Happy New Year to everyone! Hope you all had a great holiday period and some well-deserved time off. Most frequent flyers know New Years as the depressing time when all of their mileage and points counters reset to zero. A few programs, such as Delta and Marriott, allow you to carry over excess EQM and points, but for most it is zero day. So now is the time to evaluate what you want to achieve in 2016. Planning properly now will lead to a lot less heartache trying to achieve your goal by scrambling at the end of the year. Here are a few tips:
- Rather than haphazardly accumulating miles and points as you get them, figure out a realistic status level you want to achieve and get out a spreadsheet to see how you can make that goal. It doesn’t have to be 100% right now, stuff happens, but it should get you roughly to the level you want to be by the end of 2016. We usually know some things and others will come up during the year. For example, you know your friend Jeff is getting married this summer and they will probably do it in Miami. Go ahead and figure the miles you will get from your home to Miami, it doesn’t really matter that you don’t know exactly when. You need to separate these out to whichever program you are applying them to and also figuring in known factors. Say you want to get to EXP in American this year. You know you are going to Jeff’s wedding and you can commit to doing that on AA, but you also know that you are flying TDY to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage. Likely that will be on Alaska which will then credit to AA for status. However, AA’s new rules are that AS flight only give 50% EQM. So add only half those miles to your total.
- After analyzing your goals (and it is OK to have stretch goals) figure out what gaps you must cover. The obvious way to cover these gaps is through mileage runs. Now the classic mileage run doesn’t have you leaving the airport, so I prefer to make them mini-vacations. Go across country for a long weekend and get those miles you need to get status so you get the upgrades next time or simply have enough status to get free bags. Why is this important to plan now? Because the first quarter of the year is when the best travel bargains are out there. After the holidays, no one wants to travel. From about 5 Jan. to whenever spring break starts, there are some great airfares to be found. For example, Alaska is offering BWI-LAX for less than $100 each way. My wife and I are planning to fly from D.C., enjoy ten hours in L.A. and then fly back. That’s 4644 EQM for $196 or 4.2 CPM (cents per mile). Anything at 4 CPM or less is the gold standard and even up to 6 CPM is a good deal these days.
- Searching for bargains. I do play around with airline websites to look for destinations and see if there are good fares. That’s how I booked a $607 fare on AS BWI-OGG (Maui) for the MLK weekend. If you know you can have certain days off, go to your favorite airline’s site and just start plugging in destinations and see what comes up. The other thing that I do is subscribe to www.theflightdeal.com. This daily email will list a bunch of fares that are under 6 CPM going to destinations all over the world. 99% f the time you will not find something you can use, but that 1% will save you a ton of money. I also find that they give me some great ideas for destinations that I would not have thought of otherwise. Lastly, check out the Mileage Run threads on Flyertalk. They have one thread for deals and another for discussion (strategies or problems).
- Here is another often overlooked tip. Consider flying premium fares. I know we usually think that these fares are double or more the cost of economy, but that is not always true. My wife and I are going down to visit one of my old friends in Panama over Presidents’ Day Weekend. I found the UA fare was $322 OW for economy EWR-PTY, but $422 for business class for the same day and route. While we a both Golds on United’s Mileage Plus and have a chance of getting upgraded, I am happy to pay the extra $100 and get it for sure. More importantly, UA’s new rules give 200% EQM for business class now. That means getting to my goal twice as fast for only a small amount more. Most people never even think of checking these fares, but give them a shot and see if you can’t find some bargains like I did.
- Try for promotions, but don’t obsess over them. You might get some nice bonuses for a little extra effort, but look at these as opportunities rather than something to really go out of your way to get. I find this particularly true for hotel promotions. Sometimes an extra night will get you a bunch of points or certificate, but spending a bunch more doesn’t get you return on investment for it to make sense. Always sign up for promotions, as you never know when your circumstances could change and suddenly you are traveling more than you planned.
There are my tips to get the new year off to a good start. If you have any tips of your own, post them as we would love to hear them too.