Don’t let your frequent-flier miles go to waste. With these insider tips, you’ll learn the secrets airlines don’t want you to know—so you can save money and fly like a pro this year!
Frequent-flier miles: what you should know
- “Frequent-flier miles” is a misnomer. When the airlines make them almost impossible to use, they’re more like infrequent-flier miles. Well, here’s something the airlines won’t be advertising anytime soon: they release their booking schedules a whopping 330 days in advance, according to Anne Banas, the editor-in-chief of www.smartertravel.com.
- So what does this mean? If you want to use your frequent-flier miles during a peak travel time—say, Christmas—you should start dialing up those airlines on Valentine’s Day. Have you ever tried to cash in your frequent-flier miles? It’s nearly impossible sometimes. Here are some secrets that your mileage program may not tell you.
- Not all flights allow you to use miles for reward travel. Don’t even bother trying to redeem miles during high season to top destinations. Some airlines are now being more up-front about these blackout dates, and are listing them on their websites.
- It’s easier to use your miles for upgrades on tickets you’ve already purchased than on free tickets.
- If you have frequent-flier miles on an airline that is either in bankruptcy or headed that way, use those miles quickly. Even if the carrier goes out of business before your flight, it may still honour the tickets you “bought” with your miles.
- Call the airline directly if there’s a specific flight you want to redeem miles for—even if the airline has already said you can’t use your miles on that flight. If the day of the flight draws nearer and the plane isn’t near capacity, the airline may let you cash your miles in.
How to find cheap last-minute airfares
The last thing airlines want you to know is when to buy tickets at the cheapest rates.
- Tough luck, airlines, because here goes: generally speaking, airfares will remain relatively constant up to about 21 days before a flight is set to take off. At this point, prices will begin their climb.
- But occasionally there comes a time, if only for a short while, when the prices drop, sometimes even lower than they were to begin with. The industry term is “distressed inventory”—which translates as “empty airplane seats” to the rest of us.
- Distressed inventory usually goes on sale 48 to 72 hours before the flight takes off. If you’ve got nothing to do this weekend, it’s worth a call to a few carriers or checking their websites to see if that $400 flight to Miami is marked down to $200.