Earning miles is as easy as eating dinner. In fact, you should always be earning miles when you are eating dinner. Since the “earning” part is so easy, it’s really all about the “using” part. You know, the bit where you go to a webpage looking for answers, end up with more questions, don’t find seats and then question why you bother earning miles at all and never end up taking that amazing free flight you dreamt of. Here are a few tips and tricks of the trade which will make redeeming the miles almost as easy as earning them…

For Starters, Know How Many Miles The Flight Should Require, So You Don’t Over Pay…

Many airlines have made it a lot trickier to know what a flight from one place to another should cost. Use milez.biz or your airline’s “award chart” to look up the rates between any two cities or regions using miles. Once you know the least miles a flight should cost, you’ll know when you’ve found a good deal and perhaps more importantly, you’ll know when it’s NOT a good deal.

Seats Using Miles Come And Go, Know That…

The biggest mistake people make when trying to use miles is that they search once and assume whatever they see is final. That’s entirely wrong. Airlines giveth and taketh away availability for seats using miles on a daily basis, up to the day of departure. In general, availability is great about 330 days out, terrible about half way through the year and then gradually improving in the months before the flight. Sometimes you’ll do best with last minute availability. If you don’t want to bother searching time and time again, you can even get email notifications

Think Bigger, Think (Better) Partners…

If you have miles with one airline, they’re quite literally your ticket to free travel with up to 25 other airlines. Most airlines have a variety of excellent partners giving you much better chance to find a seat using miles. Not only will you unlock more routes by checking for partner availability, you may end up with a much nicer seat on a better airline than the one you have your miles with…

Search Nearby Cities, Alternate Routes…

In general the two best ways to use miles are for short but expensive flights or long haul prohibitively expensive flights, preferably up front. When trying to score that perfect flight, sometimes it’s just one of the connections that makes it all unavailable. Before you give up, see if there’s availability for each piece of your trip. If there’s just one segment that’s unavailable, see what it would cost to buy a ticket or use different miles which do have availability. 

Pay Less In Cash By Avoiding High Tax + Surcharge Countries…

Every country has their own system for mandatory taxes added to airline tickets. By traveling through a country with higher taxes, rather than starting or ending there, you can often shave some well deserved cash off of the price added with miles. You can always venture back to the more expensive city with a cheap short haul flight or a separate use of miles. The savings make for better meals and better trips.

Check Your Airlines Stopover Rules Even On Tickets With Miles, You’ll Save Both Miles And Money…

Some airlines have incredibly friendly stopover policies. You care because free stopovers allow you to see more places without paying more miles. For example, Alaska Airlines allows a free stopover, even on a one way ticket, so you could see both Hong Kong and Tokyo on the same ticket without paying extra miles or needing an additional flight from one to the other. Check your airlines rules and be sure to take advantage. It’s free travel, just for knowing.

Garden Your Reservations, Look For Enhancements As Time Closes In…

Don’t book something you absolutely don’t want, but if you can settle for the cabin below what you’d ideally like, or the flight time that works ok but could be better, it’s better than nothing. As you now know, airlines make seats and flights available and unavailable with no particular rhyme or reason so it’s always worth “gardening” your reservation, that is, checking to see if anything has changed in between when you book and when you fly. In the week before your flight you’ll often find the upgraded cabin available or the better flight time. Every little helps…