Every now and then, I find myself having a conversation with people about Paris, or about traveling to Paris, and I find myself amazed by either the things they don’t know, or the things I don’t know. And since I fancy myself a bit of a humanitarian, I thought I’d impart some of this knowledge to you through a series we’ve named “Things I’ve Learned.”
Today’s subject: What’s the Point?
I have a friend who, despite being a frequent flyer, doesn’t belong to any frequent flyer programs. The real shame of it is that, with all the travel and spending of money that she does, she would have earned enough points to fly around the world a few times.
I, on the other hand, have my frequent flyer card numbers committed to memory. I know them better than I know the birthdays of half my family members. More than that, I have learned how to maximize the benefits of these programs with a few simple tricks:
Less is more. Don’t join every frequent flyer program out there. Pick one and stick with it. Or choose an alliance that let you use your points on any of their partner airlines. If you spread out your miles across assorted airlines or alliances, it will take a lot longer before you can actually use them.
Think outside the fuselage. There are other ways to accrue frequent flyer miles that don’t involve having to get on an actual airplane. Check out program partners like hotels, cruise lines or car rental companies, because you may be able to earn a mile per dollar spent with them. Maybe your bank is affiliated with a frequent flyer program. Chase, for instance, has assorted credit and debit cards that let you earn miles for United, Continental, British Airways and Southwest. Citibank ties in with American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, while Bank of America has cards for Virgin Atlantic and a few other regional airlines. You can also earn points by taking online surveys through programs like e-Rewards or e-Miles.
Swap ‘em if you need ‘em. I currently bank with Chase and have a debit card that gives me one mile on Continental for every $2 I spend. I also take surveys (when time permits) for both e-Rewards and e-Miles, accruing more points on Continental, which is the airline I used to fly from Miami to visit my family in New Jersey. The only thing is, I don’t really fly Continental anymore. I fly American Airlines, largely because they’re one of two airlines that fly direct from Miami to Paris. But I probably earn 15,000 points each year on Continental because of my spending and surveying, and to keep my efforts from being wasted, I joined Points.com so that I can trade my Continental miles for AA miles. Points.com uses a Global Points Exchange (GPX) where frequent flyers pay to swap miles. A few weeks ago, I put up 15,000 Continental One Pass miles, looking for 15,000 AAdvantage miles in return. A few days and $150 later, I had my trade.
Use ‘em if you got ‘em. Once upon a time, I’d use my frequent flyer miles to get tickets in coach class. I’ve flown to Paris a few times this way, paying only the various fees involved with using miles, typically no more than a hundred dollars. But on my last flight back to Miami, I decided to cash in my miles and upgrade to business class on American Airlines.
I may never fly coach again. At least not on my international flights.
What a difference an upgrade makes. I mean, I’ve always liked the cabin crews aboard the American Airlines flights to and from Paris. But in Biz Class, I felt like a princess. I was greeted with a glass of champagne, and even though it was only 9:30 in the morning, I was happy and hooked. The flight attendant greeted me by name when taking my lunch order from the menu provided. Drinks were served in glasses, and meals on china and linen placemats with real silver utensils. For dessert, a big scoop of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream with hot fudge generously ladled on and around it. My seat almost fully reclined, my Bose Noise Cancellation headphones let me hear the movies I selected from my personal entertainment unit, and my amenity kit was stocked with Burt’s Bees products. My only disappointment was that the business class bathroom looked exactly the same as the one in coach. I was hoping for marble countertops and softer toilet paper, I think.
My point is … use your miles if you have them. Just decide how you want to use them. And if you don’t belong to a frequent flyer program, please join one today. It doesn’t cost a thing, and you’ll find that you’re actually getting money back (no matter how little it really is) to use on a future trip … that maybe will take you to Paris.
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