Welcome to a new year and the start of the yearly race to make your goals for 2014 whether they are to make a certain status level or just to save up enough for a fantastic trip you have planned. Last year I gave out Ten Tips that proved very popular and so I am going to take another swing at that, but this time with Andy contributing. Hope they help get to wherever you are going.
1. Plan Your Year. Ok, I have spent a lot of time as an Army Planner so I actually like to plan everything out. Make a spreadsheet for the year with columns for each program you think you will fly. List all the trips you definitely will or are likely to fly. List your vacation, sister’s wedding, etc. as well as work travel such as planning conferences or schools you will likely attend. Calculate the distances by going to the Great Circle Mapper and put those down under the column of the airline you are likely to fly. Don’t know which airline you will fly for official travel? Look up the City Pair from GSA and it will tell you who has the contract for that route. You can have a column for each airline, but I list just the two that I go for status on – Alaska and United – and put American (and now USAir) and Delta miles against Alaska and all the Star Alliance carriers against United. Here is an example of my spreadsheet shown below. If you want the whole thing with all the formulae in place, just email me and I’ll send you a copy.
|Month||Event||United||* Alliance||Bonus||Alaska||AS Alliance|
|Jan||Trip to 414th||1000|
|Feb||Trip to Hawaii||11511|
|Trip to 401st||1000|
Total these up and see where you will likely end up for the end of 2014. Examine your goals and see if you want to hunt for a mileage run or maybe pay for a trip instead of using miles so you can earn status. Conversely, if you find you will end up with say 60,000 miles, maybe use your miles instead of cash so you just make 50,000 and Gold status, but keep some cash in your pocket. Why do you need to do this so early in the year? Read on to tip 2 so you are not scrambling to make status next December.
2. Fly as Much as Possible Jan. – Mar. After the holidays are over, most people (and organizations) just want to hunker down and stay at home until spring arrives. That typically means a lot less flying for everyone yet the airlines still have the same number of planes and need to fill those seats. This is the time of year when you will see the best deals for vacations or mileage runs. Last year I flew HNL-EWR on a 10,000 mile mileage run for $417 and netted 20,000 RDM which pretty much justified the price of the ticket. Teh year before that, the wife and I flew to Belize for a long weekend for about the same miles and price. Rack up the miles when they are cheap and not only will you not be scrambling at the end of year during the holidays to make those last miles, but may make enough to get status early in the year and use that for the rest of the year. Let’s say you are starting as a nobody on Airline X. Get 25,000 in the first three months and you should get Silver status which will then save you baggage fees for the remainder of the year. So how do I maximize Tip #2, read on to Tip #3!
3. Good Intel is Key to a Successful Operation. I read three things every day that I can. The Boarding Area Blogs, Flyertalk Mileage Run Deals, and The Flight Deal. The last one arrives as a subscription everyday at 1500 EST so sign up for that. This is the lazy man’s way of getting a good deal since someone else has kindly done the work and let you know of a good opportunity. There are definitely way to invest a lot more time into looking for a good deal, but that is up to how much time and energy you have to put into the quest. If you are looking for something with specific parameters such as “I want to fly over the President’s Day weekend”, then play around with Skyscanner, ITA (now owned by Google), or even your favorite airlines website. Skyscanner is the most open and you can put in dates and your local airport and it will find fares to all sorts of destinations. This tool is the easiest to use. ITA is the most powerful tool and you can go to this thread on Flyertalk to learn how to use it effectively. Finally, your airline’s site is good for choices, but only after you have narrowed down your itinerary a little bit. Or you have found a good itin and you want to beef up the miles by adding in some intermediate stops. Lastly, subscribe to blogs that you have a specific interest in. For example, if you mainly fly Delta, I highly recommend a (free) subscription to my friend Rene’s Delta Points blog.
4. Bank Some Miles for Emergencies. You will hear a lot of the mileage “experts” say that you should earn and burn your miles as quickly as possible before they get devalued. While I understand their basic philosophy, I think it is unwise. Lack of miles can cost you a lot more than the chance the airlines will raise the number of miles you need for an award ticket. Emergencies always happen and while the price of a last-minute ticket rises dramatically as the date gets near, the number of miles remains the same. So the funeral you must attend or your buddy’s bachelors’ party in Las Vegas can be great uses for miles and save you a bundle of money. I recommend that you keep 50,000 miles in your account as that is the typical price for a “standard” award where you can fly at any time. If 50,000 miles seems like a lot, remember that you can get that from many credit card sign-up bonuses. Right now, the Capital One Venture card is giving a 50,000 mile bonus and you can use those miles for any airline.
5. Don’t forget the Credit Card Benefits. We focus a lot on how many sign-up bonus miles someone can get, but everyone should select credit cards that give you other benefits that will save you money or trouble. Most airlines now have a CC that will give you a bag for free or priority boarding. Others will help you along on your path to getting status such as the Delta Reserve card. One technique is to get one for your spouse that gives free bags since, as a military member, you’ll typically get them for free for yourself. If you get one that will give you EQM, work those into your plan from Tip #1. Of course the trade-off with the CC that gives you EQM is that you have to spend a lot on that one card which means you probably won’t have the spend to do a lot of other CC for their bonuses.
Good luck with those tips and we’ll have the other five tomorrow.