Jan 29 2017

I have two credit cards associated with two different airlines where I earn “miles” with each dollar I spend. With what is going on now at the airlines, I really wonder if this is a good way to go.

Case 1: I want to fly round trip to LAX first class. On the day I want to go there, while they had several flights during that day, there were no flights available for an upgrade from coach to first class using points. And the amount of points to “buy” the ticket were huge. When I inquired, it was six months before I wanted to fly. The solution, so to speak, was for me to buy a ticket one way and to use points for an upgrade the other direction.

Case 2: Went online today with my favorite airline to book flights to and from Europe in October. Could not find any flights on either the day I wanted to go or the day I wanted to return that would allow me to buy an economy ticket at any price and upgrade to Business Class using points. So, I called the awards program number and spent about half-an-hour with a wonderful agent who told me the same thing. She tried all sorts of ways to maneuver, but none of them worked. To buy round trip with all points, I would need about 320,000 of them (read $320,000 spent). The best option was to buy a non-refundable business class ticket at a discounted price.

The airline does have an program of letting you use 10,000 points (read that as $10,000 spent on the cc) and get $100 off the fare for each 10,000 points you wanted to use (one percent cash value). The Catch 22 is that all segments of your flight have to be on airlines in their alliance, not just airlines with code sharing. One segment of mine was not, so I could not go that route. She then looked at alternate ways to get to my destination including going to another gateway city in the country I was going to and taking a train to my final city. Well, even though that option would have qualified for the $100/10,000 point discount and there was one less flight segment, the fare was $900 higher.

Airlines promote credit cards associated with them to earn miles. There are even bonus miles for signing up and for getting someone else to sign up. But I wonder about the value of “miles” in this day and age. Again, it’s January and I’m booking a flight for October. The agent told me that now there are only one or two seats on every flight where one can buy coach and upgrade using points. How far in advance do I have to book to get one of these? Or should I just go back to credit cards that give cash discounts (e.g., 1% or more) and forget “miles?”

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