Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Great Mileage Debate.....

I could stare at this for hours, but that's just me.

Clearly, I like miles.  Or at least, one would believe that after reading even one or two things I've written on this blog, or even more so if you have had the misfortune to be at a social gathering with me recently, wherein drinks and the topic of travel had been combined. 

Inevitably, in such an occasion someone in the group will gesticulate in frustration mid-point through my comments on why I last went to Hong Kong for 36 hours, saying that they don't know why anyone would do that because their miles are worthless, can't be used 'for anything,' and all airlines are terrible now.

Okay let's unpack this, and maybe we can come to an accord on several things, and possibly even learn to understand how miles and points get their value.  We might even be able to reach an understanding about what they're actually 'good for.'

But first, let's address the sentiment that 'all airlines are terrible now.'  That one I'm not going to bother arguing over. This is mostly because it's so vague it can't really be dealt with outside of  a seminar on the purpose, regulation, and structure of the global air travel industry.  It's also not worth wasting too much time on because with the way all the changes have been going lately, if it was sufficiently later in the evening, I might just throw up my hands and agree.  But, that would be not entirely true, and counterproductive to the rest of this post. 

So, onwards we go to the rest of the discussion.....

Getting to the other, most important point first, I will generally ask the irate-mileage account-owner what they're actually trying to use their miles for, the lack of which makes them so frustrated. In general, I get a response like this one:

"I have all these miles, and so just last week I wanted to fly our family of four to Cancun for Thanksgiving in first class!  There were NO flights that worked.  Well, maybe the overnight, but we weren't about to do that!!"

Okay, yes, Cancun is lovely, but not the point I'm making here.

Okay, let me tell you what that sounds like to me-

"I have all these dollars in my bank account, but when I tried to find a family of unicorns to buy, there weren't any!!  They tried to sell me a couple horses instead, but I only wanted unicorns.  Ergo, all these dollars are just worthless!"

The reason people outside of the 'miles and points' community get so frustrated with trying to use their miles is that they don't really understand what they're for.  No, you will not be able to necessarily get the exact ticket you've decided you want on the exact day you want it.  Well, on occasion you can, but you may have to spend a lot of miles, or get very lucky. 

The better way to think about how to use your miles is the same way you would think about going to a completely new type of restaurant for the first time, and finding something interesting on the menu.  You might go in thinking you're in the mood for chicken, but if they're out of the chicken, you might be surprised to see a better and intriguing fish option that you go with instead.  You also won't be at all shocked that there's no unicorn on the menu at all, and it shouldn't make you upset.

A few examples of 'interesting dishes' you could order right now:

How about LAX direct to Abu Dhabi in first class on Etihad?  From there you can easily see Dubai, or use it as a starting point to get to Africa, Southern Europe, or India.  The Maldives are always a good choice.

(Click to enlarge)  Notice the 'guest space' available for the next two days, as well as the little note that this ticket comes with car service! 

Plus, the life experience of flying in one of Etihad's closed door first class suites is worth the trip alone if you ask me.  Also, when you consider that the actual price of this ticket comes in in the $15,000 range, it's a pretty darn impressive use of your miles.  If you don't think so, I'll happily take those miles off your hands so I can let you know how it is instead. Kidding, not kidding,

So, what else can we find on the menu?  Well how about...

...First class on Cathay Pacific direct to Hong Kong?  You can even bring a friend! If your friend is very nice to you.

What if you don't want to go that far, that soon, and/or want to spend fewer miles for a premium experience?  Well, remember how I kept ranting earlier about our trip to Peru?  This flight on LAN only costs about $30 in tax, and 30k miles each way.  Plus, both this trip and the Hong Kong trip can be paid for with either American miles, or with BA Avios, which is a transfer partner with Amex's Membership Rewards.

Nonstop to Lima, and you can add on a free connection within the country.

But what about Europe?  "We want to go to Europe next summer, and we can never get business class to Europe!"  Okay, yes, I do sympathize here.  Premium tickets to Europe, if you're trying to avoid the big taxes that British Airways charges are probably the unicorns of the award flight system.  However... in this world, there are still unicorns out there if you know where and when to look.

Business class to Europe for the Summer.  It happens.

A few years ago when we did Europe on an explorer ticket, the work around was to take Airberlin and spend a few days in Berlin, which was an unplanned but really nice stopover.  This year, how about Helsinki?  This itinerary only costs $61 in cash!  Plus, you get to experience Finnair on the outbound, and one of American's new 787's on the return.

For this post I focused on the premium cabin tickets, but in most cases finding economy availability to these places is orders of magnitude easier.  Plus, you can always mix and match the cabin class if you're willing to do economy one way to save some miles, and make planning trips even simpler.

All this is in addition to being able to use your miles to upgrade your flights, both domestically and internationally, as well as the hotel and car rental deals you can use them for around the world. 

So, where does this leave us?  While finding the trip that works for you if you're limited in time and location is a challenge, it's definitely possible, and if you're flexible you can put together some truly inspiring and luxurious trips using Oneworld miles. 

Happy searching,


Of course if you don't want to use your time delving into all of the nuance of finding the right trip, I'd love to help you with it!  Visit Altitude Consulting to get in touch! 

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