"Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish, feed him for life".
I absolutely love when readers get in touch. I take personal pride in helping people get the most out of their miles. I have covered some very specific uses of miles and offerings but I think equally, if not more important, is learning the art of searching for the best redemptions and values. As a matter of principle, I never want to pay more than the "least amount of miles" needed for a particular flight award. Each airline has a different title for awards of this kind, but they generally all say "lowest level" or "saver". It sounds simple enough, you just go to the airline's website, put in your search, hit use miles and up comes a great option. It's not. Here are some crucial tips to lock in the best values...
Search One Ways, Even On Round Trips:
This is perhaps my single best tip for using miles. Award engines are (intentionally) broken to price out tickets that require more miles. This is most true on simple round trip searches. By searching (and booking) one way at a time, you can find the least miles on either end of your trip. On a recent round trip, I booked two separate one ways (making a round trip) and was able to upgrade one leg to business class, for less miles than I was quoted from a simple round trip search in coach. Search for your outbound, A to B. Next, separately search for your return, B to A. There is nothing wrong with booking two separate one way tickets to make a round trip. In fact, if you may require any changes it can save you money and miles. Obviously if the perfect round trip presents itself, there is nothing wrong with that either.
Use Multiple Types of Miles or Points
I regularly hear "I have 10,000 X points, 20,000 Y points and 50,000 Z points, what should I do?" The answer is you should throw whatever you have at the desired flights. By following my tip above of using one way's, you can make all your miles work for you. If I have 62,500 Delta miles I could book a one way in Business Class, if I had a further 40,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, I could book the other way in business class. Though I barely had enough for a round trip in coach with either, I am able to fly business both ways by putting my different currencies to work. I personally think it's neat to fly different airlines and compare anyway~
Flexibility Is KEy (Sorry)
In general, to unlock the most from your miles you will need at least a certain level of flexibility. You may want to leave Friday and return Monday, but if you can swing a day or two in either direction it could save you huge miles and make it happen. Never just take the first search result as the benchmark. Search your airline's award chart to find out the least number of miles needed for a round trip from Point A to Point B. If the price you are seeing on your first search isn't that number, keep looking until you find that lower value. Clicking "Flexible Dates" or "Calendar View" is most helpful in this instance.
Sometimes Business is Less Miles Than Coach:
Weird but true. Sometimes there are simply no "saver", "off peak" or "lowest level" coach awards for your dates. Don't give up! Search one direction at a time and change the cabin to business. Sometimes the results may surprise you much to your delight. As I mentioned, I just upgraded myself to Business Class on the Dreamliner for less miles than coach would have required.
Use Power Tools To Search...
There are some incredible free and paid resources to help you find that dreaded availability. I personally love using both AwardNexus.com and ExpertFlyer.com. Each have their respective benefits yet both simplify the search process. Award Nexus lets you search by frequent flier miles and shows you all partner availability for up to 7 days from your desired dates. ExpertFlyer (for a fee) will let constantly search and actually inform you when availability you are looking for becomes available.
Think Partner Airlines For Your Miles:
Each airline charges a different rate for a reward flight. Always consider other options or other mileage to book a flight on your desired airline. For booking Virgin Atlantic tickets, using Delta miles saves you a fortune in taxes and fees. Think outside of the box to find the best rate for your trip. Miles are precious!
If this stuff was easy, everyone would do it and airlines would lose big. Just because it's not a piece of cake, doesn't mean it's not worth it. A little elbow grease can lead to priceless free trips, upgrades and great value for your hard earned points and miles.
As always, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org