Maximizing flight benefits- Need a travel mentor
January 4, 2015 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I travel quite a bit for my profession; about 50% of the time, on my dime, reimbursed. I know of flyertalk along with reddit/r/churning - what I'm really looking for is a "start here" method. I have several travels coming up, including one in the middle east, and I want to be able to maximize whatever benefits I can get. Someone has done this before, right?

I have four travel events coming up in the next 90 days or so; Chicago, Daytona, Dubai, Vegas - I'm on the east coast. I have silver status via US Air (and totally clueless how my benefits change with American.)

I'm looking at the upcoming travel - I was hoping there's some way I could maximize what I'm doing to make my travel more sane, really ratchet up my frequent flyer mileage or get maximum credit card benefits (as I understand, this is known as churning.)

My problem is that forums like flyertalk don't have a "start here, n00b." point. Ditto with reddit/r/churning (although I'm not super interested in it - i just realize that this is a way to maximize the travel benefits.) Really, I'd kill for a forum

I'm pretty decent in being self taught - but this is something that I'm struggling with. Someone has had to do this before, right? I really don't want to invent this wheel!
posted by filmgeek to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
OK start here:
1. Use only one airline. Always. Only.
2. See #1.
3. Get their top tier credit card. Use it solely for all travel purchases.
4. Frequent a single hotel chain (hard for international travel I realize) and if not then use only one booking website for hotels.
5. familiarize yourself with the airline's rules. Know them better than the gate agents. Don't get burnt by missing deadlines and cutoffs.
6. Sign up for the perks/bonuses emails from your airline. When they offer double miles for the flights book them.
7. Travel

As for the credit card if you dig into the minutiae of it some airline cards are not as great as others. If this is the case then be sure to get a travel specific one to make sure it has all the lost/delayed baggage and general travel insurance bennys.

I realize this is simplistic but that's really it. Any more complex and that's where flyertalk comes in.
posted by chasles at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sorry forget to expand on 4. and and Orbitz have a good accesibility in international (that is to say, not north America) locations and offer rewards generally based on number of nights and class of hotel.
posted by chasles at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2015

Addendum on 1: If you are traveling internationally, you might have to travel on airlines other than your "home" one, in which case make sure they are part of the same alliance as yours: Star Alliance, Skyteam, and OneWorld are the main ones I believe.
posted by polexa at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Extra Pack of Peanuts website bills itself as a 'start here' guide to this sort of thing. I think they've also got a beginner's e-course thing.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2015

When I started traveling a lot for work, I started with two things:

(1) A nice big spreadsheet
(2) An idea of what international airlines I most wanted to fly.

First and foremost, your step 0 should be calling AA to ask them to change your status over. See here for some details on what will happen when you change over. It sounds like things will happen automatically in Q2 but it may be worth calling them to see if they can change it early, and explain that you have a lot of travel coming up shortly and you'd like to patronize them.

Step #2 can really be whatever your top travel priority is: minimizing layovers, being able to fly directly out of a particular airport, etc. Given that most of my travel was overseas, fun international carriers were my priority.

IMO, quality-wise, most of the US domestic airlines are about the same. Their loyalty programs are all roughly equivalent too, though I think at the moment AA is the only one that doesn't require certain spends of money to gain or maintain status starting this year. (I suspect that will change next year after their merger) The only real differences in quality come from international airlines. For example, when I started my travel, I knew I had to go to Singapore and that I wanted to fly Singapore Airlines for that. Given that, I could downselect which US domestic airlines would allow me to earn miles on their airline for my Sing Air flight, and I worked from there. So, in your case, I'd see who flies from where you are to Dubai, decide who you want to fly for that, and then find out which US airlines will let you qualify with those miles.

Of course, that may not be your priority. If you want to maximize mileage you could also see who doesn't fly directly between all those airports and create some layovers for yourself, which are inconvenient but which can increase your mileage for a trip. (I use this a lot) Research how you earn your qualifying miles on each airline and how it's related to things like type of ticket (discount economy, economy, full price economy, etc) or how much your ticket costs; some airlines will make it easier than others. Don't forget to put in any bonuses for silver status on AA if they match your US Air status.

Once you've researched all of this, you make your spreadsheet and you identify, for each trip you have to take, what each airline's program will give you for that trip. (Be sure to note if it requires particular routing or a particular fare class or booking on a particular airline or whatever) Note how many award miles (redeemable for free flights) and qualifying miles (for status) you'll get; they can be very different numbers. After you do all these calculations, you should have a sense of what your best option is just for the travel.

Once you have your top two options there investigate any relationships with hotels to earn miles through them. (If you want. I like earning hotel points on their own and using them for stays -- they rack up surprisingly quickly and the perks for status can be nice) Since it's early in the year, you can try calling some of the big chains, like Marriott, to ask if they'll give you a status challenge -- stay a particular number of nights in the next 90 days or whatever and they'll award a higher status than you might otherwise get. But if you just want the airline miles, see what relationships Marriott, Intercontinental, Starwood, etc, have with your top two airlines and what you'll earn on the airline for staying in the hotel. Don't forget to check car rental companies as well -- I get points with United for renting with Hertz.

Then look at the credit card offers for each of your top two airlines. You won't necessarily qualify for the top tier credit card, but do your research and make some phone calls if you're not satisfied with what you find online. You'll earn points on the card for regular spending, bonuses for buying your flights with the sponsoring airline on that card, and often bonuses for minimum spends each year (or things like adding an authorized user). Don't forget the other perks that may come with it -- things like insurance coverage, or no foreign exchange fees (this is huge for me), or free checked bags, or lounge access, etc. A lot of this isn't an issue for your work travel, but when you want to start redeeming all this goodness for personal travel, it comes in really really handy.

I am hardly a hardcore FF geek, but I've done really well for myself over the last four years with both hotels and airlines and my family has gotten a lot of free travel out of it. I only really use FlyerTalk to check on quality of particular programs or airlines (or types of seats on airlines), or to sanity check something about what a particular loyalty program will or won't do; I find it very overwhelming otherwise. This early on in the year, you may also have luck finding out which loyalty programs are doing status matches or challenges. Again, if you can narrow down to two top choices, it'll make it easier to search on FlyerTalk and other forums to see which one will be best for you.

Good luck and enjoy this. But I will warn you that if you do manage to rack up miles and status, you get used to being treated nicely and not totally hating travel, and it's a painful fall when you eventually have a change in circumstances and can't maintain your status anymore. Milk it for everything you can while it lasts!
posted by olinerd at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2015

Here's what I've discovered living in a hub. Don't get your miles on Delta if you live in Atlanta. It seems counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Everyone and his brother flies out of here on Delta. I'll NEVER travel as much as some of the Medallion jack-holes. Out of Atlanta, there is NEVER an upgrade for little ol' me. Nor is there ever one on the way back. Ditto flying standby (which Delta just stopped doing.)

I fly American for the most part, and it works great for me. I can usually buy an upgrade if I want one (within 24 hours of the flight, also check then for changing seats.) Also, the way Hartsfield is laid out, I remove a TON of schlepping since the American terminal is the first one after security and you don't have to ride inter-airport transportation to get to your gate.

I'll nth that once your back with the hoi paloi after having status, it's painful. I used to travel every other week and I liked sailing through security and being upgraded to first and all my free miles. I miss knowing the Flight Attendants by name. Oh well, easy come, easy go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:41 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Holtels are like airlines. Stick with one hotel chain, get their credit card, always book stays directly on the hotel website. My wife manages to stay Hilton Gold like that and the benefits are worth the trouble (free wi-fi, free breakfast, free nights, better rooms, etc).

You need to choose an airline that flies everywhere you go, particularly on long haul. With the destinations stated, you'd be better off on United, since they fly to Dubai and most US airlines do not.
posted by w0mbat at 5:58 PM on January 4, 2015

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