I scored three frequent flyer tickets! Can you believe that? One for me, one for my wife, and one for my daughter! To a foreign country! On the same plane! On the same day!
Why all the exclamation marks? Because as many fellow travelers with loads of mileage have found, getting a flight you want with your frequent flyer miles has become about as easy as betting the right number on a roulette board. When you hit it, you feel like you have really scored the big one.
I had reached the point on Continental where I had 107,000 miles and my wife had 67,000. Tired of buying tickets because we could never cash in, we took radical measures. We booked flights to Central America for June 2007. Yes, you read that right–11 months from now. After years of reading Tim Winship’s advice about looking 330 days ahead, I shelved my procrastination tendencies and made some long-term plans. We’re off to Guatemala, a mere 318 days from now (but who’s counting?)
I’d be lying if I said it was a piece of cake though. Besides planning far far ahead, here are the keys to getting a flight for the minimum mileage requirement–usually 25K domestic, 35K for close international, 45-50K for long-haul international:
1) Be flexible on your dates.
We wanted to leave in late June and come back in July, but mid-summer free tickets are about as common as an empty flight these days. As in forget about it if you’re going anywhere desirable.
2) Go midweek.
We had to leave on a Wednesday, return on a Tuesday, for two weeks total. Weekends were all blocked out.
3) Be flexible on flight times.
We’re leaving before the birds start singing and getting home quite late. But the alternative was to spend double the mileage for a more convenient ticket.
4) Be flexible on destination.
We checked out four Central American countries that were possibilities, seeing if one would offer more alternatives than others. (Here’s a hint—forget Costa Rica unless you want to go overland.)
5) Use SeatGuru.com
On many airlines, you can choose your seat as you are buying the tickets. Using SeatGuru, you can see which seats should be avoided.