxes.
Take the time to see which airlines are in your preferred airline’s alliance. Some of the best award flight options require you to call your airline to book a partner flight with points. Although this is an extra step, these flights tend to have some of the highest redemption values.
Tip: If you earn miles from multiple airlines, make sure you track your balances in one place. This can help you quickly see which miles will let you book the best award ticket.
Avoid Fuel Surcharges
Another reason to consider partner alliances is to avoid fuel surcharges on long-distance flights. Some international airlines charge up to $1,200 in fuel surcharges alone for a round-trip first-class trip between the U.S. and London. However, you won’t pay a surcharge on intra-Europe flights to destinations, including France or Spain.
If you book a flight on a partner airline, the airline may still pass certain surcharges onto you, such as American Airlines charging a fuel surcharge on British Airways flights. Instead, you can fly an American-operated flight across the Atlantic and avoid the surcharge.
Look for 1:1 Point Transfers
If you’re not loyal to a certain airline, try getting a travel rewards credit card with airline transfer partners. This can be one of the quickest ways to earn miles points to book award travel more often. These programs let you transfer your points to many of the same airlines at a 1:1 ratio. So, let’s say you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points to your British Airways Executive Club account. The points you transfer are now 1,000 Avios.
Bear in mind that some airlines only partner with one credit card program. For example, both United and Southwest are exclusive 1:1 transfer partners for Chase Ultimate Rewards, while Delta Air Lines is exclusive to American Express Membership Rewards.
Maximize Travel Redemption Bonuses
Some travel credit cards give you a travel redemption bonus when booking award flights on the credit card travel portal. With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each when booking award travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. However, your Chase Ultimate Rewards points are only worth 1 cent each for cash and gift card rewards.
Your points can still be worth more by redeeming them directly through the airline loyalty program. But if that’s not an option, these bonuses can make your points worth up to 50% more than your cash redemption options. Going over credit card reviews as well as determining which airline or airline partners you are more likely to fly can help you narrow down your choices.
Own a Co-Branded Airline Credit Card
When you regularly fly a certain airline, you may benefit the most by owning a co-branded airline credit card. First, each card purchase earns frequent flyer miles. You can also enjoy special air travel perks like complimentary upgrades and free checked bags—perks you would otherwise pay for out of pocket.
Leverage Flexible Travel Dates and Times
Not too long ago, many airlines used a fixed-rate award chart. You knew exactly how many miles you needed to book a flight. Now, the prices can vary by several thousand miles for flights departing within just hours of each other. So, what’s a savvy traveler to do? One of the best ways is shifting your travel days. You can also book early or late flights instead of a mid-day flight. A flexible travel schedule allows travelers to get the best deals—and make the most of their frequent flyer miles.
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