web Musings of The Global Traveller

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Knowledge and Flexibility Key to Awards

Time and again, when trying to cash in some frequent flyer miles for an award ticket we hear there's nothing available. While sometimes there really is no availability (hint dont try to book a christmas first class trip to somewhere warm in December!), often you can help yourself by being prepared and being a little flexible.

The first step is find out the award rules of your frequent flyer program. Does it allow one-way awards? If so, then maybe you could fly first one way and coach the other way if first is unavailable. Are you required to fly the most direct routing, or is there some flexibility? Can an award between US and Asia be taken via europe for example, or does it have to be across the Pacific? Are there limits on the number of flights you can take? If you can take 4 flights each way then this opens up more options than if you are only allowed 2.

Often this kind of detail is not published on the frequent flyer program's website. However, I've found a great source is FlyerTalk. All the major airlines have their own forum and if you cant find the detail you are looking for, a short post requesting information usually gets a fast and accurate response. At the very least it gives ideas of the questions to ask if you contact the frequent flyer program.

Armed with this knowledge, it pays to be prepared with some options or suggestions you can try to get that award. The most obvious is having some flexibility on the dates of travel. Less obvious is to be flexible on the routing.

Are there nearby airports at origin or destination that you could start or finish from instead? Eg instead of flying to New York JFK, fly to La Guardia. Most frequent flyer programs treat all airports close to each other in major cities as a "coterminal". This means starting in New York JFK and returning to La Guardia is treated as though you are returning to the same airport.

If you'd prefer a nonstop flight, are there flights via another airport that will do instead?

Dont forget about partner airlines - most awards allow multiple airlines to be combined based on an alliance or other partnership. Most major airlines are a member of one of the 3 main alliances - One World, Sky Team, or Star Alliance. There are tools that allow you to find convenient routings using any of the alliance airlines. For example, on the Star Alliance website you can find up to 75 routing choices (hint select "more choices" under display for best results). Try it for Los Angeles to London Heathrow and as well as the nonstop flights on United and Air New Zealand, indirect routings are also displayed (through Montreal, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington Dulles, New York JFK, Toronto, Frankfurt and Newark!). The downloadable electronic timetable is even more flexible and is, I find, more useful for complex itineraries. Other alliances have similar tools.

With some idea of what can be done within the award rules, and some options of alternative routings, it can be easier to get the award by politely asking to check some of these alternatives. Maybe not the ideal routing and date, but at least getting to the destination. I admit I was a bit staggered the other day when booking an award to San Francisco which had no availability on my dates, that the program's agent I was dealing with did not think to check Los Angeles!

I hope these suggestions help you to get the awards you want. They certainly have helped me. I'll just finish off with this unrelated note - I have been following Gary Leff's View From The Wing for quite some time now and it is no surprise to me that he got a nice write up in the New York Times.

Have a nice day.

No comments: