Trip Coach: May 30, 2006
Tim Winship, Editor & Publisher of frequentflier.com, answered your questions about frequent-flier miles.
Tim Winship : Good afternoon, fellow travelers! This being the day after the Memorial Day holiday -- the busiest weekend of the busiest season for travel -- it seems fitting that we should be discussing the ups and downs of flying.
I look forward to your questions.
Singapore: I am trying every-which-way from Sunday to get two business class awards or upgrades for the long-haul transpacific segment using 180,000 OnePass miles on any affiliate carrier for travel between Singapore & Lafayette, LA. My dates are flexible (Nov-Dec) and I am willing to purchase a revenue ticket and use miles to upgrade. I have even paid $140 to AwardPlanner.com and they have not been able to come up with anything for the past 30 days. They say they have tried all the hubs. Do you think I have a snowball's chance in Hades and/or do you have any suggested strategies? What do you think about the service offered by Global Pass? Thanks!
Tim Winship : If you have AwardPlanner working on your behalf to secure award seats, you can be pretty confident that they're pursuing every option -- different partners, different routings, different dates.
I'd be inclined to develop a Plan B (a trip which I know there's award availability for) and have the AwardPlanner folks continue trying to find seats for your first choice.
Carrollton, GA: I have never used frequent flyer points, but I've accumulated 30,000+ points on Delta, and given their financial situation, think I should take action soon. What advice can you give me, a first timer, about redeeming points?
Tim Winship : There's no need to make any moves based on Delta's bankruptcy. While there's a small (very small) chance that Delta won't survive the restructuring process, your miles would probably be transferred into another airline's program in the event Delta failed outright. That's what happened when other major airlines -- Eastern, Pan Am, TWA -- liquidated.
Of course, the way to avoid any risk whatever is simply redeem the miles now and take the award trip as soon as possible. But again, I wouldn't recommend that.
Washington, DC: How can a non-elite flyer (e.g. not platinum, gold, silver, or whatever) use frequent flyer miles to upgrade?
Tim Winship : All airlines which have two or more classes or service (i.e. coach + business and/or first) offer one-class upgrades as awards. Check the award chart of the program in which you have miles for specific mileage requirements. Typically, there will be an award which permits you to upgrade from full-fare coach to the next-highest class of service, and a separate (higher priced) award that permits upgrading from discounted coach.
Caveat: depending on the program, sometimes the cheapest coach fares cannot be upgraded using miles. Confirm with the airline before purchasing your ticket if you're planning to upgrade.
Waterbury, CT: I am interested in going to Ireland June 2007- when is the best time to book award miles- I have not had luck in redeeming miles for Europe in the past two years.
Tim Winship : Most airlines begin allowing bookings 330 days before the departure date -- that's when seats first become available for sale in the rservations systems.
So by all means, start trying then. But since availability can change at any time -- either because other passengers cancel their bookings or the airline adjusts award seat inventory -- it's worth checking back often.
And toward the end of the award booking window, say within two weeks of the flight's departure, the airlines often make new award seats available if it looks like the flight in question won't be sold out to revenue passengers.
As you've discovered first hand, award travel to Europe during the summer months is a challenge. If you have any scheduling flexibility, your chances would be considerably better in May or in the fall.
New York, NY: : Are airfares higher this year, I cannot seem to find any bargains?
Tim Winship : Absolutely. And it's probably a good thing, too.
As the recent airline bankruptcies prove, airfares over the past few years have been unsustainably low. Even low-cost JetBlue lost money over the past two consecutive quarters.
As consumers, we should be prepared to pay a bit more. In exchange, we'll benefit from a more stable travel industry. And we might even see some improvement in the level of comfort and service we receive when we travel.
Lastly, it's worth bearing in mind that ticket prices, when adjusted for inflation, are still very low by historical standards.
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