There’s heaps written on the internet about how to accumulate frequent flyer points, especially by the airlines promoting their various schemes. But you also need to know how to make the most of them once you have some. And it isn’t all that easy.
I certainly don’t claim to be any expert on Frequent Flyer programs! But here is my story about how I recently made maximum use of my points to secure a return business class fare to London. I hope it helps you.
But first some background stuff.
1. Where do you hold your FF points? Many of you probably have a credit card which is linked to a particular airline so that when you spend on shopping etc you earn points on that airline. Just check on the $ to point ratio! Hopefully it is at least 1:1.
I don’t have a credit/charge card linked to an airline. I do have Visa card which I use infrequently. But 30 years ago I decided to go with Amex for reasons I will tell on another day. I know some of you don’t like Amex and will give me lots of reasons why. But their security is without equal and if they pay me enough 🙂 I’ll tell you how they leave the others for dead when you lose or have your card stolen. Nuff for now.
With my particular Amex card I get 1.5 rewards points on spends with major retailers AND they never expire! AND I can put those points across to a large number of airline FF programs at a ratio of 1:1! – except Qantas! I love the FLEXIBILITY.
2. Availability. It’s all very well to have lots of points, but if when you come to use them there is never any availability then you have to ask yourself why are you with that airline? All airlines have a special booking class for FF points, and allocate so many seats per flight. That is a closely guarded secret, but some airlines are more generous than others in the number of seats that they allocate. If you read the travel pages you’ll see that lots of people are less than impressed with Qantas and spend weeks/months sometimes trying to secure seats. But enough of Qantas bashing – they are an easy target!
3. Number of points required for a particular destination. Airlines generally have a calculator on their site which tells you how many points/miles you will need to get to/from your required destination. Take your time to look carefully at these and do some comparisons with different airlines and different destinations. It will be enlightening and I will say more about this later.
4. Ease of use. When you come to spend your points it is a real bonus if you can talk to a REAL PERSON on the phone and even better if they are helpful, can look at available flights where you can use you points, advise you accordingly and even book it for you. If you have to do it all yourself on the internet then you are totally in the dark and good luck.
In March 2017 I had 266,000 Amex Rewards points and they could be transferred on a 1:1 basis to a number of airlines that interested me – Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Virgin, and Thai (the latter used to be 2 for 1). Emirates is not so generous – 4 for 3, and Air New Zealand has 100 for 1 so obviously a different system from the others – too hard!
We like to visit my son in Christchurch New Zealand, and with Virgin it would cost a minimum of 17,800 points each way – not too bad I thought.
I also was looking at visiting the UK in May/June, and like many of you I thought that business class would be nice. So I started checking the airline calculators. Without going into great detail, they ranged from 280,00 to 300,000 points for Brisbane/London return until I looked at Thai – 170,000. WOW. There must be a catch!
I am a member of the Thai FF program (with no current points), so I rang the Thai number and spoke to a REAL PERSON in Brisbane at Thai Airways – Kelly. I had spoken to her a few years ago when booking some China flights, and she was very helpful. And she was again. Yes I could transfer 170,000 Amex points for 170,000 Thai points, and that would get me to London return in business class. She looked in her system, and yes there were seats available around the dates that I wanted in May/June in the required Thai booking class. She even offered to book some preferred dates for me and hold them for a few days whilst I thought about it. YES PLEASE.
At this point, with all the info under my belt I had a long think about how to use my points to best advantage. The 170,000 points would get me 5 return flights from Brisbane to Christchurch in economy class on Virgin – worth about $600×5=$3,000. (includes taxes)
Or I could use the 170,000 points for a return business class to London on Thai Airways – the cheapest you’ll buy it for is about $6,000 (including taxes). I do have to pay an additional $425 in taxes when using the Thai points, but that still values the 170,000 Thai points at about $5,600.
So if I use them to fly to NZ in economy on Virgin they are worth $3,000, but to London on Thai business class worth $5, 600. That is one HUGE difference!! No contest.
So back to Kelly at Thai who helped me transfer the points, pay for the taxes, finalize the booking, and email me the ticket. And even better she did a perfect seat allocation on each of the four sectors. Thanks again Kelly. You made it all so simple and painless. If only all airline reservation staff were so helpful…
CONCLUSION: Having looked at the number of points that I needed to fly various routes with various carriers, I have come to a conclusion. No matter what class you are flying, you probably get maximum benefit from using your FF points on long haul destinations, not places closer to home. Thoughts anyone?
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Thanks Mike for a fabulous insight to travelling the world and using my frequent flyer points.