By Ryan Lile of The Savvy Traveler.
Picture this: You arrive at the airport an hour before your international flight. Boarding pass in hand, you glide through an expedited security line, leaving the hassle behind with enough spare time to pop into the airline lounge for a quick drink.
Since you’re in international business class, you can board early or late without worrying about having to fight fellow travelers for space in the overhead bin. As you settle into your seat for the 14-hour flight to Hong Kong, an attendant offers you the drink of your choice. After reaching cruising altitude, you watch a tv show on the video-on-demand system while dining, and then recline your seat to a flat bed for a proper night of sleep on the way to Asia.
This doesn’t sound like your typical travel experience, does it? Sadly, the travel experience has diminished in quality considerably since the airline bankruptcies of the last decade. While much of our travel feels like the opposite of what is described above, there is plenty we can do to help ourselves reach those fabled shores of travel nirvana.
1. Consolidate your travel. You might think that buying the least expensive ticket every time will save you money, but in the long run you’ll just be hurting yourself. Pick a single airline alliance and build status with the carrier you fly the most. It seems obvious, but it’s critical. Having top-tier status on a single airline is an exponential improvement over low-tier status on three airlines.
2. Sleep, eat and breathe miles and points. Did you know you can earn miles for opening brokerage accounts? Or for dining out? Or for a Netflix subscription? The possibilities are many, and if you’re not planning well you are literally leaving money on the table – something few entrepreneurs can afford to do.
3. Spend your miles wisely. Do you think that saving $250 by getting a free ticket for your mother-in-law from Miami to New York is a good use of 25,000 miles? If you do, talk to a professional miles junkie. A good benchmark for redeeming miles is getting a value of five cents or more per mile. 25,000 miles for a $250 ticket yields all of one cent per mile. That’s a mileage sin.
If leveraged correctly, loyalty programs can provide tremendous value for frequent fliers. That effortless travel experience in the first paragraph? I’ve personally had it dozens of times, from a first class cabin to myself on Cathay Pacific to screaming across the Atlantic in the Concorde. Maximizing your miles and points won’t just save you money, it will save you time and hassle while you travel in comfort.
Ryan is a professional travel consultant, specializing in travel planning and loyalty programs. He offers tips and reviews at his blog, The Savvy Traveler [link to http://www.savvytravel.net], and has discounted consulting rates for EO members. @savvytravelblog.