In the years in which we’ve offered Mileage Makeover as a feature in this magazine, we’ve assisted a few hundred frequent flyers in making over their frequent flyer program strategy (and in some situations, getting members started with their first strategy) and through the read rate of these makeovers hope to have helped thousands of others. But at the end of the day, we’ve always felt sad that we couldn’t have helped more readers. Based on the applications we continue to receive, there’s certainly a need.
Some have suggested a fee to get this type of help, but that just doesn’t feel right for us as we enjoy sharing the advice with our readers and feel it’s covered in the price of admission. So, in 2004 as in years past we’ll forge ahead to help those we can and introduce additional resources that in many ways can help many more. Along the way we’ve identified three basic premises of makeover advice. Let’s see if we can’t recap some of the main points and then return next month to personalizing advice for our readers.
Those who follow our advice and certainly those we’ve helped with direct advice in this column know that we’re very reluctant to suggest that readers consolidate fragmented frequent flyer accounts.
What you also should know is that it’s clearly the number one request we receive for Makeovers. Over the years most members have resigned themselves to joining and half-heartily participating in more programs than they can manage. While clearly there is a demand for these types of exchanges, our advice has been to educate readers of how to maximize what you have, rather than minimize what you can exchange for.
Recently we helped a reader who was determined to get rid of her 5,000 America West FlightFund miles-seeing them as having no value. She wanted American AAdvantage miles into her account instead. She could have “traded” her 5,000 FlightFund miles for 233 AAdvantage miles with one of the more popular exchanges. She didn’t seem to mind that there was more than a 95 percent devaluation in her miles, she was focused on cleaning up her accounts. We helped her move a change of credit card use to FlightFund and she earned 10,000 miles in just two months and right after that was happy to report she had just cashed in the 15,000 FlightFund miles for a free award between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
Fragmented mileage accounts are a symptom of something else and we hope to continue to help people maximize, rather than minimize their miles and points.
Not being able to get the awards you want can be helped with a plan. The best plan is to know which days offer the best award travel opportunities — Best Days: Within the U.S. (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), To Florida (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday), Hawaii (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), Asia (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), (Caribbean (Tuesday, Wednesday), Europe (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), Mexico (Tuesday, Wednesday), South America (Tuesday, Wednesday); Worst Days: Within the U.S. (Friday, Sunday), To Florida (Friday, Sunday), Hawaii (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday), Asia (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Caribbean (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), Europe (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), Mexico (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), South America (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
We’ve found that most members are very much the same — they earn miles and points first and then figure out later what they want to do with their awards. Nothing wrong with that in the bigger scheme of things, but it does create problems. There’s no doubt that some programs are better for European redemption than others. That some programs are in more resort locations that others and still more have partners in all the right places for upgrades. To all that, we offer these points of advice.
Prioritize Your Goals: When was the last time you thought about what it is that you want from your frequent flyer program? With certain awards becoming overpriced for the infrequent flyer, it might be time to switch programs. US Airways has travel awards at 20,000 miles, and America West even has some awards at 15,000 miles. If your favorite frequent flyer program still has theirs at 25,000 miles, maybe you want to reconsider. Upgrades? Airlines have changed some of the rules for upgrades and these days you can’t often upgrade from discounted air fares anymore. Change for these programs means you might want to update how well you know them and if you need to change your goals. Before your membership can pay you large dividends you must first prioritize what it is you want.
Set Realistic Goals: Saving for a free award for the next four years just might be wishful thinking. Understand what your ability is to earn miles (flying, credit card, telephone, investments, etc.) and don’t choose awards beyond your ability to earn. You’ll get easily discouraged and won’t reach those goals. The biggest mistake people make: they don’t know why they joined a frequent flyer program to begin with. Be different, know what you want and figure out how to get it.