101: Miles and Free upgrades

We love our miles but how to use them?

Today we gather frequent flyer miles in a variety of ways, some from flying and some from our credit cards.  There are a variety of credit card programs. Most cards are a single carrier. For example, I have a Visa and get American Airlines miles.  American Express uses a variety of carriers, double check that you might fly on these carriers.

Here’s some insight into the world of miles:

  • The miles you gather from flying are applied toward your airline status. The higher your status the more benefits you obtain, such as upgrades, early check in, and VIP club lounge memberships.   FYI: You could have a million miles from a credit card but still very low status.
  • Miles can expire. Check with your carrier to know how long you can keep your miles before they expire.  If you do not travel often or on the same carrier acquiring frequent flier miles may not be to your advantage.
  • Using your miles can be a challenge! Each carrier has a limited number of seats available per flight for miles usage. For example a plane with 150 seats may have only 4 seats for miles usage. In general, I advise 9 – 11 months in advance of travel to make frequent flier reservations, especially for international flights.
  • If your travel is mostly domestic, use your miles for upgrades. This is the biggest bang for your miles especially on the cross country flights.
  • Bundle your miles. With the consolidation of carriers and new partnerships you may use your miles on another carrier.  For example USAirways miles may be used towards United and Lufthansa Airlines.  You may only use miles toward a free ticket on another carrier, not upgrades.  Upgrades must come from the same carrier, Delta miles towards a Delta flight.

Now if you are not thoroughly confused, there is also nothing called a free ticket! But as you know, nothing in life is completely free – you need to pay taxes (some of the international taxes are in the hundreds.)   You also may need to pay a booking fee if you call the carrier directly.  And some just charge for you to use your miles and others within a certain time of travel.

Keep gathering your miles and use them wisely.

About alwaysharriet

With thirty years experience in corporate and leisure travel consulting, Harriet Ahouse has traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and worldwide. An avid scuba diver, she understands the requirements of travelers both on land and in the water. On the European scene she has offered traditional and personalized travel itineraries throughout the continent--Italy, France, and England are some of her favorites. As a Virtuoso Agent, she also has extensive resources to enhance her expertise in designing individual destination travel itineraries--and honeymoons--worldwide!
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