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5 Frequent Flyer Myths, Debunked

Diving into the frequent flyer game is tricky. Which are the best programs? When should you redeem points? Is loyalty to one airline worth the steep price? But once youre in the game, the rewards can be rich. Todd Bliwise has been studying these things for years, and has it all figured out. He’ll be sharing his tips and tricks with us in this column, Speed of Flight. Today: 5 frequent flyer myths, debunked.

Myth #1: Having an airline-specific credit card is a good idea.
This, unfortunately, is totally not true. The days of airline-specific credit card benefits are in the past. Especially with all the changes happening around the ability to redeem miles in these programs, you really don’t want to focus on having a currency that isn’t liquid—meaning you cannot move or transfer it around to other programs (transferring between frequent flyer accounts is incredibly costly). American Express Membership Rewards Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards are some of the best currencies linked to credit cards out there now. Use those instead.

Myth #2: For the best deals, redeem your miles the second an award flight becomes available.
This myth seems to be floating around—if you sit in front of your computer 11 months before your trip as the clock strikes midnight, you will somehow get the best price for your award tickets. This just isn’t true for the majority of award bookings. Many airlines release staggered space throughout the year depending on load factors on those specific flights. Go back to sleep, take off those glass slippers, and relax! Unfortunately, there isn’t really any trick to finding the best deals throughout the year, but often last-minute award travel to Europe between seasons can be a steal.

Myth #3: Use your miles with the same airline you earned them from.
Actually, that’s the worst way to redeem your points. I live by this rule: The most costly way to use your points is redeeming them with flights on the same airline. The solution? Use your points and miles on partner airlines. It makes sense: Airlines would rather fill their own planes with customers paying actual cash. For example, redeeming Delta SkyMiles on a Seoul trip with their partner, Korean Airways (which is really the cheapest and most comfortable way to Asia).

Myth #4: Begging for an upgrade because of a wedding or special occasion will work.
Stop! Save yourself the embarrassment, because this will never work. There really isn’t any way to get free upgrades internationally anymore, and I actually applaud the airlines because it’s a sort of “rate integrity” for those that actually pay for the product. In general, when traveling domestically you can ask during check-in about upgrade offers for cash—as many of the airlines offer discounted upgrades at check-in depending on availability. The best method for upgrading, however, is using miles. Be aware that it varies substantially by airline, with Delta charging the most expensive “upgrade eligible” fares for international travelers out of any of the carriers. Upgrading using miles can also be good for travelers who are status-hungry and still want to fly in luxury—you still receive miles for your flight while bridging that gap between business class and coach. Many of the international carriers are starting to move towards international upgrades at check-in for cash as well, but clients should expect to pay a much larger charge for these flights to do so—anywhere from $500-$1500 per leg.

Myth #5: Booking one-way mileage tickets is more expensive than roundtrip.
This just isn’t true anymore. The key is to understand that mileage tickets and revenue (purchased) tickets are two completely separate animals all together. While booking an international one-way revenue ticket can be prohibitively expensive, this is not the case with mileage tickets and can often be a good way to piece together a multi-leg international with flights from many different programs.

This is far from a comprehensive guide for using your points and miles, but I’ve only just begun; come back soon for more advice. Remember, redeeming miles is like playing a game: there is always going to be a winner and a loser.

Todd Bliwise is the founder of An Avenue Apart.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan/Flickr