Playing the Frequent Flyer Game

Yesterday I was intrigued by a posting by one of my favorite travel bloggers, Johnny Jet, entitled Frequent flier programs are NOT a scam – here’s why you should signup now.

Johnny Jet took his parents to Europe, first class, using frequent flier miles.

I was intrigued because it never occurred to me that any person interested in traveling more, and especially more cheaply, would ever NOT sign up and use frequent flyer miles. In reading Johnny’s article, I learned that the very popular travel expert Christopher Elliott (whose writings and advice I also love) had just posted his own article advising people to cut up their frequent flyer cards and abandon the programs.

Really? Not a chance.

The gist of Elliott’s article was that people often are so wedded (even obsessed) with a particular frequent flyer program that they will pay more money for flights on their partner airlines, or get much worse flight routes and schedules, just to earn the miles. Also, that once the miles are earned they are often very hard to book, with frequent flyer seat inventory often being extremely scarce. He also says you get nothing in return, and that they programs are a pyramid scheme that only benefit those elite at the very top.

I agree with his first two points, but disagree with the last two. Which is also pretty much what Johnny Jet said in his article.

Our last trip together using miles award flights: Kenya and Tanzania in April/May 2012!

Keith and I, both together and individually, have taken MANY flights – international and domestic – each year using frequent flyer bookings. I would say that at least half, if not more, of all the flights we take are earned and booked using mile awards. There is no way we would be able to travel for free, or as close to it, without the frequent flyer programs. And no way we would be able to travel anywhere near as much as we do, especially on expensive flights such as to Africa, Asia or South America.

The point is that you have to know how to work the system for frequent flyer programs; you have to put time into it, be organized and vigilant about it, and spread your flyer love among at least two major alliance programs.

I agree with Elliott that if you’re booking ridiculous flight schedules, or missing out on much cheaper fares with other airlines, just to earn miles – that is not working in your favor. If you get mile points credit cards like the British Airways Visa, the United AirlinesMileage Plus Explorer card, or the Chase Ink Plus card and then forget to cancel them and rack up high fees – that is not working in your favor.

But if you pay attention and work the system, frequent flyer programs (especially when combined with free accommodations through methods such as home exchange, couch surfing, hospitality stays and work/barter exchange) are the best way to travel for free that we know of.

So keep the faith. Learn the system. And use tools like:

About Shelley Seale

Shelley is a wanderer and student of the world, yoga chick, voracious reader and dog lover. She pounds the keyboard as a freelance writer, author and publication designer, based in Austin, Texas when she isn't traipsing around the globe. Shelley has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week, Fodor's, The Telegraph and Texas Monthly, among others. Shelley has performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano, and was once robbed by a monkey in India. But she doesn’t know how to whistle.
This entry was posted in Airfares, Airline Points, Frequent Flyer Programs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Playing the Frequent Flyer Game

  1. AirportsMadeSimple says:

    Great post!


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