Soldier can't decide best FF program...

Discussion in 'General Discussion | Miles/Points' started by PackHorse, Apr 4, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. PackHorse
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    PackHorse Active Member

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    Hi everybody,

    This is my first post to MP and I'm hoping someone can help me with the quandry that I've found myself in.

    I'm a full-time soldier living in Columbus, OH (CMH) and have to fly relateively often for my job (2 RTs per month). I am also flying more often for pleasure and want to maximize my FF miles. After browsing MP and reading a lot of the blogs, I think I should be focusing on earning my miles within one alliance to ensure that I optimize my rewards and chance of gaining elite status.

    Unfortunately, I suffer from having to fly using the government's contracted carriers to my official destinations. This has basically meant that my select airline is always different depending on which airport I'm flying into and when. For example: DEN = UA, DCA = US, MDW = WN, and ORD = FL. I also can't use my own CC to purchase the tickets, so I can't take advantage of additional CC miles when purchasing from the airline.

    I've joined each of these FF programs to at least capture the miles, but I'm spreading out my miles instead of focusing them on one program/alliance. To make up for this, I've enrolled in a number of CCs to gain miles. I've currently got the following CCs:

    AMEX SPG (25K bonus)
    AMEX Delta Platinum (20K bonus)
    Chase United Mileage Plus Select Visa (30K bonus)
    Chase BA Visa (50K bonus)

    My primary airport is CMH. The major carriers are DL, UA/CO, AA, US, and WN.

    My goals for FF are: elite status (and the perks that come with it), international routes, and awards trips on quality airlines.

    I already try to maximize my use of CCs to pay for as many expenses as possible, so I would use the AA MC to pay for all my domestic expenses and keep the BA Visa to pay for expenses overseas (no FTF).

    I know that a lot of flyers are partial to the SPG AMEX, but it doesn't help me gain elite status and I understand that the transfer process can take a great deal of time. Also, it doesn't make sense to transfer to UA or US because of the 2-1 rate.

    I've also thought about getting either an AMEX Platinum or Premier Rewards Gold to be able to do (nearly) instant tansfers through MR to AA or DL. I like the thought of the Platinum benefits, but I'm not sure how often I'd be able to take advantage of them because CMH doesn't have any lounges.

    My latest thought has been to make AA my primary airline for personal travel since they partner with BA (which has my largest chunk of miles because of the CC bonus), get a Citi AA MC, and concentrate my mileage acitivity with AA through their online shopping portal and partners. While I'm neutral when it comes to all the domestic carriers, I like the thought of traveling on BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and LAN when I go overseas.

    So, sorry for the long explanation, but here are my questions:

    1. Does this plan make sense and is it the best way to maximize my mileage earning/use? What does everyone else think? Has anyone run into a similar issue with their business seeming to randomly choose carriers?

    2. Can you combine AA & BA miles when booking award tickets?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.
     
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  2. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    Howdy and welcome to MP!

    To answer your questions (though it's my opinion, others will give you different advice):

    1. I'm a federal employee and am bound by government contract rates as well. After trying a few different options, I found that there was no use in trying to consolidate onto one carrier for my work activity. Instead I picked the airline that worked best for me (I'm ORD based and like JAL and Cathay) - AA. With that in mind I ended up focusing all my non-work travel onto AA and even threw in some random mileage runs to keep elite status and take advantage of mileage bonuses. My work travel on AA is just "icing". The government contract rates will change from time to time, but they vary so much there's no point in trying to make rhyme or reason out of them.

    2. You can use them to buy separate awards that you use together, but you cannot combine them into ONE award.

    Example: Use AA miles to fly CMH-LHR and then use BA miles to fly LHR-CPT. Allowable.

    Combine AA miles and BA miles to fly CMH-CPT. Not allowable.

    Good luck and keep hunting around here for info!
     
  3. JohnDeere19
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    JohnDeere19 Gold Member

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    Wow, it sounds like you've done a fair amount of research as it is. First off, welcome to MP!

    I like your thought on AA because all these methods of earning can also contribute to lifetime status which is granted as gold at 1 million and platinum at 2 million. One thing to note though, is that AA charges rather high fuel surcharges on BA award tickets so if that's what you're going for you'll have to pay (though its still a small fraction of what it would actually cost to fly in J or F).

    Additionally, you could sign up for an AA challenge, which basically gives you a way to fast track to gold, platinum, or executive platinum (exp is an exception and it is rarely given out it seems) and enjoy the perks of elite status.

    As for #2, destinationdavid answered it appropriately.

    Best of luck!
     
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  4. JLSocks
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    JLSocks Silver Member

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    It sounds like you don't really have much choice in who you fly when it's work related. However, if you can see patterns of who you flew the most for work, that could help you sway your decision to a particular program/alliance. If there really is no pattern, I think you need to look at where you travel for most of your personal trips and perhaps where you want to go and what airline alliance will give you the best options.

    Being in Chicago, I used to fly AA exclusively until a friend convinced me to switch to UA. Both programs are comparable, have good alliance partners, and I had similar experience flying both. Although, for me personally, you just cant beat the amount of alliance partners that UA/CO has and when traveling in the US, it's nice to be able to fall back on USAir as an additional option.

    One big drawback to AA in my opinion is that they are now passing along BA's fuel surcharge on award tickets when redeeming AA miles. That can add a lot of cost to an award trip.

    Good luck.
     
  5. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    A big draw back but one that is pretty easily avoided. With the exception of some African destinations (NBO, DAR, etc) there are very few destinations in OW that *only* BA can take you. You can take AA/IB/AY/RJ across the Atlantic instead, and connect onward with the same partners.

    How's *A with Starnet blocking lately? That was one of my big reasons for not using UA out of ORD. What's the point of all those great partners if UA won't let you book on them? I heard they were doing much better now. Is that true?
     
  6. JLSocks
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    JLSocks Silver Member

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    CO hasn't practiced any Starnet blocking at all and for months now UA seems to have stopped the practice. I haven't come across any personally. I had no issue booking award flights for friends and family members in the past couple of months using UA miles. Everything I saw on the ANA tool or Aeroplan site was available when I called United.
     
  7. PackHorse
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    PackHorse Active Member

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    Thanks so much for all the replies. I never imagined I would get such a quick response.

    I think I'm going to go with AA as my program of choice for personal travel, but keep my UA MP Select Visa. Occasionally I do have the opportunity to have my wife come with me to conferences and I would be able to take better advantage of earning miles with UA if I buy her ticket with that card. It'll also give me the chance to keep those UA miles active with occasional use.

    Thanks again for your replies and I'll let everyone know how it goes as I get started down this road of maximizing my FF miles!
     
  8. Gary Steiger
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    Gary Steiger Silver Member

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    I would immediately apply for the two 75,000 American Airlines credit card offers. 150,000 miles will get you a business class ticket to most anywhere in the world. Ignore the February 28 deadline. The offers are still alive and will probably be accepted so long as they are on line.

    Then I would do the three credit card offers for a total of 100,000 Continental Airlines miles before Continental merges into United Airlines. After the merger I would then accept whatever bonus miles are offered for the United credit card. Continental and United are both Star Alliance carriers, which is the very best alliance for actually getting an award ticket.

    Note that for actual spending, the Starwood card is more efficient than an airline card for acquiring American miles and miles of most other carriers except Continental and United, as 20,000 points transfer to 25,000 miles.

    All of these cards are described in the Credit Cards section of my website below. That is a site you might want to spend a couple of hours studying, so you can have a very complete idea of how to acquire free or very cheap miles without actually flying.
     
  9. wanderlust
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    wanderlust Silver Member

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    I don't get why you prefer the AA MC over the SPG AMEX. Does the AA MC give you EQM? I thought it didn't, and has no spend bonuses (an a higher annual fee than the SPG card). Remember, with the SPG Amex you basically get 1.25 miles per dollar spent transferring to AA and many other airlines.
     
  10. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    150,000 AA miles can actually get you to much more then one business class trip. For 150,000 AA miles, you can cash in for a 25,000K mile Oneworld award like the following and make all cities stop overs:

    JFK-LHR British Airways
    LHR-FCO British Airways
    FCO-AMM Royal Jordanian
    AMM-BKK Royal Jordanian
    BKK-HKG Cathay Pacific
    HKG-DPS Cathay Pacific
    DPS-HKG-NRT Cathay Pacific
    NRT-ORD Japan Airlines
    ORD-JFK American Airlines

    I think that makes Oneworld at least a little competitive with Star in terms of "best alliance for awards". :)

    The credit card offers lately have been pretty good!
     
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  11. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    Right, no EQM for AA on any credit cards. Many wish for it, not happening though!
     
  12. DesertRose
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    DesertRose Silver Member

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    Welcome to the dAArkside. One thing I have noticed is that AA seems to treat the military very well - priority boarding and access to the Admiral's Clubs. This may only apply if you're wearing a uniform, though.
    Get the AA cards, spend the minimum to get the huge sign-up bonus, then cancel the cards before the annual fee kicks in. But for long-term spending, I don't think any AA card can beat SPG. The AA cards don't even give double miles on AA purchases unless they're running a special promo. :rolleyes:
     
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  13. Colonel G
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    Colonel G Silver Member

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    Hooyah fellow soldier! I just got my congradulatory 25th anniversary e-mail from UA from when I traveled back from Korea on my first tour. Plan on doing the mileage thing for a long time and it will pay off. Here is the benefit of many years travelling with the military.
    First of all, consider yourself lucky. Up until a few years ago, when you needed a flight you simply called SATO or Carlson-Wagonlit and they gave you whatever flight they selected. Now with the Defense Travel Service on-line, you have a way to steer your carrier selection. When you go into DTS, it will automatically come up with a list of GSA carriers and various choices for the dates you selected. Between any two cities, there can be only one carrier. HOWEVER, that only applies to cities that the GSA put out to bid. So for example, this summer I will go to War College ANC - MDT (Harrisburg, PA). There are no GSA city pairs so you will be given a variety of choices. You still have to choose one that is reasonably low, but at least you have a choice. So if no GSA city pair you have a lot of latitude. In my experience, overseas flight are less likely to have a city pair establisjed. You can find a list of all city pairs on AKO under My Travel.
    Second, and more likely possibility, is that there is a GSA fare between your home airport and where you need to go. Again, the GSA fare will come up first. Notice that teh GSA fare for that city pair amount will appear in the upper right corner and write that down. Now go to the next tab on that same screen. It should say ALT-GSA. It will display other airline fares going to the same city pair. If the cost for that fare is less than the GSA fare, you are justified in selecting that flight. You will need to put that down in the justification box when you finally get to the audit section of DTS.
    My advice is to select an airline in each alliance to stick with. You will likely only be at one station for 3-4 years and then PCS. The new city you go to could be much better in the other alliance. If so, apply to move your status over from the airline where you have status to the one in the other alliance.
    One thing many soldiers do not realize is that if you get deployed, most airlines will extend your status at whatever level it is as long as a decent portion of the year was spent overseas. I have successfully done this twice with UA and AS. Marriott too, but we had to keep it quiet due to an uproar over that on FT.

    OK, a lot to digest. Feel free to PM me with specific questions or post them here and I (and everyone else) will try to help.
     
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  14. Tenmoc
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    Tenmoc Gold Member

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    I agree with most of the posts above. If AA works for the OP, its the one to go with for the fact all miles count into the lifetime count. I agree the SPG Amex is better than the Citi MC AA but you should still get the citi card for the bonus miles.

    Regarding CO/UA, you can now merge miles for free between the two. I would be collecting every bonus offer you can get from CO and UA as they are essentially the same now.

    To the OP specifically. How close to 25,000 eqm are you getting with your current work flights? I know they're scattered but with 20-25 trips a year it would be likely you're close enough to consider a mileage run on some to 25k. And as much as people will say a MR is not worth it if its over 3cpm, i would say if you make it a weekend and go somewhere you want to be, its worth it.
     
  15. PackHorse
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    PackHorse Active Member

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    Hi all, thanks for the continuing replies. Here's an update and a couple more questions.

    Last night, I was approved for the Citi AA Platinum Visa with the 100K bonus. I decided to only go for the one card because of the number of credit inquiries already on my history. I am interested in the Chase CO card with the 50K bonus, but I'm afraid that Chase will become suspicious since I've already gotten the BA and UA cards and I had to request reconsideration for the UA card. So, I'm not sure they would go for an application to the CO card.

    DesertRose: Thanks for the advice. I agree that the 1.25 miles with SPG beats the 1 mile with the AA card.

    1. Do bonus miles earned and transferred through the AMEX SPG count towards lifetime status with AA? If that's the case than I will use the AMEX SPG as my primary card and keep the AA Visa as my back-up.

    Colonel G: Thanks so much for the information on DTS. I'm full-time Guard and we are just transitioning to DTS so this will definitely give me a leg up when planning my trips. I really appreciate the advice.

    Tenmoc: Unfortunately, most of my flights lately have been on WN, so I haven't quite reached the point where a MR makes sense for UA, but I will definitely track my miles and do a MR when I get close.

    2. What sites have the best resources for tracking MR cpms? I've seen MileageBrain, but right now CMH isn't included in its database. Are there any other sites I should be checking out?

    Thanks again for all your replies. I'm really glad that I found this community and I'm having a blast learning all the tactics to maximize my miles!
     
  16. JohnDeere19
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    JohnDeere19 Gold Member

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    All miles earned count towards lifetime status. I tend to manually calculate cpms suing gcmap.com.
     
  17. Tenmoc
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    Tenmoc Gold Member

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    Will try to help with this as I can.

    All miles from all sources currently count towards lifetime total with AA if they are new AA miles. Only example I can think of is you can't transfer miles from your wife's AA acct to yours and back and forth to up the count. So the SPG transfer does count towards your goal.

    farecompare is a good place to start when looking and although I'm more experience in matrix1.itasoftware.com instead of the newer matrix.itasoftware.com I have heard there are codes to show price per mile on your searches with it and also to limit out some search results based on this.

    There is a forum on FT about ITA commands. Some of that info has already flowed to MP as well.
     
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  18. boxedlunch
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    boxedlunch Silver Member

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    Not sure if this is entirely accurate...I transferred a couple thousand miles from the wife's account to make 1MM last summer. Of course, we didn't create any "new" miles in aggregate and AA made a few $$$ on the transfer.

    Nonetheless, your SPG mileage transfer and all bonus miles will increase your lifetime mileage count. Good luck with your pursuits!
     
  19. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    The key is the "back and forth" part... ;)

    "New" miles just means new to your account. So transfers into your account are new miles, but it's been indicated that multiple transfers back and forth between the same two accounts do not count as new miles. I don't know anyone who has done it and can confirm that they don't count though, and I'm not willing to try to find out....
     
  20. Tenmoc
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    Tenmoc Gold Member

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    Same here.
     
  21. JohnDeere19
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    Did you also apply for the AA Amex last night?
     
  22. PanAm
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    PanAm Silver Member

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    Welcome aboard Andrew. I'm also a federal employee - just "down the road" from you in Dayton. So the unpredictable CityPair contracts can make it a challenge as you and DestinationDavid both know already.

    Last year I earned elite status for the first time, in UA due to work trips (with a later match to DL). However Mrs PanAm and I are flush with miles in AA and BA due to all the lavish CC bonuses. So we're taking family trips overseas on carriers where I have no status, but would get more bang for the buck...and yet only taking advantage of UA/DL status on short domestics. So we're bass ackwards. But AA flies none of the routes I travel for work this year.

    Anyway one difference between AA and UA/DL, is that complimentary domestic elite upgrades do not apply to any government contract fare on AA. On UA/DL they do. It doesn't sound like that's a significant factor for your situation but thought I'd mention. Aside from that I agree that AA seems to generally treat active duty military flyers very well.

    My wife and I both use the BA cards and SPG cards a lot. I actually favor the BA Visa slightly since you realize an immediate 1.25 miles/$ rather than waiting to accrue 20K increments; the lack of forex fees; and the household account which makes it more efficient to use our combined accruals...and some of our larger regular monthly bills don't accept Amex. But SPG is still a great card all around.

    I don't know what your organization prefers (or your preference), but you may have luck checking in DTS for flights from DAY to see what the contract carrier and fare is compared to CMH, for a given route. As luck would have it, sometimes it is actually cheaper (even factoring in extra mileage) for me to drive to CMH for a flight if the CityPair fares are a lot cheaper. And often it's a totally different contract carrier than DAY (we also sometimes use CVG as well). So long as you're not picking a higher cost or substantially longer trip time, our organization is fine with it.
     
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  23. DestinationDavid
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    DestinationDavid Milepoint Guide

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    Interestingly enough, I was upgraded Monday on a government fare on AA. Perhaps this rule has changed recently?
     
  24. Colonel G
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    Colonel G Silver Member

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    DestinationDavid,

    All the airlines are fairly quirky on government fares. They are not supposed to do a bunch of things for these fares, but I have found they often do such as giving the +50% EQM for Y/B fares. You can never count on what they give you for upgrades or bonuses, but I never complain (and never point out to them) when they make those errors!
     
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