Airfares, Airlines, and "Loyalty"


The search for great airfares and strategies for travel is always changing. It is a good idea to Google "How to find cheap flights," and read what advice is out there. I did that this morning and found an article that served as a good starting point:"How to find a cheap flight," "How to Be a Travel Hacker." One great tip that he had was that these travel sites like Expedia, CheapTickets, Kayak, are not all the same. I have always used them as a starting point, a way to get a baseline fare to work from. He too suggests this. But when you try them, you will definitely see differences. One site that he recommends is I gave it a try, and came up with consistently great results. I was looking at flights to Asia and Europe. It's possible that they are not as strong for some destinations, so take his advice. Try multiple sites.

There was no date on the article - that is the first thing you should look for when you're going through information. I have a feeling it might be slightly out of date, because the author spends a lot of time talking about the value airline rewards programs. He takes the approach that they're a good thing, however, current thought is that rewards programs are generally not worth spending more for a ticket. Airlines have always made it difficult to redeem miles for flights, and now they are increasing the miles needed. Also, some airlines are awarding miles based on the cost of the flight rather than the miles spent. "Yes, we'll give you miles if you overpay for your flight!" Wow, thanks. United will be doing this as of March 2015. Lufthansa's lowest fares award no miles. They increase the percent awarded base on your fare. It used to be that there was only a difference between economy, business, and first class. Now, there are 3 or 4 differences within economy. If miles are important to you, be careful, not all flights are equal! Another article that gives some good tips is in Business Insider. It is from 2012, so it also talks up the value of loyalty programs. Some of the other tips are relevant, but the main focus is on travel within the U.S.

I always calculate the value of rewards. So for instance, if I usually redeem my miles for longer domestic flights, I might say that 25,000 miles is worth $400, or .16 per mile. At that rate, I would want to be within $100 for a flight to Europe (10,000 miles r/t from Denver) for a flight with miles as opposed to using another airline. These days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify this. Best suggestion: join mileage clubs for airlines you use. Accumulate miles, but don't worry about loyalty. If you get enough miles for a free flight, great. If not, just think of all the money you've saved by not being "loyal."

One last note: Plan in advance, and act when the time is right. If you know that your are going to travel abroad, research how much in advance you should purchase a ticket. For instance, the Independent Traveler recommends 3-6 months. This is especially true for high season travel - Summer, Christmas, or whenever people prefer to visit your destination. However, off-season is more flexible. Travel in October - November or mid-January - February, you can frequently find great fare a month in advance, and sometimes actually pay more if you buy too early. It's a gamble, so don't let your trip fall apart because you gambled and lost.

By Kevin O'Neill


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