Paid-for air travel—help me save the money for later
November 23, 2009 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Lots of air travel in near future. Help me survive and save money.

Early next year, I will be traveling a lot for business—conferences, seminars, etc. While almost all of this travel is paid for, I will be reimbursed only after the said event is done. Which means I will have to buy my own flight tickets.

Help me identify how I can use this opportunity to save money for my personal travel later in the year? What are the best options to to accumulate the air miles? If it helps, I am based in Rhode Island, and all of my upcoming business travel is going to be within the US.
posted by coolnik to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to post this question on a specialty forum such as FlyerTalk There's a wealth of knowledge there about frequent flyer plans and associated credit card programs.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:32 PM on November 23, 2009

Try to fly within the same program as much as possible. Continental just joined the Star Alliance program after being with Delta's for the longest time. I loathe Continental for a multitude of reasons, but I flew them to Mexico this week over another option only because this trip should put me over into elite status.

Figure out what airline has the most flights out of your airport and do as much business through them.

But you have a unique scenario that, back in the day, I shared. I would pay for my flights on credit and then pay the credit card as though they were personal out of my own checking account, etc. I'd then take the reimbursement and stuff that bad boy into my SAVINGS account. In relatively short order I racked up about $6000 in savings and that really helped me get a jump start on a better savings plan for myself. You could use that as your "travel plan". Maybe?
posted by FlamingBore at 10:13 PM on November 23, 2009

Definitely pick an airline alliance and try to fly on its member carriers as often as possible. In particular, you should accrue miles/points on the airline that will be most useful for you in the future. Once you've racked up enough points, you want to be able to redeem them and it's a good idea to pick your frequent flyer program accordingly. The two biggest alliances are One World and Star Alliance. In my experience, Star Alliance is better across the Atlantic whereas One World is better in Asia and on a number of Pacific routes. I'm in Europe, so this might not be relevant to you and all of this depends somewhat on where you're leaving from and where you want to go, of course.

My sense is that a Star Alliance airline would probably be the best choice for you. There are three US carriers in the Star Alliance (Continental, United, or US Airways), giving you lots of choice regarding domestic flights as well as opportunities to accumulate miles. I think that United's frequent flyer program is meant to be generous but I'd check Flyer Talk to be sure. As well, United tend to run mileage run promotions for elite status from time to time - if you fly X miles (which will be less than their normal elite threshold) in a given period, you'll get elite status immediately. If you don't turn up details of this on Flyer Talk, ring customer service and ask directly.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind regarding air miles. The cheapest tickets don't always have miles attached to them. Make sure you book in to a class where you get 100% status miles (especially since you'll be reimbursed for this travel!). It can be worth getting an associated frequent flyer credit card. There's generally an annual fee for these cards, but you can wind up getting a whack of extra miles for taking the card out and then booking airline X flights with that card. These miles can add up quite quickly.
posted by lumiere at 3:39 AM on November 24, 2009

Definitely go with a frequent flier program and a credit card that gives you miles. You don't necessarily need a "branded" miles card - I have a Discover card I use for travel that gives me generic miles that can be applied to any travel-related expense; all you do is book a flight on any airline, pay with the Discover card, and then deduct your miles through their website. The benefit I see here is that I'm almost always accumulating miles, even on "free" flights - I can book a fare on United with miles from my Discover card, and I'll still get frequent flier points on Star Alliance even though the flight is paid for through my credit card rewards! Doesn't work the other way around, unfortunately.

If you don't mind chain hotels, you may want to look into their loyalty programs as well. And rental cars, too! Often times these can be tied together somehow; United will offer you bonus miles if you are an Avis loyalty member and book your car through United's website, for example.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:01 AM on November 24, 2009

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