5 Mistakes I’ve Made Redeeming Miles That I Hope You Avoid

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Everyone has made mistakes when redeeming miles and points. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than 24 hours, you know that I’ve made more than a few.

Recently, a 1TP reader reached out in search of advice regarding fees for an award ticket. In her case, she had paid exponentially more than was needed which was a costly mistake. So I thought it would be fun (ok, maybe not fun but at least informative) to put together a post that details some of the mistakes that I’ve made and hope it serves as an aid so others don’t make the same mistake(s).

So, let’s start with the readers mistake…which is an easy mistake to make:

MISTAKE #1: Not Comparing Partners And Paying More Than You Need For An Award Ticket

Always compare partner airlines. One airline may charge fees for a flight while another may not charge any fees at all. As you become more familiar with carriers, you’ll begin to identify the “good apples” from the “bad apples.”

For example, recently I flew in business class from Copenhagen (CPH) to Doha (DOH) on Qatar Airways A350. When comparing two partners, I could either pay:

  • 42,500 American Airlines miles + 44.15 (USD) in taxes or;
  • 38,750 British Airway miles + $ 286.95 (USD)

To be clear, these are the prices for the exact same seat on the exact same plane. Ultimately, I paid with AA miles simply because I would rather pay ~4,000 additional miles than to pay the ~$250 difference in fees.

I highlight this simple example because British Airways has a zone-based award chart which essentially means, the further you fly, the higher the redemption costs. I won’t dive into details on this blog but it’s not unheard of for BA to charge insane rates on some flights.

MISTAKE #2: Booking An Award Ticket and Forgetting About It

If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a week, you should be fairly familiar with this mistake that I made recently and blogged about.

I’m a visual person so I need to see my reservation in relation to the year thus I have a giant wall calendar. Generally after I make a reservation, I create a sticky-tab for the flight and apply it to the calendar. I check the details of my flight starting about a month from departure to ensure the “details” have not changed (i.e. type of plane, departure time, etc.). In many cases, airlines allow you rebook or even cancel a flight for free, for changes that are made to your flight.

Unfortunately, in the case above, I didn’t create the sticky-tab on Day 1 and totally forgot about the flight so my itinerary was doomed from the beginning. In other cases, there is a change and it works out for me. Fortunately, in the example where I forgot about my ticket, it was extremely discounted so I didn’t waste too much.

MISTAKE #3: “PLANNING” TOO LATE IN THE GAME

I can’t speak for all families but my family (immediate and extended) have a bad habit of trying to find a “deal”…for next week. When it comes to award availability, generally, the more advanced planners find the best seats. If you know you want to attend an event or go on vacation, plan in advance.

Although not impossible, it will be fairly difficult to find award availability for that dream European summer vacation when searching for tickets in May or June. Everyone on the planet booked those tickets 6+ months ago. You’re late to the game and there is no availability.

MISTAKE #4. BEING INFLEXIBLE WITH DATES

Flexibility is always key. It’s understandable that you do not want to miss work so your desire is to fly out at 5:30PM on Friday evening and return Sunday afternoon to maximize your time but so does everyone else. In fact, many individuals are willing to pay cold, hard cash for those seats so airlines are more likely to block those seats from being used for award tickets. The more flexible your dates are for travel, the less stress you’ll have for finding that golden award ticket.

MISTAKE #5. PHONE RESERVATION AGENTS KNOW EVERYTHING

When booking an award ticket online, you may not be able to see all the available options. In these circumstances, you may have to call the airline and have a reservation agent manually construct the itinerary. It’s easy to assume that a phone agent would know every single detail and how to get your flights to appear on their screen but many times, that’s not the case. Despite seeing availability on your screen, you may hear “no, there’s no availability” from the agent. The more time you dedicate to this hobby, the better you’ll be able to identify phone agents – within a few seconds – that do not understand routing rules, partner redemptions, and/or have little interest in finding an available flight for you.

There are some great call centers in this world (I’m looking at your Virgin Atlantic) and there are some bad ones. Don’t assume agents know more than you. If you feel an agent may not be the best, save your time and call again.

FINAL STAMP

Although, I’d love to say that I’ve never made any mistakes, that’s not the reality. You will redeem miles and pay airline surcharges and discover months later that you paid double what you should’ve paid.

However, it’s my hope that with this publication, you’ll be able to avoid some of the more common mistakes that I’ve made over the years. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note.

Have you made any of these mistakes before? Do you have any mistakes that you’ve made that I should add to the list?

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