Is a frequent flyer club worth it for 1-3 RT flights?
August 27, 2009 9:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm in Seattle and my girlfriend is in New Jersey. It's going to be like this for the next 8 months. We plan on visiting each other 5 times during those months (either me going there or her coming here). With this being the case, is it worth signing up for a frequent flyer club?

I read through this thread which was really helpful but I still have two specific questions:

1. We're not sure who will be visiting who so is there a way to have a joint membership so we could share the benefits? If not, is it even worth signing up if we only have 1-3 RT flights each?

2. We only want to fly from Newark, which limits the airlines we can choose from. We're leaning towards joining Continental Onepass. Would you suggest otherwise?

What say you, hive mind? What program should we join, if any?
posted by carpyful to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If there is no cost to joining and I don't think there is, there is no reason not to sign up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:15 PM on August 27, 2009

Signing up for these programs is free, so you might as well. You can't really share benefits; they are per traveler. Once you get enough miles for an award seat, though, you can usually give the ticket to someone else. Sometimes you can share miles, but there is usually a fee for doing this. (Cheaper than buying a ticket outright, though.)

Anyway, with most FF programs you start getting benefits other than miles at around 25,000 miles per year. (Booking exit row seats, using special security and check-in lines, free upgrades to first class, etc.) I don't think you will get that many on 6 flights, but you might as well have an account so you can accumulate redeemable miles and at least get a free trip in a few years.

Personally, I think AAdvantage is the best frequent flyer program, but AA flies your route from JFK, not EWR. You probably don't want to connect in DFW or ORD, so that won't work for you. But I'm sure Onepass is fine.
posted by jrockway at 9:16 PM on August 27, 2009

Response by poster: I realize the membership is free but I guess I'm asking whether it'd be worth sticking to Continental for all 8'ish flights or just going for whatever is cheapest. Is that long-term investment worth it for only 8 trips split among two people?
posted by carpyful at 9:34 PM on August 27, 2009

No, it is probably not worth it to give Continental all your business in that case. Add up the miles you are planning to fly. If it's less than what gets you status, save your money.
posted by jrockway at 9:39 PM on August 27, 2009

Most major airlines are members of alliances. Continental, for example, is part of the SkyTeam alliance until October, meaning that if you fly on any SkyTeam airline (Northwest and Delta are the biggest), you can earn OnePass miles. Starting in October, Continental will be part of the Star Alliance with United Airlines. This would mean that you can earn Continental miles flying United, US Airways, Air Canada, and any other number of airlines. Continental Alliance FAQ.

Continental has a separate agreement with Alaska Airlines, which flies nonstop from Newark to Seattle, so you could also accrue Continental miles on those flights.

Even if you never get enough for a free airline ticket, you can buy other things--magazine subscriptions, hotel nights, gift certificates. It's really a no-lose proposition.
posted by j1950 at 9:44 PM on August 27, 2009

It's not really worth choosing an airline just for the FF miles, if you're footing the bill for the ticket. The difference in price between airlines is generally more than the miles are worth. (It's a bit different if you're on an expense account or something.)

What you should do, IMO, is go for whatever airline is cheapest each trip, but then sign up for the frequent-flyer program on every airline that you end up flying. They're always free, and they're generally trivial to sign up for. Create a file on your computer somewhere with all your frequent-traveler program IDs and numbers.

What I suspect you'll find is that there's one or two airlines that offer the best prices for the route you want to travel, and your miles will tend to become concentrated on those without really trying.

One note: some airlines and hotels don't give you miles if you buy your ticket through an aggregator like Priceline or HotWire. I always search prices using sites like that, but once I find the best airline, I go to the airline's site directly and, if the prices are the same or better (they usually are, and Delta's are guaranteed to be), I book there. Same with hotels and rental cars.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:48 PM on August 27, 2009

Go with the combination cheapest flight that has the most convenient times.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:01 PM on August 27, 2009

It depends on your motivation for accumulating miles.

Mileage for free flights is best accumulated through credit cards or other loyalty programs, you'll save more money just buying the cheapest flight available through any carrier than the value of "free" flights bought with miles. This applies for most people who are travelling for personal reasons.

Accumulating mileage to qualify for elite status (automatic upgrade to first/business class, access business lounges, etc) is worth the price of loyalty if you fly very frequently, i.e. domestic more than once per month or transcontinental more than once per quarter. This usually applies to business travellers or very rich people.
posted by randomstriker at 10:51 PM on August 27, 2009

I am in the exact same situation. Seattle/Boston. We have signed up for the awards but just pick whatever is cheapest. Don't think we'll ever reach 25000+ points unless we buy something from them or take their cc which im not planning to.
posted by bbyboi at 12:35 AM on August 28, 2009

One benefit to signing up for FF programs is that if you're in a situation where you may get bumped from a flight, you're less likely to have that happen if you're a member of their program, even if you barely have any mileage accumulated. How they decide who will be bumped is based on a lot of different factors but this is one of them. The most frequent fliers with the highest status are the least likely to get bumped, but if you signed up, even if this is your first flight, you're in a better position than someone who didn't join. Just being a member might help you get a better seat. As others have said, there's no reason not to and it might come in useful for other reasons than eventual free tickets.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:05 AM on August 28, 2009

If you don't want to sign up for a frequent flier program, consider signing up for CapitalOne's No Hassle Miles card. I got mine when my SO and I were long distance--I put all expenses on it, then pay it off immediately. I've gotten two free flights in three years this way.

(That being said, look into the type of flights the airlines going from Newark offer. From my closest major airport--Jacksonville--continental is the only airline that offers direct flights to Newark consistently, for only about ten dollars more than the cheapest airline, air tran, which only has flights with stopovers).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2009

Many FF programs also count the number of flight segments you fly; the total annual flight segments flown is another way to earn elite status. To maximize time, you'll probably want to fly non-stop or direct (that's when the plane makes a stop before continuing on to your destination), but if you transfer both ways then you'll rack up four segments with each round trip.
posted by carmicha at 5:52 AM on August 28, 2009

Living in Dallas I typically use American because this is their major hub (or one of them), and I have FF with them and Northwest (because I am frequently flying to Detroit, and that is NWA's hub) both. However, tickets between the two carriers are typically within $10 of each other for the same flight. It took me 7 years of 1-2 trips a year though to get enough miles to get a free ticket.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:08 AM on August 28, 2009

If Alaska Airlines is going to be one of your carriers, you could start by getting their credit card: if you qualify, you get enough bonus points for a round trip anywhere in the States straight away.
posted by jacalata at 8:49 AM on August 28, 2009

Agreeing with jacalata that you should check out Alaska. They have a generous FF plan and if you sign up for the credit card and spend $750 you get 25,000 miles before you ever fly. They fly direct Seattle-Newark and so with a few flights you should qualify for a free trip. If you're planning on staying in Seattle, Alaska serves the region very well, also flies to Hawaii, and has reciprocal agreements with other airlines.
posted by donovan at 9:21 AM on August 28, 2009

Continental has one advantage American Airlines doesn't - their miles DO NOT EXPIRE. I've had 58,000 miles I accumulated back then and still have left when I lived in Seattle and flew frequently to Philly and to South America for work on Alaska and CO. Now the nearest airport to me is American, and this year I'm a platinum flyer with them. So I haven't flown on CO for years, but I still am holding onto the miles in case of an emergency. Sweeeeet!

On the other hand, I accidentally let my USAIR miles lapse - 19,000 miles that I lost. That really hurt.

PS. Just because you earn miles does not qualify you for the benefits that an elite flyer earns (upgrades, bonus milesage, early boarding, etc.).
posted by HeyAllie at 10:41 AM on August 28, 2009

I was in a long distance relationship for two and a half years (Houston - Seattle). We flew to see each other about once a month or so, spent all the holidays together and frequently traveled abroad together. That said, a number of those flights were paid for with frequent flyer miles. What I've learned:

Typically one company has the cheapest flights and most convenient flights. Once you find it, you'll stick to it (in our case, it was Continental since no-one else flew directly from IAH to SEA at the time) and it's very unlikely that you'll be flying different airlines all the time. With that in mind, it's certainly worth it to sign up for a frequent flyer program: you have nothing to lose.

Continental frequent flyer miles suck. I've been at their "elite" level for a couple of year, which is nice because it saves me and family all kinds of fees, but when it comes to redeeming miles for flights, Alaska Airways is the way to go. Case in point: I flew my sister from Bulgaria to the US with frequent flyer miles. It took a 10 minute phone call to AA where they asked me what dates she wants to fly, which city she'd like to connect in (I had a choice of Paris, Amsterdam, etc.), and what time she'd like to leave on her way back. That was it. When trying to book free flights through Continental, it's always been a nightmare: their availability is minimal, and don't even think about international flights, they make it so hard. No wonder their OnePass program is also known as NoPass.

Needless to say, I've switched to Alaska Airlines since (I still fly Continental, but my miles go to my AA account), and they even matched my status.
posted by halogen at 11:41 AM on August 28, 2009

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