Frequent Flyer Points

Air Travel – Fear. Cost. Frequent Flyer Points.

Derek Transportation, Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice 29 Comments

Frequent Flyer Points

Fear.

There was a time when I didn’t enjoy flying at all. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I wrote a post about that very subject, reaching the conclusion that the older I was getting, the more afraid I was of flying. It turns out I was wrong though. It was only a temporary bout of flying fear that had gotten a hold of me. Last week I was flying through the air at 38,000 feet, from Europe to the US, and I had a groovy time, no worries at all. I didn’t exactly want to stay inside that plane for another 8 hours of course, but that had more to do with KLM’s lack of a decent entertainment program than it did with being high up in the sky in a moving metal object that was occasionally passing through some turbulence.

And it’s a good thing that I’ve been okay with flying for the overwhelming majority of my life. A few months ago, during a flight from New York City to Frankfurt, Germany, I decided to try and calculate the exact number of flights I’ve been on. I reached 336 before I couldn’t remember any more. That’s a lot of flying.

Cost.

Not only did I fly to the US a few days ago, I’ll also be taking two flights while in the US, then I’ll be off to India. After six weeks in India, off I’ll fly once again, this time to Florida in order to visit some family before returning to Romania just before the end of the year. For 2013 I’ll have averaged 4.5 flights per month by the time New Year’s Eve comes around.

Isn’t all of this flying expensive? It could be but it doesn’t have to be. The key is flexibility. If you’re flexible with dates, and even destinations, the chances are high that you can move the numbers/places around until you eventually find a flight that will take you to the general region you want to visit, for a price that seems very reasonable. Of course, another key is not taking 4.5 flights per month. It would obviously be far cheaper to fly to a certain country and then travel overland around that country and to neighboring countries, without stepping foot on a plane. A local bus or train is almost always going to cost far less than a flight.

However, there are times when you just need to fly and when those times present themselves, it also helps to experiment with different airfare search engines. I’ve definitely done my fair share of experimenting over the years and I’ve tried out dozens of sites, some that impressed me and others that made me wonder how on earth they even became popular at all. I’d actually be interested to know how many hours I’ve spent researching fares on airfare search engines during my life. My guess is that the answer would be quite depressing.

Luckily, right now, I seemed to have find my ideal website and therefore, I don’t do as much experimenting anymore. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m completely hooked on Vayama.com these days simply because, for the flights I’ve needed over the past twelve months, they have consistently provided a combination of the lowest fares and the most attractive routes. They are particularly good for lengthy, inter-continental routes, most of which my flights happen to be, and as a result, I’m not spending nearly as much on flights as one might think, despite all of this criss-crossing the globe.

As an example, using Vayama.com, I’ll have flown from Bucharest, Romania to NYC to Delhi to Istanbul to Fort Lauderdale, Florida over a period of two months for a total of $1800 USD. Four long flights that will take me all over the planet for that amount seems like as good of a deal as one could possibly find, which is why I definitely recommend adding them to your list of search engines to try out.

Frequent Flyer Points.

Many people have asked what programs I use for frequent flyer points and how I work the system, as this is surely another way to save money on flights. And while I’m not a ‘frequent flyer hacker’ kind of person, here’s what I do:

Star Alliance & SkyTeam – These are the two airline alliances that I use almost exclusively in order to make sure that I am constantly earning points that I can eventually use for free flights. Between the two, there is a wide variety of airlines to choose from so the chances are high that the lowest fare I find for a particular route will be on an airline that is part of one of these two groups. And then, for every mile I fly, I earn a point that, upon earning enough of these points, I can redeem for a free flight or an upgrade.

Jet Blue – This is the only airline I’ll use while in the US in order to fly to various cities to visit family and friends. As a result, I’m also signed up to their TrueBlue award program and I have a Jet Blue credit card as well. I only use this credit card to purchase Jet Blue flights because they offer a large points bonus for doing so. In my experience, there is no other program that makes it so easy to earn free flights. Book a couple of tickets, pay with the Jet Blue credit card and you’ll already be quite close to a free trip.

Airline Credit Cards – Up until last year, I had a couple of other credit cards that were tied to particular airlines. I had a United MileagePlus credit card and a Delta SkyMiles credit card. This way, all of the purchases I made would immediately give me extra miles as I was earning anywhere from 1 – 3 miles per dollar I spent. The more I spent on my cards, the more miles I earned and the quicker I had free flights with those airlines and their partners. However, the problem was that ‘free flights’ started becoming quite expensive. The taxes and fees that one must pay these days on the free flights earned through points can be absurd at times. Sometimes the taxes and fees charged are almost as much as just buying a normal ticket for that route. So in my opinion, it became less and less useful to rack up these miles when, in order to benefit from them, I still had to shell out a good amount of cash to cover those fees.

Bank of America Credit Card – This is what I now switched to and it’s based on a points system. I gain points for the dollars I spend and when I’m ready to cash those points in, they can be used as a statement credit for any travel-related purchases. So if I have $300 USD worth of points, I can just find a charge for a flight or accommodation booking that I had made and apply the credit. And the best part about this credit card is that when I do redeem my points, I receive a 50% bonus. That means that when I’m ready to use that $300 credit, I actually get $450 to redeem instead. To me, this is a far better deal than the airline credit cards I was using in the past.

That’s really all I use. I prefer to keep it simple – two airline networks, one main credit card, one other credit card. So far, this has worked very well in helping me earn a free flight here and there. And while the whole airline miles credit card setup isn’t as equally accessible to everybody (depending on your country), at the very minimum, all travelers should sign up to the frequent flyer programs for one or two of the major alliances. Every flight you take should earn you some kind of miles or points.

Even if it takes two years to earn a free flight, that’s still a free flight after all.

How do you try to save money on flights? Have you used Vayama.com before? Any questions about frequent flyer programs?


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Comments 29

  1. Paul

    If you’re looking for a card to earn cash towards flights, I’d recommend the Barclays Arrival World MasterCard. Not only do you get a $440 bonus just for signing up, you also earn 2 points for every dollar spent.

  2. Sam @ Travellingking.com

    We are currently obsessssssed with Qantas FF points. We are able to get a chunk of points each month from paying off our credit cards and looking for bonus deals, sadly the Australia credit systems works differently to the rest of the world where each time you apply for credit it goes onto a file and the more applications the worse your file. The credit system doesnt have much to do with how well you make your payments (unless you completely stop), so taking advantage of credit cards that offer 50,000 points is a bit of a win loose situation! You win points but loose on your credit file.

    Any handy tips for QFF users ?

  3. Reka

    do you have any fear of ‘traveling’?
    I really enjoy all my trips which are mainly bike tours/hammock camping, but those few days before living are just so stessful. Stuff like where I’m going to sleep, what if some wild dog attacks me in the middle of night etc.
    The second my trip starts I enjoy it but those scary thoughts just come back every time
    before leaving.
    Are you relaxed before travelling to new destinations?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Reka – I’ve always been quite relaxed and to be honest, I travel so much that sometimes it doesn’t even occur to me that I’m about to visit a new destinations until I’m actually on the plane. For example, right now I know that I’ll be in India in four days but I don’t have any time to think about until it’s time to get on the place and by that point, I’ll be fully excited about the trip ahead!

  4. Will

    Earl,

    Thanks for the recommendation for Vayama.com – I’ve never used it before. I’ve used Kayak.com with good results in the past and will take your advice next time I look for a flight.

    I’ve signed up for various airlines but never seem to travel too frequently to use my miles. Some expired and I just seem to take the cheapest flight I can find – so it’s kind of all over the place where my miles are.

    Like you I love to fly now!

    Do you suggest any particular airline that gives the most benefits to frequent flyers? i.e. lounge, preferential check in/loading, etc.

    Thanls!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Will – For Star Alliance I prefer United Airlines and for SkyTeam I prefer Delta. Those seems to have worked the best for me over the years.

  5. Patrick Hearn

    Earl, I have to say, Vayama is amazing. A one way ticket to London from Atlanta costs 1300 through Kayak, but only 530 through Vayama. I’m definitely going to use that to book any flights.

  6. Andy

    Can’t you file most of your flights as a tax-deductible business expense? I mean, you’re a professional travel writer and tour guide… doing research in different countries… writing articles about it for your readers/customers… visiting business contacts… and so on. I’m serious!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Andy – Yes, many of my travel expenses, including flights, can be tax-deductible depending on the true purpose of each trip.

  7. Fiona

    I love flying. Actually, let me correct myself, I love long haul. Sitting for 8-12 hours with nothing to do but eat, drink, sleep and watch movies. Flying anything more than an hour with Ryanair fills me with dread. I do appreciate that they have made Europe so much more accessible but their constant peddling of scratch cards, electronic cigs etc drives me nuts.

    Currently looking for a cheap flight from Malawi back to Ireland for next April, not an easy task!

  8. Alex | Partial Parallax

    I seem to fluctuate with loving and hating flying but I think that is partly down to being quite anxious on the smaller jets/ planes were as being rather comfortable on the much bigger jumbos.
    I find Expedia and Skyscanner both to be great resources for looking at flights and comparing airlines.

  9. kzy

    I am from New Zealand, far away from almost everywhere, so I’ve found that for Asian ddestinations the only cheap way is to book one flight to Singapore or KL on Jetstar. From thes cities you then have a choice of low cost airlines such as Airaisa and Tigerair. It means that you end up stopping over in these cities, but I prefer this to spending extra on flights.

    2 airlines to get to your destination. I’ve planned 2 trips to Asia this way.

  10. Ken Stanphill

    Star Alliance with a credit card is very good and you should be asking for a upgrade because you will get it most of the time if your flying United. Your the only one that can bump a free passenger out of 1st class,unless of corse if you pay for it. Why your paying so much for a milage ticket I’m not sure unless you are earning miles on say United and flying another airline with the miles.The fees I pay are free in the US and international I pay the fees which are from SFO to HKG 15.00 R/T to a high of SFO/London 180.00 so with a milage ticket you should’nt pay more than that ,but I’m sure the airlines know what to charge you so there making a little money.So the next time your flying and see the 10 to 20 nervious people standing around it’s not because we’re afraid to fly it’s because we’re afraid we will be put in coach.

  11. Jeff | Planet Bell

    I read “Lunatic Express” last year while traveling in India, and my level of fear on flights shot up 10 fold.

    I am flying round trip from Oklahoma City to Istanbul next wee for $751. I got that flight by A.) Having flexible dates and B.) I bought it in June during the riots.

    Good tips on the frequent flyer stuff.

  12. Oscar

    That´s my phrase: “the older I was getting, the more afraid I was of flying”. I have been flying since I was 5 months, even my father worked for an airline, I also remember times when I was proud for not having fear but now… business travels with turbulences in Ryanair are like a nightmare 🙂

  13. Emily McIntyre

    I will definitely have to look at vayama.com. We mainly fly in the US and have lately found our best flights by directly checking the airline’s websites for specials. Also booking on, say, a tuesday vs. a saturday can make a big difference. Thanks for the advice; I’ll be bookmarking this post to refer back to.

    Best,

    EWM

  14. Alec Barron

    Hey Earl, taxes and fees on free flights can certainly be annoying but it’s all about learning how to minimize these fees.

    Just earlier this year I saved over $1,200 on my round trip flight to Southeast Asia because of United miles. The taxes and fees were only $49.

    And my most recent client saved $1,400 going to Croatia and only paid $75 in fees.

    Sure, there are bad usages like using American miles on British Airways where they’ll charge nearly $700 in fuel surcharges on round trip trans-Atlantic flights but once you learn the rules, it’s pretty easy to keep these fees very low.

  15. Frank

    We flew in a 6-person plane into Costa Rica’s Central valley and bounced around like a yo-yo, the plane slamming sideways at times. Took me a year to get over it, whenever there was the slightest turbulence I’d be clutching the armrests. I’m ok for big planes but don’t know if I’ll ever fly a small one again.
    I’ll check out Vayama. Planning a RTW next year and I was wondering where to start, thanks for the various resources listed above.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  16. Nick

    Bank of America? Really? Found that very surprising, don’t seem to hear much/to anything about that on flyer talk or some of the bigger cc reward blogs. I’ll have to look into it.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Nick – I never heard of it either until a friend of mine told me about it. And it’s excellent…the other good thing is that Bank of America does have a global alliance of banks so that there aren’t any ATM fees when using those ATMs. While the alliance doesn’t cover the entire planet, it does cover much of Europe, Australia, China, Mexico and parts of South America.

  17. Sam Elliott

    I’m not a great fan of flying but generally I’m alright after take off.
    I’ve used http://www.skyscanner.net to find my latest flight from Heathrow to Bangkok and found it was better than most in being able to nail down the type of flight I wanted. I will have to check out Vayama soon. But, as Anders mentions I’ve found Skyscanner doesn’t list refundable flights either. Is Vayama different?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sam – Vayama doesn’t list refundable flights unfortunately. I’ve never really needed such fares so I never noticed before.

  18. Jaunting Jen

    Earl, I used to be afraid of flying too until I took a space-available military flight from South Carolina to Germany and sat under a 19-ton vehicle shaking on its chains the whole way. I was terrified, but the guys who worked on that plane unwrapped their sleeping mats on the floor like it was no big deal. I wasn’t really afraid of flying after that.

    I’ve noticed too that the fees for “free” flights have gone up dramatically. I think I’ll just try my luck with a Space-A military flight when its time to go. If any of your readers are active military, a spouse, or retired, they are able to use military flights on a space available basis for free (less than $20 usually) to almost anywhere in the world.

  19. Anders

    Will certaily give vayama a look. Generally use skyscanner and kayak at the moment. Interesting to note that airasia is always best booked direct, not via a comparison tool/engine. I always check direct once i have the best search engine price, saved me heaps.

    Is it just me that finds searching for flights a fun task? Get a buzz out of finding a deal!

    Also, do you find the best flight deal via kayak/skyscanner etc are always non refundable /non changeable flights even with non budget airlines?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Anders – I’ve always found that the non-refundable fares are typically the lowest. Occasionally that won’t be the case but it’s quite rare. And I do enjoy searching for flights as well until a week and a half goes by and I haven’t made a decision…then it starts driving me a bit crazy!

  20. Jo (The Blond)

    I used to be afraid of flying. To me it’s quite unnatural to be closed in a metal can that moves so quickly in the air. But I got over the fear just by falling in love with traveling. The thrill of getting to another destination is greater than the fear of dying 🙂
    During the last year I was only afraid during one flight – from Bagan to Yangon and that was because of the plane crush that had happened on the exact route a few months before.

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