Friday, March 17, 2017

Using Up Those Airline Miles

If you end up with some unused airline miles, you can use them for things other than flying.

If you read my blog, you know I hate airline miles simply because they take a simple transaction and make it opaque.   Frequent flyer miles, as they used to be called, were designed for frequent flyers - people who traveled a lot.

But if you travel even occasionally, you will end up accumulating airline miles. The problem is if you are just an occasional traveler by air, what do you do with these miles? Trying to accumulate enough miles for a free flight for two people is fairly impossible for the occasional traveler, as the miles expire long before you accumulate enough for that additional trip.

You can try to buy additional miles to purchase tickets, but the amount you pay for additional miles is almost equal to a discount ticket on a discount Airline. Airlines also like to play games where you can pay a fee to keep your miles, but this seems kind of absurd to me.

Even for the frequent flyer, trying to obtain enough miles to use for a free trip is difficult.  Back when I used to fly frequently, I would accumulate lots of miles, and I could use some to fly myself on a trip to visit a client.  However it was nearly impossible to try to book two tickets for myself and Mark on the same flight.

As a frequent flyer, I mostly used the miles for an upgrade from coach to business class if it was available.  This was probably the best use of frequent flyer miles within the airline.

However, some Airlines allow you to use frequent flyer miles for travel related expenses including hotel rooms and car rentals.

Our frequent flyer mile program was through USAirways, which recently merged with American Airlines.  We had a number of legacy miles left over from the days when we used to fly a lot.

Recently, I received an email from American Airlines stating that my miles would expire by May if I did not use them.  I did not have enough miles to purchase an airline ticket and I thought I would just have to let the miles expire. Then I realize that the miles could also be used for hotel stays as well as car rentals.

I had an upcoming CLE course in Savannah this month, and rather than drive up at six in the morning to get there, it would be nicer to spend the weekend in Savannah, which is a nice town, particularly since it was my birthday.

I checked the site and rooms were available at the Hilton Historic District Savannah for fewer miles than the balance on my account.  I booked the room with the miles and now we have a free weekend in Savannah.

Arguably, the use of airline miles for hotel stays is a better bargain and using them for air travel.  6,1000 miles probably doesn't buy much of an airline trip if it buys one at all.  Most economy airfare tickets are less than $200, so the value of these miles in terms of airfare is pretty low.

However the hotel rack rate is well over $200 per night, thus we are redeeming these miles and receiving, at least in theory, a benefit worth well over $500.

In the past, I have let airline miles expire because we were not planning a trip at that time.  In retrospect, I realize I was foolish to let these miles expire without using them for some purpose, even if it was not for air travel.

Since we live far from major population centers, we tend to you travel to Savannah and Jacksonville for cultural events, such as concerts and the like,  and usually it's a lot easier to stay overnight to drive back and forth late at night.  A free hotel room certainly makes such an adventure more attractive.

So, I still detest airline miles.   But I will use them as as quickly as they give them to me.

UPDATE:  Aha!  FUCKED BY AIRLINE MILES AGAIN!   After following all the procedures and printing out my "voucher" the hotel says they have no reservation in our name.   I give them the confirmation number, name, phone number, and nothing, NADA.   I call American Airlines and they say, "this is weird, we'll have a supervisor look into this and call you within the next four hours".

We check in to the hotel in the next four hours.   Or, they say, we can pay for the room and then they will refund us.

You see how this works - they hope you give up or get angry.   They hope you just pay and forget about it.  It is a benefit that is NOT A BENEFIT because you can never, ever cash these damn miles in and use them for anything.

Even upgrades to first class or business class are hard to find these days, as planes are booked solid.


UPDATE:   American Airlines calls and says they have the reservation - but for the wrong date!  I look it up on the Hilton site and surely enough it is for the wrong dates.  The only thing American Airlines offers to do is to back out the miles and put them back in my account.   This on the day I am scheduled to arrive.  They do helpfully offer that I could simply PAY FOR THE STAY (over $500) and go fuck myself.  Nice folks, eh?

So now I have the miles back in my account - and still unable to ever, ever, ever, ever use them!