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Frequent Flier Tips that only the Pros Know

Are you a frequent flier?
Ever wondered how to get into business lounges (even with an economy ticket)? Wanted elite status or bonus miles?

1. Getting into business class lounges even if you’re in economy class

Airports aren’t much fun, but one way to make the whole flying experience more pleasurable is to wait for your flight in an airline lounge. Savvy fliers know that even if they are flying in economy class, they can access business class lounges when flying overseas. If you’re a member of Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge, Continental’s Presidents Club, the United Red Carpet Club, or the US Airways club you can access any Star Alliance business class lounge when flying internationally. No matter what class of service you are flying or elite status, show your club membership card and you gain access to alliance member lounges across the globe.

2. Getting elite status

Elite status is an important tool in every road warrior’s bag of tricks, but achieving status can be troublesome if your travel patterns change each year. But did you know that most airlines award elite status for life upon reaching the one million miles flown mark? Sure, it takes a lot of flying to get there, but you are a road warrior and you will live a long time.

Most airlines are very specific about what miles they count towards the accrual of elite status, usually including only flown miles on the airline and its alliance partners. However, American stands out of the crowd to include any miles earned (such as credit card spending and promotions) towards its AAdvantage program as part of its million mile status calculation. This makes it the easiest program in which to earn lifetime elite status. United counts elite levels from only its own UA-coded flights towards elite status whereas airlines like Delta and Continental also count its alliance partners’ flights towards lifetime accrual.

3. Getting elite status faster

Want a fast track to Grand Poobah status on your favorite airline? There are easier ways to achieve alliance-wide status if you are willing to collect miles in foreign programs. Aegean Airlines, for example, awards Star Alliance Gold elite status at a much lower threshold than many of its alliance partners bringing with it lounge-access benefits and baggage fee waivers.

4. When it’s wise to buy miles

Ever seen those promotions about buying frequent flier miles and wondered if it was worth it? Well there are some promotions (often with US Airways) where buying miles can save you big bucks and help you to fly business class overseas for as little as $1,000, a bargain since most business class fares cost $4,000-7,000.

And if you collect American Express Membership Reward points, check their site frequently for bonus transfer offers. Recently, for example, British Airways was offering a 50% bonus on transferred points (transfer 100,000 points and you actually get 150,000 miles).

And speaking of American Express points, you’re probably aware that later this year Continental Airlines will no longer participate. But since Continental has merged with United, you can take advantage of your Amex points with Continental after the cut-off date by transferring points from Amex to Continental now, and then immediately transfer them, if you wish, to United.

5. Hacks to finding award seats on partner airlines

When you have miles burning in your account, what’s the best way to redeem them? The process can be complicated, and calling an agent to have them do the work for you is a bad idea because they may not do a great job! You have to do the homework first. Star Alliance has a secret backend tool to finding the award availability for your next trip thanks to partner airline ANA All Nippon Airways of Japan.

SkyTeam has its own method of searching for availability (that luckily does not involve the clunky Delta website). Sign up for Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue frequent flier program to search for award inventory on Delta, Air France, KLM, CSA Czech, Alitalia, Kenya Airways and other partners.

There’s also an easy way for oneworld alliance fans to find seats on partner airlines. If you collect miles in any of the oneworld alliance member programs, you can scour award availability by using the British Airways and Qantas Airways websites. These give access to most partner availability online so you can do your homework before calling your airline’s reservation number to make the booking.

6. Shopping for bonus miles

Experienced mile collectors know that it’s a sin to buy anything online without checking first to see if there are bonus frequent flier miles to be had. Sure, they collect a mile or maybe 1.5 miles for each dollar charged to their credit cards, but that’s chump change compared to the bonus miles. Buying a Mac iBook? How about collecting your additional 5000-10,000 miles? Continental might be awarding an additional four miles for each dollar spent at Apple.com, but only if you reach Apple’s website by clicking over from Continental’s shopping mall first. Buying a $200 pair of shoes at Saks?

You might earn an additional 2,400 frequent flier miles with British Airways. Each airline has their own shopping portal through which you can access your favorite stores (you know, the ones you already use for your online shopping). And, of course, online shopping is always a good way to prevent your miles from expiring.

7. Getting award seats even when you’re told no

Yes, it seems to be getting harder to cash in those hard-earned miles, especially on popular routes, even when following the strategies above. Tim Winship, editor of Frequentflier.com, offers this retro advice for those times when you’re unable to find the flights you want:

“Pick up the phone and call the airline’s reservations center. A reservations agent can often successfully book an award trip that couldn’t be booked on the carrier’s website, using alternative routings or a mix of airlines to circumvent capacity bottlenecks.

Or they can sometimes exercise their authority to bypass capacity restrictions that limit award availability. Res agents have the expertise and tools to do what you cannot do.”

He advises that you may pay a service charge, but that beats not flying at all.

Source: George Hobica - Airfarewatchdog.com


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