Got Frequent Flier miles? 5 Tips on Finding a Free Ticket Using Them

by Jeff on July 13, 2010

Checking partner airlines is one strategy in finding a frequent flier ticket for the trip you want to take.

Every Tuesday is Travel Tip Day

 

Today: 5 Tips for Finding an Airline Ticket Using Frequent Flier Miles

Do you have a stockpile of frequent flier miles, but feel like you can never use them to get free tickets for where you want to go?

Airlines have cut back on the seats they allocate to frequent flier tickets, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t available.  Redeeming frequent flier awards take planning, persistence, patience, and a few tricks, especially for elusive international business class tickets.  We think the reward –such as a business class ticket to Singapore for $78 in taxes versus a purchasing a similar ticket for a $9500 fare — justifies a little extra work.

Here are 5 tips for using frequent flier miles to get where you want to go:  

1. Check Partner Availability.  Most major airlines are part of a global alliance such as Star Alliance (United) or One World (American) or Sky Team (Delta). If you can’t find availability on the US-based airline try its foreign partners within its alliance.  For example, to fly to Australia using United miles, we found tickets on partner Air New Zealand.

2. Build your own itinerary. If you can’t find availability on the direct route, look at the individual segments and major gateway cities.   For example, if you’re trying to fly from Indianapolis (IND) to Rome (FCO) and the primary routes are not working, try a non-direct route such as IND-TORONTO (YYZ) – ROME.  Or, try IND-NEW YORK (JFK) -FRANKFURT (FRA) -ROME.  Yes, your flight will take longer and have more connections, but thinks of all the other places you will experience.

3. Look at the Gateways.    If you are looking for an international award and nothing is available from your home airport, search for the foreign segments first. You can worry about domestic connection to get you to the gateway city later. For example, if you’re flying to ROME, look for available flights though all the gateway and partner cities, i.e. NYC-ROME, CHICAGO (ORD) -ROME.  Once you’ve found seats for the long portion of the flight, then it’s much easier to find connections from/to your home airport. And if domestic flights don’t open up, you can consider buying a low-cost ticket from your home airport to the gateway, or use a domestic free ticket to get to the international gateway. Two examples: from Kansas City we can purchase round trip tickets to Chicago or Dallas – both major international departures airports – for about $150 in advance. We would book the international frequent flier award from Chicago or Dallas, and buy the connecting flights to and from the departure city.  Or, we have used a Southwest Rapid Reward ticket, combined with a Companion pass free ticket, to fly from Kansas City to Portland, where we connected to an Alaska Airlines flight to Alaska on a mileage award ticket.  Both options require that you allow plenty of time in between flights as you may not be able to check luggage all the way through.

4. Use Frequent Flier Software.  Programs like the KVS Availability Tool, with an annual membership contribution from $20 to $75/year (or the “Lite” version free for 2 months), allow you to query availability on many different airlines in one search.

5. Be Persistent. Keep trying, as seats open up daily.  As the flight get closer to departure and all seats are not sold, airlines tend to add seats to the frequent flier “bucket.” Depending on your airline, if you have top level “status” you can book a ticket as you find it, and then change to a better one as it comes open to frequent fliers.  Anyone can do this, but you may have to pay a change fee which can add up quickly.

Using these hints with persistence and patience, you will find a frequent flier ticket.  Happy travels!

With persistence, patience and perhaps using frequent flier software, you will find a frequent flier ticket and be on your way to your dream destination.

What is your favorite method of finding frequent flier tickets for where you want to go?   Please share in comments.

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