Year end tactics to earn points and maintain or increase your frequent flyer status

airline cabin

Since US legacy carriers have moved their loyalty programs to a dollars spent rather than miles flown model, it has become a more costly undertaking for frequent flyers to accrue points. Savvy flyers that travel around the world for less are losing ground – not because they are flying less, but because they are spending less per ticket purchase.

In the old days (think pre-2016), award-travel and status seekers would plan their year-end mileage runs as a way to increase their mile points and maintain or level-up their elite status ranking. In the new world of dollars spent, we need to come up with new tactics to build our points and preserve our perks and status.

In an interview with Jason Steele, an award travel and credit card expert, we explore the viability of and alternatives to the mileage run that won’t empty our pockets in exchange for diminishing returns.

WATCH our interview with Jason Steele, award travel, credit card, and personal finance expert

ExpertFlyer: Are mileage runs a waste of time now based on the airlines’ new points accrual criteria?

Jason Steele: Well, certainly the traditional mileage run is pretty much gone. This would be when let’s say there’s a discounted airfare of $100 round trip transcontinental from New York to LA. The airlines would get into an intense competition and maybe during a slow season, they’d offer a “just can’t say no” deal, so for the $100, you would get on the plane and you would maybe accumulate 5,000 miles round trip. If those 5,000 miles were worth that $100 to you, then that was a great mileage run. And often as much, runs would be made worth it if there was another promotion going on. Let’s say there’s double miles or a big bonus should you complete a certain number of miles within a certain time.

But as you referred to, within the last few years, the airlines have gone from awarding miles based on the miles you flew to the actual dollars you spent. And so, depending on the status level you hold with the airline, it would be five to maybe 11 miles per dollar spent. But of course, that removed any component of a traditional mileage run where you said, “Okay. Well, for this inexpensive airfare, I’m going to accumulate all these miles.” Well, the fact that it’s inexpensive means you will not accumulate all these miles.

But of course, there is an exception. The exception is the status. Airlines are still awarding elite star status largely based on the miles you fly with a couple caveats.

So it still makes sense, especially around this time of year when the demand is low and the airfares are often low. So certainly from New York to LA and back, you know, being maybe 5, 6,000 miles nonstop might not be worth it for $100, but if on your way from New York to LA you changed planes first in Atlanta and then Minneapolis – Now your 6,000 miles may be 8,000 miles. That infusion of miles might be enough to earn your re-qualification of elite status, which is actually quite valuable. That will potentially give you upgrades to the economy plus or premium economy or even less common now, but first class upgrades are certainly there for the highest status levels.
Also, all sorts of fee waivers. So priority treatment when you have bad weather or mechanical delays or cancellations, are all worth it to get to that elite status.

EF: What happens if you were able to score a relatively inexpensive business class seat? Does that change the formula in any way?

J.S.: Certainly. The airline will offer many bonuses for higher classes of service. So, a business class seat might give you a 50 or 100% bonus in those elite qualifying miles.

Those miles, especially those that are double or re-qualifying miles, might certainly be worth it if the premiere or business class is relatively low. So, maybe you find a $2,000 round-trip ticket to Europe in business class, which would be a great deal if you found it. If that’s compared to, say, $1,200 in coach, a lot of people might say, “Well, I’ll spend the $800. Obviously, I’ll enjoy business class. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent the $800 normally, but now I’m going to get double elite qualifying miles and that will propel me to the next level of status and then all through 2018 and the first couple months of 2019, I’ll have this increased chance of getting first-class upgrades and other upgrades and perks and that’ll partially offset that additional cost.”

EF: When it comes to credit cards, where are we at now in terms of offering the best types of travel rewards? What are your favorites?

J.S.: If you asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have told you that the best deals are with the travel rewards programs, your ultimate rewards, membership rewards and thank you points and the star preferred guest program. All four of those programs allow you to transfer points and miles or transfer your rewards to points and miles with airline and possibly hotel programs.

Over the last couple of years, I would say that has proven increasingly true as airlines continue to devalue their programs. They give you very, very little incentive to invest in accumulating miles with a single airline because they have demonstrated time and time again, some more than others, that you wake up one day and the bar has moved, so the award for 100,000 miles to Europe in business class, is now 120K or 140K miles. That might be okay, but what’s worse is that there are so few seats available at those lowest mileage levels that they might as well be selling unicorns. If the shelves on the store are empty, then what does it matter what the prices are?

On the other hand, I’m not one of those award travel enthusiasts who is all doom and gloom. I still recognize that even if the awards cost twice as much as they used to, I’m often getting three, four, five points per dollar on my spending on various credit cards. So, for example, with Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re still a card that’ll give me five points per dollar on telecommunications, office supply store, etc.

When I spend money on travel or dining, I use the Sapphire Reserve. I get three points per dollar. So, the credit card industry being so competitive has outshone the airline industry, which frankly is not very competitive. And overall, I think the gains in credit card earnings are outweighing the loses in the value of the miles.

EF: If you were going to give one last tip for maintaining or increasing your status at the end of the year, what’s your best advice?

J.S.: I have never, personally, flown somewhere just to fly back to accumulate miles. I don’t feel like that’s worth my time or even my money, but you know, if you do have a cross-country trip and you are close to the next threshold, use a creative outing. Fly home and change planes in an unusual city. If you could accumulate those extra miles that’s great. Other ways you can accumulate miles is by using airline credit cards, especially with the Delta program, which will give you those elite qualifying miles. American has that as well. United no longer offers cards like that, so there’s no real shortcut with United.

I also tell people, of course, to be careful of chasing status. I don’t think status is worth as much as it once was. Airlines have been saying publicly that they don’t want to give away seats to people with status. They’d rather actually just sell them for $50.

So you might take some of that extra money that you might have spent if you were going to spend money to get status and you might just buy up to first class.

Did you know…Chile has been named the top travel destination for 2018?

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 is the highly anticipated collection of the world’s hottest destinations that should be on every traveler’s wish list in the year ahead. The world’s leading travel media authority reveals its selections of the top 10 countries, cities, regions and best value destinations that Lonely Planet experts recommend travelers experience in 2018.

Chile takes the coveted top spot of the best country for travelers in 2018 (Check out our post with the Chilean Tourism Board). Seville receives the accolade of number one city in the world to visit next year. Hot on the Spanish city’s heels is the American comeback city Detroit and Australia’s oft-overlooked capital Canberra. The region which Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 declares the number one must-see in the coming year is Belfast and the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, with Alaska in second place. Tallinn, Estonia has been crowned Lonely Planet’s best value destination of 2018, closely followed by Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and Arizona in the USA.

San Juan is also showcased in the 10 best cities list. Lonely Planet’s Central America and Caribbean destination editor Bailey Freeman said, “While Puerto Rico’s capital was hit hard by the hurricane last month, San Juan’s resiliency will have it back on its feet for travelers in 2018.”

Deciding what destinations to include in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel annual selection is a considered process involving Lonely Planet’s most experienced travelers providing hundreds of recommendations of places not to be missed. These places are then shortlisted by a panel of in-house travel experts who consider criteria such as topicality, novelty, and wow-factor to decide what to include in the inspirational travel yearbook – available in hardback for the first time this year.

“These are the places you shouldn’t miss next year,” said Lonely Planet’s US magazine managing editor Alex Howard. “From Alaska to South Africa, our community of travel experts have named the top places to experience. Whether they’re coming into their own, celebrating an anniversary or have seen a resurgence in recent years, all these destinations are worth a visit in 2018.”

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 features trends and experiences to prepare for in the year ahead. Top trends include destination races, vegetarian and vegan travel, and exploratory cruises. Lonely Planet’s experts also rank the top 10 best new openings, places to stay and culture trips for families.

 

Holidays gift wrap a boon for the airlines

airplane

Airfarewatchdog.com, a resource for consumer travelers seeking airfare deals and expert money-saving tips, just released the results of a poll of more than 1,300 travelers, asking them if they will be flying for this holiday season. Almost half (46%) plan to take to the skies—up 53% from 2016 and almost double from 2015.

US airline trade organization, Airlines for America, concurs. According to their data, during the 21-day holiday travel period starting Dec. 16, 45.2 million travelers will fly on U.S.-based airlines, prompting airlines to add extra flights or bigger planes to serve the travel surge.

In a report from the Chicago Tribune, Airlines for America predicts that the busiest airports during the holiday period should be Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

To accommodate the increased demand, airlines are expected to add 99,000 extra seats a day during the holiday season, a 3.9 percent increase. Read the full story here.

Top 10 Campgrounds for Fall Foliage

Red, gold, amber and green — It’s time to wave fall’s foliage flag! The official start of fall and the harbinger of shorter days is a great motivator to get outside and take in the scenic beauty of this special time of year.

What are the best spots for autumnal appreciation? We caught up with Hipcamp —a startup that creates new places to stay in nature by unlocking access to beautiful private lands, such as nature preserves, farms, and ranches, to get their top picks in America. If you want to see ALL of their select regions for fall camping, check out their interactive map here.

Top 5 Regions for Fall Foliage Campouts

#1. THE FINGER LAKES
Shiitake Mushroom Camp: New York shiitake mushroom camp
A pristine stream, a working mushroom farm, and fall leaves.

Sanctuary in the Woods: New York
Choose a cozy teepee or a double-bed platform.

#2. THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Beechwood Cabin Tent 
Sleep in a protected enclosure with a tin roof and canvas tent.

Earthseed: Smoky Mt. Sanctuary
Enjoy a 12-foot-high tent and a babbling creek.

adirondacks#3. THE ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS
Adirondack Little Star: New York
Elevated camping in a covered cabin!

Adirondack Glamping: New York
Peep the leaves from the opening in this sturdy and comfortable tent.

#4. THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS
Crow Creek Farm: North Carolina
Enjoy a breakfast of fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens.

Apple Orchard Tent Camping: North Carolina
Camp on a grassy knoll overlooking gorgeous yellow leaves.

onion river#5. THE GREEN MOUNTAINS
Onion River Campground: Vermont
In the fall, these green mountains dazzle in shades of yellow and orange.

Hidden Meadow Tent Site: Vermont
Wander over a bridge to your own private campsite.

Did you know…Inflight wifi could be a $130B market by 2035?

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In a report by Tnooz.com, the London School of Economics conducted a study that values the ancillary revenue contribution to airlines from Inflight Connectivity (IFC), as well as breaking down estimates of the types of ancillary opportunities in the IFC market and their relative contributions to airline revenue.inflight wifi LSE studyThe report explains that the study made a strong business case for the future of Inflight Connectivity (IFC), predicting a market worth $130 billion by 2035, and contributing $30 billion to airline revenue. LSE predicts a dramatic rise over the next seventeen years as the technology and its applications scale to meet market potential.

LSE expects an increase of 2,005% in airline IFC revenue per passenger from $0.23 in 2018 to $4.00 by 2035. Read the full story here.