Scott McCartney, author of the weekly Middle Seat column in the Wall Street Journal, is one of my favorite travel writers. Almost every week his columns provide an insightful look into many facets of the commercial airline industry. Once in a while, though, he misses something and yesterday was one of those days.
The column focused on purchasing airline miles and overall, I agree with Scott’s thesis: think twice before you buy airline miles because you may not be getting a good deal. With many airlines offering "accelerator" or "double mile" options when you ticket and check-in, it may be tempting to pay the couple hundred dollars to pad your account. But think twice before you do so, because if you redeem your miles like most travelers do, you are wasting your money.
Now readers of my blog, of course, know better than to burn 25,000 miles for a $349 domestic coach award, but most consumers pay about three cents a mile when they buy directly miles from an airline and redeem at a rate of only 1.5 cents per mile. That’s not a smart use of your money.
Scott does get into the value of redeeming miles for premium class awards, like British Airways first class tickets using Alaska Airlines miles for example (it is much cheaper to buy 120,000 AS miles and pay the BA fuel surcharge than it is to buy a first class ticket from BA), but he neglects one very important thing: US Airway’s perpetual 100% bonus mile offer. Even though the deal isn’t as good this year as it was last year, US Airways hasn’t earned the title of "official Star Alliance premium cabin consolidator" for nothing. You can still pick up a business class ticket from North America to Europe for about $1,500 + tax, making the prospect of purchasing miles from US Airways both smart and affordable, especially if you don’t have time to rack up the miles by actual flying.
Maybe my title was a bit too harsh, because overall the article makes some excellent points, but I think it is impossible to offer proper analysis on purchasing airline miles without talking about the deals that US Airways continues to offer.
Especially the US Trackitback Promo! Whew. Still traveling off of those miles up into next year!
@Halothane: Exactly. What a promotion that was!
The article is actually at this link
not the one in Matt’s post above. Maybe Matthew should do his proofreading.
Strictly speaking I don’t think Matthew is comparing apples to apples when he talks about the $349 domestic coach award. The $349 is a highly discounted ticket and the domestic coach award ticket does not have the restrictions/penalties of a highly discounted ticket regarding date and flight changes. It does have the big restriction of award ticket availability. But while it does not have all the privalage of a full fare domestic ticket it certainly has more than the super discounted ticket and as such should not be priced at 1.5 cents. True there is more value to be obtained but also true is the fact that not everyone is going to be able to utilize those flights. For many people the award for a $349 ticket is a good deal.
@Michael: Actually, the link above (by clicking on ‘yesterday’) goes directly to the article. The ‘Middle Seat column’ link merely redirects to Scott’s blog…
To kettle flyers, a $150 change fee often means that the routing will stay as originally booked, even though the rules tend to be a bit more flexible than a restricted ticket. True, on UA at least you can change your date of travel for free as long as the routing remains the same.
But while I realize that some people are happy to use 25K miles for a domestic coach award ticket, I simply cannot encourage it. I think many people don’t realize what they can use their miles for. So many people just automatically redeem their miles once they reach 25K and I think they don’t realize that they can do so much more, even if it means saving up just a little more for a discounted domestic first class award or buying a cheap coach ticket and using miles to upgrade.
@Matthew I clicked the first link ‘Middle Seat column’ and went to the blog. Didn’t see ‘yesterday’. Sorry.
What is a kettle flyer. Some of that secrete FF talk you need a decoder ring to decode?:)
UA and AA have changed dates for me this year on DFW-PEK on award tickets. Saved me $$. Once on the same route I changed the last leg and it cost me $50 but that was a few years ago.
I agree you can get more value for your miles if you use more miles. But now we have to talk about what you mean by value. If I have 50k miles and need to make two trips I can have one ‘nicer’ trip and one trip out of pocket. I can use all my miles and say that I saved $1000 on the first and spent $350 on the second I can say I save $650. But I am really out of pocket $350 compared to using 25k miles on each trip.
(hope your still reading:)
If I use miles to upgrade do I get the upgrade immediately or do I have to wait until so many days before the flight dependent upon my status or something else?
@Michael: A kettle flyer is the stereotypical flyer who travels by air once or twice a year and is completely oblivious to what frequent travelers know. Kettle flyers typically bring pillows onboard, ask how long the flight will be, travel to leisure destinations, marvel at how nice the leather seats in coach are, keep glancing down at their BP as they board to check their seat number and check out each row (as if row 34 might be in the front of the plane), and sit and do nothing during the flight (neglecting to bring a book or iPod). That’s not a complete definition, but you get the picture…
If you use miles to upgrade on AA or UA, the upgrade is confirmed immediately as long as their is upgrade space (NF on UA, ?? on AA). If your upgrade is still waitlisted prior to departure, status determines who gets the upgrade, regardless of what upgrade instrument is being used.
awwwwe – give ma and pa kettle a break – especially if they are flying Qantas. You walk in door 1L and you’re at row 23!
Never had the pleasure of flying on QF, Mike!