Frequent flier tips
How to leverage your frequent flier status for perks on other airlines
The goal of piling up frequent flier miles is not to get free plane tickets.
The goal is actually to garner elite status.
Become elite, get the perks
The airlines won't go out of their way to tell you this (nor will gate agents always know your status unless you tell them), but once you achieve "elite status" on an airline (sometimes called "preferred" or "premier")—usually at 25,000 miles—you get all sorts of perks.
Elite status travelers usually get:
- Free checked bags
- Free premium or exit row seating
- Priority boarding (either with, or just after, first and business class)
- Use of the airline's airport lounge (home to cushy armchairs, free magazines and newspapers, free WiFi, free snacks and drinks, and sometimes even free booze)
- Mileage bonuses (i.e.: all new air miles accrued are now worth, say, 1.5 miles)
- Upgrades (though with a caveat. Upgrades are actually doled out in order of elite status, so any "Diamond" elite members—ones with more than, say 125,000 miles to the account—on the plane will get first shot at an upgrade, then "Platinum" members, then "Gold." The hoipolloi "Silver" elite members get to wait in line for any available upgrades left over—assuming they haven't been booked by random passengers who have outright paid for an upgrade. The higher your fare/ticket class, earlier you book, and sooner you check in, the higher you name goes on that list.)
Other benefits abound; check your fine print. Also, the higher your elite or preferred status (gold/silver/platinum or whatever), the more and better the perks.
One annoying fine print wrinkle: usually, the miles must all be earned in a single year for "elite" or "preferred" status through the following year.
Elite on one, elite on all
That's all fine and well, but here's the real secret weapon. Once you are "elite" on one airline, you can claim elite status perks whenever you fly any airline in its alliance.
That means that if you're elite on American Airlines, you're also elite on British Airways, since they're both part of the One World Alliance Oneworld.com .
The other major airline alliances are Staralliance.com (the one with United and Air Canada) and Skyteam.com (its main domestic partner is Delta).
- Momondo.com - (Aggregator) Before I get into details, just know this: 95% of the time, I find the lowest fares on Momondo. Momondo quietly blows most of the other aggregators out of the water. It searches more than 600 airline sites, plus booking engines, search engines, travel agencies, online discounters, etc. This is two to three times as many sources as the competition—including the low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines most of the other search engines ignore—and it pays off. You can also quickly see which flight is cheapest and which quickest (and which best overall), as well as use all the usual filters on the results (length of flight, departure/arrival times, number of stops, airlines, etc.). I ran Momondo through many tests, and it almost always found the lowest available fares on domestic, Transatlantic, and inter-European flights. It found fares from carriers none of the others did, and when it did find the same flights as some of the competition, it almost invariably managed to find a lower price for it. For now, at least, I'm calling it: Momondo is the single best resource out there, bar none.Partner
- Flyinternational.com - (Consolidator) The airfares branch of AutoEurope.com consistently offers among the cheapest (and most reliable) European airfare consolidators out there. Barring some sale fare elsewhere, this is where I almost always end up buying my transatlantic tickets for the simple reason that they are almost always the cheapest. This is also why I chose to partner with them for this site.Partner
- Skyscanner.com - (Aggregator) Another excellent aggregator that, like Momondo, also includes the little low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines ignored by most other search engines. I like that you can be as vague on your departure/arrivial points as simply an entire country, rather than a specific city of airport—you never know when, say, a flght into Manchester will actually be cheaper than one to London.Partner
- Hotwire.com - (OTA) Offers regaular fare searches and Hot Rates opaque fares (cost less, but with slightly less control over departure times and other details)Partner
- VirginAtlantic.com - Given all options, I will actually pay a bit more for Virgin Atlantic flight than one on any other airline. They just treat you so much better.Partner
- Google.com/flights - (Aggregator) Google has acquired ITA, the original airfare booking engine long used by travel agents. It's now available to the general public, and niftily shows you the rough current lowest cost for flights to pretty much anywhere from your hometown via a Google map measled with red dots marking major cities around the world. It doesn't allow you to book, but will tell you where/how to book the results it finds. Not really a strong performer on internaitonal flights yet—though, oddly, does a good job with last-minute international fares, so worth checking.
- Expedia.com - (OTA) Expedia—which does a fine job on middle-of-the-road fares—is the last remaining of the Big Three online travel agencies. (Expedia bought both Travelocity and Orbitz in 2015; Travelocity's search results are now identical to those at Expsia, and we can only hope Orbitz's lackluster results follow suit.)Partner
- Hipmunk.com - (Aggregator) The aggregator that rethought how searches should be delivered—and I always like those who think outside the search box. All results are shown on a timeline, and the default sort-order for flights that match your search is "Agony"—a combination factoring in price, flight duration, and stopovers—so that the least annoying options pop up first. You can also sort more traditionally by price, duration, departure time, arrival time, non-stop only, and ask it to favor your preferred airlines (or airline alliance). One drawback: It really only serarches the airlines directly plus a few booking engines like Expedia, so you're not getting the full story (no discounters are in the mix). Still: handy.
- CheapOair.com - (OTA) Upstart consolidator and discounter using the power of the Web to weave together the best bargains and negotiated discounts with three reservations systems and fifteen travel service providers—something of a mash-up of a traditional booking service and a wholesaler. It claims 18 million exclusive flight deals, a low airfare guarantee, and 84,000 negotiated hotel rates.Partner
- Vayama.com - (Aggregator) One of the original international airfare aggregators, and still one of the better ones.Partner