My Personal Finance Journey

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My Mileage Program Strategy, Part I

Contributed by mm | January 31, 2007 10:57 PM PST

I have to say one part of my job I don't exactly like is the amount of travel. In 2006, I was on the road for a total of 12 weeks and flow over 120,000 miles, enough to circle the Equator for more than five times. This year will be no different -- I already scheduled 8 week-long trips and there surely will be more to come. I confess I will be greatly satisfied if I can exchange 20% of my pay for one more day at home every week, and 20% less travel.

That being said, I won't be allowed to make this exchange any time soon. So what's the next best thing I can do? Probably it is to carve out my strategy of squeezing more value out of the frequent flier miles I will collect.

Here is my travel profile:

1) Half of my business trips are between Shanghai and the States (mostly West Coast cities), and the other half are within Asia Pacific (Japan, Singapore, Australia, India, etc.).

2) For my U.S. trips, I can choose between United Airlines and Northwest Airlines. For my Asia Pacific trips, I usually choose regional Airlines; Singapore Airlines do provide connection to most destinations I want to go with reasonable fare.

3) 80% of the time I fly business class, which give me some extra mileage bonus.

4) For our family vacations, we usually have one annual U.S. trip, a couple of regional trips in Asia Pacific and optionally one European trip.

So, what's my best strategy to maximize the value of my mileage program membership?

This Post Has Received 23 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.


Ed Commented on February 1, 2007

MM,

I'm sure you are aware of the airlines alliances that exist. Of the two major ones it looks as if Star Alliance may make the most sense. SA includes both United (better service than NW in my opinion) and Singapore Airlines (great service and equipment), ANA (to Japan) and Thai. Since miles on one are good for all the airlines in the program you could simply use just one card (i.e. United) to collect all the miles or use separate cards and transfer miles between airlines when needed. Of course the One World alliance includes Cathay Pacific if that is of interest. I believe JAL will become a part of One Word early this year.

The other component of your strategy may be limited by your company's travel policy. You could opt to take cheaper flights that have a connection for those city pairs that offer non-stop service to boost your miles. While this won't be the most convenient and may add headaches it will get you more miles.

Another idea which may again may be limited by your company's policy is the days in advance required to book a ticket. You could indirectly increase your miles by waiting longer to book your flights. While this strategy will cost your company money it will increase your rewards points (if Microsoft allows you to get rewards points on an Corporate Card) which can be used for more miles and/or a plethora of other travel/non-travel rewards.

Just my $0.02. Safe travels!


JMT Commented on February 1, 2007

MM,

I travel a little more then you, roughly about 24 weeks a year and I do 5 trips a year to asia, 3-4 trips a year to Europe as well as about 12 2-3 day trips in the US. I have found that if you are a heavy international traveler I swear by the star alliance. The combination of United, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and USAirways gets me to just about any desitnation in the world, except from city to city in a single asian country. It most certainly depends on your companies travel policy, but I have found that my business class trips + utilizing a credit card from one of the carriers that posts miles to my star alliance account (united in my case) works the best. My wife and I normally take 1 vacation to europe a year and up to 2 trips in the US that I can pretty much get for free due to the amount of miles I have. The other benefit to staying with star alliance is to hit their top tier program asap, normally 100k+ which gets me and my wife upgraded to biz or first class almost everytime I actually purchase a ticket.


DrChunger Commented on February 2, 2007

as an x-consultant, here are some thoughts:

1) usually didn't travel to asia but i travelled to europe a good bit. i think the most important thing to consider is what you are going to use the miles for - upgrades / free tickets. i would say that you should choose the airline that will give you the most options when you want to use the points - translation, vacation spots.

2) its a small thing, but since you travel business class, you usually have access to the presidents clubs. since northwest and continental share their resources, you're equally served between northwest and united.

3) don't know if your company allows you to book flights on your own credit cards but the mileage point "kicker" can be advantageous. some of my tickets were $4k to europe = 4k points + 1.5x miles + x miles for booking online.

now having said all of this, JMT's comments are absolutely spot on that you proably want to go with united's star alliance.


makingourway Commented on February 13, 2007

i travel for business and try to focus on the star alliance, too.
the only downside is limited coverage to russia.
makingourway


Jay Commented on February 16, 2007

I travel between Shanghai and Phoenix a decent amount, and I agree with the posters that United is the way to go. 1K flyers get some pretty nice benefits.

Check out the forums at www.flyertalk.com -- there is a great United forum there with some truly helpful people.


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