Flying for Free: Determining Loyalty Programs to Consider

December 15, 2018 Flying for Free Series

By The Pointer

At this point, you should have a better understanding of the types of points and alliances that are out there, and you should have set a goal for your trip.  To recap, setting that goal entails knowing:

Origin

Destination

Number of Passengers

Class of service (economy, business, etc.)

One-way or roundtrip

Approximate dates

To give us all an example to follow along with, we created Rob and Elena, who set this goal for their next trip:

Origin: Los Angeles

Destination: Paris

Number of Passengers: 2

Class of service: Economy

One-way or roundtrip: Roundtrip

Approximate dates: About 10 days in the spring

Now, let’s help them figure out which points program they should earn points with for their trip.  It’ll be important to keep in mind that there are two different parts to choosing a program: determining airlines you can fly on and determining which points program to consider for flying on those airlines.  Remember from the last section: you can fly on one airline but earn the points to pay for that flight from a different airline.

Who services your destination?

Determining which airlines fly to your destination is easy.  You can probably already figure this out on your own through a quick search.  Let’s search Google Flights with Rob and Elena’s itinerary:

Lots of airlines fly this route.  Way too many for us to evaluate.  This search gives us over 129 potential flights:

That’s too much to sort through so let’s prioritize a bit.  Our goal is to use miles and points, not cash, so let’s not use the default setting of sorting by the ticket price.  Let’s sort by flight duration instead.  If price isn’t a factor, they’d prefer a shorter, more direct flight:

Let’s start by evaluating those first 4 options (all direct flights).  Rob and Elena want to maximize their time in France, and they really hate connections.  Who wants to have to wait in an airport, risk delays not allowing them to connect, possibly have their bags lost on a transfer, etc.  Let’s click through to reveal the round trip options:

To save some time, here’s a summary of all of those direct flight options:

Figuring Out the Number of Miles Needed

Great, we’re down to 4 possible itineraries, and we’ve seen how to search for possible itineraries the old fashioned way.  In the past, I would have said that we must manually look up the number of points that Air Tahiti Nui, Air France and all of their partners charge for these routes.  Then, we could sort out the best options.  It would be an annoying, manual process so I’m going to spare you that.  Instead we’re going to AwardHacker.com to plug in the same search:

After a quick search, it shows us the miles we’d need:

Let’s talk about how to read this information.  The numbers below connect to the numbers in the graphic above:

  1. This indicates the number of miles/points needed per person, round trip. In other words, with this first option, Rob or Elena would need 50,000 Korean Air miles to fly to Paris and back to Los Angeles.  For the two of them, that would be 100,000 miles in total.  If you don’t recognize the airline logos or abbreviations, just hover your mouse over the airline logo or click “KE Miles” to see the full name of the airline.
  2. These designations like “Regular” or “Single Partner” indicate the type of award. In this example, we see that this is the mileage price for a “Regular” American Airlines award.  American Airlines has different “Off Peak” pricing if Rob and Elena wanted to fly on different dates.
  3. This section tells you what airline you’d be flying on. TN is the code for Air Tahiti Nui.  AF is the code for Air France.  If you’re unsure what a code means, just click on it and AwardHacker will tell you.
  4. AwardHacker is helpful in that it tells you whether the mileage program you’re considering has transferrable points partners. Remember when we talked about different types of points?  In some programs, you can turn your points into airline miles.  What we see here is that if you have American Express Membership Rewards points (MR), Chase Ultimate Rewards points (UR), Citi ThankYou points (TYP) or Starwood Preferred Guest/Marriott Rewards points (SPG), you could transfer those points to become Air France Flying Blue points.
  5. This point is just to make you aware that AwardHacker isn’t perfect. It’s free which is great, but it’s not 100% up to date.  For example, it shows a price of 65,000 Alaska Airlines MileagePlan miles.  However, Alaska Airlines and Air France ended their partnership.  Airlines change their program rules and partnerships often, and no tool is perfect, but AwardHacker is giving us 90% useful information for free and saving us a ton of time.
  6. As long as we’re showing how AwardHacker isn’t perfect, there is another thing I’d point out. AwardHacker just shows published prices.  Delta and Air France are two of those oddball airlines that we talked about in “Different Types of Points and Their Best Uses” that don’t publish award charts.  The price is whatever they say it is at that second.  The prices we see here (70,000 Delta miles and 50,000 Air France miles) are probably just estimates.

Narrowing Down

If we remove Alaska Airlines from this list, we have 6 potential mileage programs to use for this trip:

Narrowing down to 6 is good, but that’s still a lot.  In our next installment, we’ll confirm that seats are really available on these flights and the real cost once we factor in taxes and surcharges.

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