Using Miles to Upgrade
October 11, 2004 12:53 AM   Subscribe

This may sound like a dumb question, but I can't find any basic info online. I've never used my airline miles before, and I'm trying to take a vacation to London and Ireland this xmas. But how do I try to score business or first class upgrades using the miles I have? (more inside)

I have about 25k miles at both United and Alaska (which is supposed to work with American). I've heard major continental flights require about 20k miles to upgrade from coach to business/first, and that's only if they have space for the upgrades.

I've never used these miles and I'm ready to try this, so how should I go about this? Do I find the cheapest fare at Orbitz or United or Alaska's sites, then call the airline for the upgrade? Or do I have to order completely through the airline directly? Are there any lists of how many miles upgrades take on each program?

All the info seems to be gear towards helping folks acquire miles, but I can't find anything at either airline site about actually using the miles. Thanks in advance!
posted by mathowie to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Response by poster: Also, any ideas on the easiest way to get to Dublin from London would be appreciated.
posted by mathowie at 12:59 AM on October 11, 2004

Best answer: I just did this. If you place the reservation and order at United's site, it will ask you before you checkout if you'd like to use miles to upgrade. If you say yes, it will complete the transaction and do the upgrade.

All the awards info you could want is in the Mileage Plus section.
posted by vacapinta at 1:07 AM on October 11, 2004

The easiest way to get to Dublin from London is proabably Ryanair (currently advertising "0.99 GBP" flights from Stansted if your schedule fits their hoops) or another of the budget airlines. I thought the train-ferry combo via Holyhead was more interesting than airports, but then I had gobs of time.
posted by guidedbychris at 1:16 AM on October 11, 2004

Response by poster: vacapinta, did you have to select the upgrade when planning the flight? There's a bizarre list of upgrade codes on the planning flight page, but none of the codes make sense and the help link leads to more gibberish. I'll probably just call united.
posted by mathowie at 1:27 AM on October 11, 2004

Best answer: No, not when planning the flight. The upgrade can be added afterwards at anytime. Despite what you read (they are doing CYA) an upgrade can be used on almost any flight as long as there are seats available - its in their best interest if that seat was going to be unused. I've upgraded on a whim right before the flight.

I was going to suggest actually in my previous post that when doing stuff like this I just use the old-fangled telephone. If you get a competent operator, they can cut straight thru all the BS that you will see online.
posted by vacapinta at 1:36 AM on October 11, 2004

Have flown zillions of times from London to Dublin. Cheapest will most likely be RyanAir as chris mentions above, but they really mean it when they say its a no frills airline.

British Midland and Aer Lingus flights can be found at Ebookers which isnt that dear either.

Lastly, I'm sure you have plans made already, but there have been a few ask mefi threads with good suggestions for things to do in and around dublin.
posted by kev23f at 2:42 AM on October 11, 2004

As an Irishman living in London, I do this journey quite a bit..

To get from London to Dublin, fly with Ryanair or Aer Lingus. There are others but these are the two I normally use. Ryanair are a very basic airline - they have a remarkably low baggage allowance, and have very poor customer service. But they are cheap. Aer Lingus is Ireland's national carrier, and while they are cutting frills too, they'll let you take more luggage, and will probably help you out if you have a problem.

There are five airports in London - it depends where you're staying as to which is best to use (Ryanair fly from three of the five, Aer Lingus only from Heathrow) - I prefer Stansted, it's slightly less manic than the others. Avoid Luton, it's too far away and the only one that doesn't have a direct train connection to the centre of London.

If you have any other Dublin/London questions.. feel free to send me an email.
posted by ascullion at 2:46 AM on October 11, 2004

Matt, I went years and years racking up miles without knowing how to cash them in. Then I had to fly to Europe this summer and expected the fares to be as they had been in winter: $300ish. Imagine my surprise to see nothing under $1k. So I called up Delta and told them I had a lot of miles with them and wanted to know how to cash in. This very nice lady walked me through the process. Asked me when I wanted to go, etc, and booked me a flight on the spot. She noted that if I bought just a few hundred extra miles for a total of $80, I could fly business class. I did. It was fucking awesome. Free ticket, free champagne in nice upper class lounges. I was amazed at how easy it was. Just call up the customer service person in your plan and ask.

Also, Ryan Air rocks.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:19 AM on October 11, 2004

I prefer Stansted, it's slightly less manic than the others. Avoid Luton, it's too far away and the only one that doesn't have a direct train connection to the centre of London

London to Luton on the train (Thameslink) can be done in 30 minutes. London to Stansted takes 45 minutes. Of the two, Stansted is further away. I'd recommend flying from Luton (or Stansted if necessary), as is is much less hectic than Heathrow, Gatwick and City.

Booking with Ryanair is a piece of cake. It's a ticketless airline so you don't have to worry about anything turning up in the post. I suggest that this is a big deal if you're booking in advance from America. Yes, it's a no frills airline, but since your flight time is likely to be the cheap side of 45 minutes, who gives a damn? Quick and easy is what you want.
posted by nthdegx at 7:11 AM on October 11, 2004

London to Luton on the train (Thameslink) can be done in 30 minutes.

Yes, but when you get to Luton station, you have to wait around for a crappy 10-minutes bus ride to the station. The train to Stansted is usually pretty nice. Plus Luton is an altogether crummier airport.

Booking with Ryanair is a piece of cake. It's a ticketless airline so you don't have to worry about anything turning up in the post

This applies to domestic flights on most UK/Ire based airlines now.
posted by ascullion at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2004

When you use miles to upgrade, sometimes it matters what type of ticket you bought as well. When I flew from LAX to London on United, the only way I could pay 10K miles (each way) to upgrade to business class was to buy a less restrictive, and more epensive ticket. Luckily, it was for work and while they wouldn't fly me business class, they would pay for the unresticted fare.

I think the best way to do any kind of award travel is to call the airline directly. There are too many permutations to count on getting things right. For the most part, I find the people to be helpful. If you are finding cheaper fares online, let them know.

I also took Ryan Air from London (Gatwick) to Dublin without incident.
posted by jonah at 2:33 PM on October 11, 2004

I'd like to add that we are all accustomed to the Internet/computers being the "best" way to do things but this is not the case with travel. A great travel agent is worth a mint.

This is because the solution space of different airlines with different rates/times/cities/classes/discounts/packages is so mind-boggingly complex that even the best fare engines such as orbitz are only doing crude estimates.

Think of travel planning like playing chess, where the best program available is not Deep Blue but some simple, limited tree-searching algorithm. The best travel agents are like having Kasparov at your side - they have an intuitive grasp of the system.
posted by vacapinta at 3:55 PM on October 11, 2004

Except, as was underscored for me today, the airlines seem to be trying to drive the travel agents out of business. I needed a ticket to Phoenix - the best my travel agent could do was around $600, I got the same flights online for $240.
Or maybe I just have a moronic travel agent.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:34 PM on October 11, 2004

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