Which is the best carrier to earn my miles on? What airlines don’t constantly downgrade their miles and make it harder to book a reward seat year after year? And who gives the best perks for loyalty? These are some of the most common questions that I get from viewers. It seems that nearly every week social media sites are a buzz with another story about Frequent Flyer program downgrades, so choosing your airline has become a very strategic decision for many savvy travelers.
There are no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone but here are some tips on how to best use your miles and which carriers to collect them with.
Many programs say they release award seats 1 year in advance. And while this is technically true, they often only release the bare minimum that far in advance. In fact I often that it’s easier to find premium cabin award seats closer to travel dates. BA for instance will often release seats 3 days prior to air travel. Now this may not be the best for planning a trip but it’s often a worthwhile gamble on routes like LHR-JFK as they have about 8 flights a day to choose from so the odds of getting a flight are in your favor.
Today is all about the airline alliances. There are three major groups oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. The interesting thing here is that member airlines move around, some join and others leave as a result of mergers or acquisitions. Recently these moves have benefited oneworld as they gained US Airways from Star Alliance after the merger with American Airlines, they’ve added SriLankan Airlines and most excitingly, Qatar, the first Middle Eastern carrier to join an alliance.
But not every alliance can cover all parts of the planet well. In my opinion Star Alliance is great in Asia Pacific, oneworld is good too with Qantas’ routes and while SkyTeam is well covered in China and Korea they are lacking in Southeast Asia. My strategy is to pick one airline in each of the alliances so I can be flexible and collect miles on as many flights as possible.
Now what’s the best way to use your miles? Well many airlines allow a one-way award ticket which usually only costs half the miles. This is a good option. Fly out to Asia on a free First Class ticket and home n a cheap paid economy. You’ll probably need to be more relaxed and less jet lagged in Asia than when you get home anyway. United is best on Star as you can use one ways on all of their partners. Delta do not offer one ways.
Korean Air is a great one on SkyTeam. They offer one ways and have much more availability than many other carriers. They do require more miles than most though. AA is my favorite on oneworld. They have one ways and have many options they scan in their system. They will piece together a trip say from ORD-HKG using 2-3 partners and all for the same award. Watch BA on additional segments. They don’t charge you point to point, so a LHR-Miami that goes on BA to Chicago then using AA to Miami will charge you more miles.
American carriers on the whole are more inclined to really help you search and look for something . They understand the importance of miles and it has been in their culture longer.
So that’s it, in the months ahead I’ll add more thoughts to this but in the meantime I wish you all happy (and smart) travels.