Archive for May, 2011

Frequent Flyer Miles Madness

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

IMPORTANT:   This post is  simply a collection of notes from a recent flurry of activity using miles programs.   It may NOT represent the general experience for frequent flyer programs at United, American, or Delta.  If you’ve had different experiences please feel free to comment below, and if you are an industry representative also feel free to guest post or comment.

Frequent Flyer programs: You’ve got to love them for allowing you free or very cheap flying options, but the logistics are often intimidating even for experienced travelers.   Until this past week *thought* I was pretty familiar with the basics of the frequent flyer game but … no.   Due to a sudden illness in the family I’ve been arranging last minute trips back and forth from Oregon to Minnesota using the frequent flyer miles my wife and I had on three airlines:  United, Delta, and American Airlines.   I also just booked four paid tickets to Virginia on Delta’s very compromised online booking system which I learned (the HARD way) is not yet compatible with Google’s  Chrome browser.

More on that later but the tip of the day is “for Delta Airlines bookings, don’t use Google Chrome yet!”

Frequent Flyer tips from this experience learned:

United Airlines Frequent Flyer System  was great

1.  Kudos to United Airlines who came through with an excellent online booking system and excellent ticket availability without gauging me in miles.    If you are in a rural area like me, you may find your miles won’t work from your regional airport.   Here at MFR Medford in Oregon both Delta and United allow me to travel to and from here, but for American Airlines I need to drive to tt cities served by American which in our case are Sacramento, California and Portland, Oregon – both about 4 1/2 hours from home.     For me during this experience, United was the big winner by providing one way trips to Minnesota at the last minute for only 12,500 miles with only a $5 processing charge.

Delta’s Frequent Flyer System was expensive and somewhat confusing.  Delta Assist Twitter help was great.

The quirky tip I learned from Delta’s excellent online twitter help was that sometimes (always?) the cost in miles of a ONE WAY is the SAME as a Round Trip!     I was getting charged 40,000 miles for a last minute one way home for my wife, but thanks to the @DeltaAssist  I learned I could book a return for no extra miles.

Watch for Credit Card Miles offers that can be worth thousands of dollars in free tickets:

Watch out for sneaky tricks that aren’t worth the money for the miles:

Here’s a sneaky trick from Delta disguised as an “offer” (!)

Transfer Miles: Limited-time Offer
Bring your friends and family with you on your next vacation. Transfer miles to that special someone between May 1 and June 30, 2011 and we’ll give them a 50% mileage bonus.1

To be continued….


3-1-1 Rule from TSA

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

TSA’s “3-1-3” rule about your toiletries/liquids/gels has not changed very much in the last five years, but for me the details of what you can and can’t bring and how you need to declare things are always a bit of a travel challenge as you struggle through the security lines removing belts and computers while managing your kids or parents.

First off, it’s recommended you pull together a “travel kit” with the stuff you’ll need in appropriate (100ml or less) bottles.    If you travel as much as I do, it’s good to have this separate from your normal day to day stuff.   You then just need to review the travel kit for anything you might need that might not have applied on your last trip (e.g. a medicine, suntan lotion, insect repellant, etc)

If you are checking bags put stuff there – it’ll save the hassles at security.  Unfortunately many of us no longer check bags due to convenience and/or cost issues … and hey, why are you taking up MY space in the overhead bin!

Consider bringing pills rather than liquids when you can.  e.g. pepto bismol, cough and cold medicines, etc.   This makes things easier to manage.

Source: TSA Website
3-1-1 for carry-ons = 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) ; 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure.

3-1-1 is for short trips. If in doubt, put your liquids in checked luggage.

Declare larger liquids. Medications, baby formula and food, and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. Officers may need to open these items to conduct additional screening.

Is Selling your Frequent Flyer miles to a “Mileage Broker” legal?

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The mileage broker market was once a thriving industry, buying frequent flyer tickets from people and then reselling them at a profit. Understandably the airlines don’t like this practice of monetizing their frequent flyer / mileage plus type systems. These are marketing tools and they arguably lose both control of things and lose paid tickets to free ones (though a mileage broker could make the argument that they are simply making the process more efficient by letting people turn one form of compensation – free tickets – into cash.

In any case this practice is still in play, but appears to be scaled down and risky for both buyer, seller, and especially for the airlines mileage brokers who can wind up in court.

A case that may set the new standards is Alaska Airlines vs Carey et al, where Alaska Air is suing mileage broker Carey (I think a small, husband and wife online business) for what they feel is an illegal resale of frequent flyer / mileage program tickets. I don’t think this case has yet resolved in the courts, though it may have by now.

It should actually be very cost effective to resell miles benefits at the 1.5-2 cent per mile rates we just reviewed at a mileage broker website assuming your travel plans are flexible. My rule of thumb is that miles are only worth about a penny. This calculation assumes you’ll have trouble getting a 25,000 mileage award and probably have to use 37,500 or even 50,000, and also assumes that a bird (cash) in the hand is worth more than a ticket in the bush (mileage award). A lot can happen to those miles in the new frenzied airline business where, for example, shorter – often only 18 month – mileage expiration time limits can easily kill your miles.

QuickAid at this time recommends you do NOT buy this type of ticket as the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, but we’re open to changing our minds depending on how the courts view the legality of mileage brokering.