Flyer Miles and Cheap Tickets
The best tricks for the disloyal
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out on miles or not?
• Lounge access, priority checkin and boarding, and your chances of getting a free upgrade may outweigh a few extra miles.
• A program with low mile yield may let you check bags for free. Example: KLM and Air France charge for checking in a bag on flights within Europe, but even the lowest tier of their Flying Blue program lets you check a bag for free on flights within Europe.
• You may get more miles with one program, but you may want to send them to another account anyway if you need account activity to stop miles from expiring, or to keep your elite status in the program.
• Paying more for a flight to get more miles is rarely worth it. Exceptions: if it keeps your stash of miles from expiring, if it lets you retain elite status, or if it bumps your mileage over the free ticket or upgrade threshold, paying a little extra for more miles may turn out cheaper after all.
• Keep a stash of miles for unexpected last-minute bookings, but don't overdo it. When airlines change their rules or update the cost of upgrades and award tickets, it almost always reduces the value of your miles. Exception: it may be a good idea to save your miles from business trips to travel when you retire, or buy tickets for your kids to visit you.
• Remember: loyalty programs don't mean that you have to be loyal. Brand loyalty is a dirty word in my dictionary.
Where and how to book?
• If you find a good deal for a ticket on a price comparison site, always check if the same ticket is cheaper when booking directly from the airline. Price comparison sites sometimes sell tickets for a bit less than the airline rate and then add their own booking fee to it, which may make the "cheap" ticket more expensive after all.
• A website that compares prices between airlines doesn't doesn't always get you the cheapest ticket. Compare different price comparison sites too.
• If you travel with two or more people, separate bookings for the same flight may turn out cheaper than a single booking for multiple tickets. Have two different browser windows open (different web browsers, of course) to ensure that you can really book those separate tickets for the price displayed.
• The time and day of booking may have an impact on the price. Booking on weekdays outside business hours may save you money.
• Websites may put more expensive flights (and hotels) on top of the list if they detect that you're browsing on a Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
• Want a stopover? First check if two separate tickets (not necessarily from the same airline) can work out cheaper.
• Book early for peak season trips and flights that you know will be full, but don't book too early for off-season flights with light load factor. Their tickets often get cheaper as the prospect of flying with empty seats gets closer.
When is paying a little extra cheaper?
• A refundable fare that costs slightly more than the cheaper alternative may be worth the money. You can always get a refund if an even better discount fare comes along later.
• A higher fare with a free checked bag may be cheaper after all. Low cost airlines often make you pay a fortune for checking in your stuff.
• Beware of outrageous hidden fees, especially with discount airlines. For example, Ryanair makes you pay an obscene amount if you don't print your boarding pass at home. Your cheap flight can turn very expensive if you don't have access to a printer at your weekend trip destination.
When and where to fly?
• Flights on tuesdays, wednesdays, and thursdays are often cheaper than on other days.
• Early morning or late night flights may make public transport impossible. A taxi ride can turn out a lot more expensive than a slightly more expensive flight at better hours.
• Flying to and from airports close to your intended destination or origin can be so much cheaper that it may be worth the extra time.
How to game the system?
• It can be tempting to weigh your compensation opportunities. You can sometimes fly for free (or get paid to fly) if you deliberately choose flights and airlines notorious for their delays, cancellations, or overbookings. For example, tight connections at London Heathrow or short connections on Iberia can turn out profitable. It may cost you a few hours at the airport, but if it scores you hundreds of euros of EU-regulated compensation it could be worth exploiting an airline's lack of punctuality. If (european) airlines refuse to pay, you can hit them with EC261/04 through the european small claims procedure. Or you can outsource the paperwork (for a rather high fee) to refund.me or (for a MUCH higer fee to euclaim.com.
To check what time your flight arrived:
FlightAware (flights from up to two weeks ago, 4 months with a free account)
FlightStats (flights from today and yesterday, or from longer ago with a free account)
flightradar24 (flights from last week)
FlightView (flights from today and yesterday)
Or ask on flyertalk.com. Some people over there have tools to look up flight info from way back.
Live flight tracking:
• You deserve every penny of your denied boarding compensation if you get bumped off a flight. Even if you get more than you paid for your ticket. The full flex fare paying passenger that's flying on your seat paid the airline a lot more than they pay you.
• Many flexible fares are so expensive that buying an extra discount ticket (as backup in case you miss the original flight) can be cheaper.
• If there's no award flight for your miles at the right time or day, it may pay to book your second choice if you can change it for a low fee or no fee at all.
• If buying an award ticket or upgrade (almost) empties your account, it may pay to close it and get a new signup bonus when you rejoin the program. Check the small print to make sure if and when you're eligible for a new signup bonus.
How to buy "illegal" tickets?
Back-to-back ticketing: Buy two overlapping tickets (first flight of second ticket before last flight of first ticket) to avoid minimum stay restrictions on cheap tickets.
Hidden city ticketing: Buy a trip beyond your intended destination, then jump ship at the connecting airport. Strange but true: JFK-LHR-DUB may be cheaper than JFK-LHR.
Throw-away ticketing: Buy a round trip, skip the return flight. Sometimes two round trips are cheaper than a one way ticket, especially to destinations where airlines face insufficient competition.
• DO buy back-to-back tickets from different airlines, if possible from different alliances. Never buy a pair of back-to-back or throwaway tickets from the same airline.
• DO use a prepaid credit card or other "safe" payment method if you're believe the airline will charge any fare difference on your card behind your back. To my knowledge, such a charge without the card holders consent has never happened in real life. However, don't use a card linked to the frequent flyer program of the airline that you want to trick if you want to continue getting miles on that card.
• DO book your back-to-back tickets at different travel agencies. Airlines are more likely to charge agencies than individuals when they find out that they sold a pair of back-to-back tickets.
• DO choose your destinations wisely when booking a hidden city ticket. Be prepared to arrange last-minute transport from your booked to your intended destination. Airlines may rebook you on a direct flight or reroute you through another transit airport. Buying JFK-AMS-BRU when you just need JFK-AMS is a good idea (a train or bus from BRU to AMS is cheap), buying JFK-AMS-LIS is a bad idea.
• DO consider buying a ticket that you can change or cancel cheap or free if you plan hidden city ticketing. In case of unfavourable rerouting, this lets you avoid the unwanted new route without losing your entire ticket.
• DO consider buying a cheap "insurance" in case your hidden city trip is rerouted. Last minute tickets to your intended destination can be very expensive. If you book JFK-LHR-DUB to go to London, a rockbottom fare from DUB any London airport bought well in advance can bail you out if the airline flies you to DUB without stopping at LHR.
• DO check if two throwaway returns are cheaper than a single return if you don't stay a saturday night, or if you stay away longer than a month. Make sure to buy them from different airlines if you don't stay away very long.
• DO keep in mind that "illegal" tickets only violate the airline's small print. They do not violate the law. Airlines won't sue you for "illegal" ticketing because they know they'll lose.
• DON'T let any airline know you bought back-to-back tickets, or that it was your intention to "miss" the last segment of a hidden city or throwaway ticket.
• DON'T send miles for back-to-back tickets to the same frequent flyer account. You could lose all your miles or get kicked out of the program.
• DON'T skip the first segment of a trip, because airlines usually cancel all subsequent segments. A hidden city should be the last airport, not the first.
• DON'T check bags for hidden city trips. They'll end up at your booked destination instead of your intended destination.
• DON'T buy a pair of throwaway tickets from the same airline, unless the outbound and inbound flights that you do fly are many months away. Flying back from a nearby airport (for example AMS or CDG instead of BRU) greatly reduces your risk of getting caught for buying same-airline throwaway tickets.
• DON'T play the "illegal" ticket game too often on the same airline. They'll cause trouble if they discover a pattern.
• DON'T buy "illegal" tickets for routes you fly often unless there's a suitable competing airline to switch to if needed. If you get caught by an airline, they may ban you from their planes.
• DON'T use frequent flyer accounts with lots of miles for "illegal" tickets. The airline may confiscate your hard-earned miles or close your account. Use a lesser-risk account instead.
• DON'T listen to holier-than-thou people on forums like FlyerTalk who claim that clever ticketing is unethical or criminal. You don't have any obligation to maximise any airline's profits. They choose their own ridiculous pricing schemes, so any revenue loss is self-inflicted.
• NOTE: The EU is preparing a new law that will no longer allow airlines to cancel your return trip if you skip the outbound flight.
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