Today (June 17, 2016): travel tip: how to earn miles & fly for free in Business or First Class?
I recently published some First Class trip reports, which all got hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube in just a few weeks time. And I will publish some more trip reports in the coming weeks (including my recent Business Class flight with Japan Airlines, when a technical problem developed onboard the B777-300ER).
- American Airlines B777-300ER First Class from London to New York (+ Youtube clip)
- British Airways B787-9 First Class from London to Muscat (+ Youtube clip)
- Etihad Airways A380 First Class from London to Abu Dhabi (+ Youtube clip)
- Qatar Airways A380 First Class from Doha to Paris (+ Youtube clip)
- Emirates A380 First Class from Dubai to Amsterdam (+ Youtube clip)
One of the question I am asked the most via my Youtube channel is “how comes you can always fly Business or First Class?”. First, I often fly Economy Class as well (but I don’t report on these trips so far). Second, I almost never pay a full price for a flight, as I mostly use my hard earned miles for booking a premium class seat. I guess most of you are familiar with the world of airline miles, but for those who aren’t: frequent-flyer programs are customer loyalty programs used by airlines that allow you to earn points (or miles) that are redeemable for free flights, upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals or shopping. Everybody should participate in these programs as they can save you tons of money by traveling (almost for) free in a luxurious setting. Today, I want to share with you some insights on how I collect my miles (most of them earned by not flying at all), so you can follow in my footsteps and fly Business and First Class for free as well.
If you have some other tips to earn miles, please share them in the comments.
1. EARNING MILES BY FLYING
I collect around 40% of my miles via flying, and in doing so, I learned to optimize my mileage earnings using the following travel tricks & tips:
- I try to stick to one airline alliance for most of my travels. Airline alliances are aviation industry arrangements between two or more airlines agreeing to cooperate on a substantial level, hereby allowing their passengers to collect and spend miles with all the airlines that are part of the alliance. Although Star Alliance would be the logic choice in my case (since I mostly depart from Brussels, which is a hub of the Lufthansa group), I choose to collect miles with Oneworld, since (1) they consistently offer the cheapest rates out of Brussels; (2) they include the world’s best airlines such Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways; and (3) they cover most parts of the world (including Latin America, Africa and Oceania).
- Within the Oneworld alliance, I advise you to park your miles with American Airlines’ frequent flyer program, AAdvantage. Although AAdvantage has devaluated last March and will become revenue based later this summer, it still remains my favorite loyalty program for a couple of reasons, mainly because (1) you mostly earn more miles for a certain route and cabin class with AAdvantage as compared to competing loyalty programs; (2) the AAdvantage award chart is still quite good, requiring fewer miles for some of my favorite routes (such as Europe to the Maldives) as compared to competing loyalty programs; (3) AAdvantage frequently offers huge bonuses on certain routes (more on that below); and (4) AAdvantage has some great and exotic partners (such as Etihad Airways, Air Tahiti Nui, Fiji Airways and Alaska Airlines) which makes for some terrific mileage spending choices (no wonder AAdvantage dominates my list of the world’s 10 best award redemptions). In conclusion, you earn miles faster with American Airlines and you need fewer miles to spend on award routes, so it’s really a no brainer when it comes to choosing the best loyalty program.
- Each year, I try to remain an elite member of an airline’s loyalty program (which is AAdvantage in my case). Reaching the yearly threshold for elite membership is less hard than you may think at first; you can often get there by flying only two or three longhaul flights. Being an elite member of a loyalty program can really boost your mileage account: for example, with American Airlines’ frequent flyer program, elite member always get a 100% extra mileage bonus when they fly one of the Oneworld airlines.
- I never pay the full price for a seat onboard but always buy discounted flight tickets. For example, British Airways and American Airlines have a couple of sales each year, where you can buy a ticket with a discount of at least 25%. Another good one is the Qatar Airways 2-for-1 sales, where your companion flies for free when you buy one Business Class ticket (flying Business Class with the 2-for-1 promo can be cheaper than buying 2 economy tickets). In fact, the price of Business Class has substantially lowered over the past years, and sometimes, a restricted Business Class ticket is (much) cheaper than a flexible Economy Class ticket, especially during the school holidays.
- Always make sure that you subscribe to mileage promotions. For example, from time to time (around 2 times each year) American Airlines launches a promo (together with British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair), where passengers get extra miles for flying transatlantic routes (e.g. 15.000 miles for Economy or 25.000 miles for Business Class). These are terrific deals for boosting your mileage account. They are running one right now, which you can access here. To make sure I stay up to date with the latest promotions, I am following some bloggers myself, who are sending email alerts to their followers once a promotion is launched (the guy from One Mile At A Time is my favorite).
2. EARNING MILES BY CREDIT CARD
Around 30% of my miles are not earned by flying, but by credit card, which earns me 1.5 miles for every euro spent. I don’t spend more money since I have this credit card, but I ‘learned’ to use my credit card for all my daily expenses (grocery, gas, shopping, etc …) instead of paying in cash. In the US, and to a lesser extent the UK, credit cards are great for earning lots of miles (signing up for a credit card can come with huge mileage bonus offers, often enough for a transatlantic Business Class ticket). Unfortunately, in Belgium – my home country – there are only 2 credit card providers that allow you to convert your spendings in miles, being the Miles & More credit cards and the KLM credit card (for my Belgian followers: this webpage from my friends at Jumpseat is a good source for choosing the right credit card). Another more global option is the American Express credit card, which is available in most countries and allows you to convert Amex points in airline miles.
3. EARNING MILES BY STAYING AT (STARWOOD) HOTELS
The last 30% of my miles is earned by vacationing on the ground.
- With most hotels of the larger chains, you always get a welcome gift of 500 up to 1000 miles upon check-in. Many people forget about this benefit, but if you travel a lot, it’s a great way to collect lots of miles.
- I mostly stay at properties of the Starwood Hotel Group during my travels, which includes brands such as W Hotels, The Luxury Collection and St Regis. Starwood has an excellent loyalty program, called ‘Starwood Preferred Guest‘ where you collect Starwood points everytime you stay at one of the Starwood properties (read here my pros & cons of the SPG program). One of the great advantages of SPG is that you can convert Starwood points to miles with more than 30 airline partners (conversation rate of 1:1). And when you transfer 20.000 Starwood point, you always get a bonus of 5000 miles, meaning that you will get 25,000 miles. That is how I was able to fly onboard an Emirates Airlines A380 in First Class from Dubai to Amsterdam recently.
- A great and very easy way to earn lots of Starwood points (and thus boost your frequent flyer account after converting them to miles) is to make use of Starwood’s best rate guarantee program (read more here): when you find a lower rate for a Starwood hotel than the one displayed on the official Starwood website, Starwood will not only match that rate, but also put 2000 Starwood points in your account. Finding a better rate than the one on the official website is not difficult at all, as you can read in my tips how to book a luxury hotel at the cheapest price. I have collected tens of thousand of Starwood points (and thus airline miles) this way.
4. EARNING MILES BY LESSER KNOWN METHODS
- You can take part in surveys if you do have some extra time on your hands. For example, you can sign up for free for E-Rewards, complete as many E-Rewards’ surveys as you want, and start earning miles with different airline partners.
- You can earn miles by writing hotel reviews and submit them on HolidayCheck, which partners with Lufthansa Miles&More, Etihad Guest, airberlin Topbonus or airbaltic PINS miles. Earning rates are as follows (per review): 100 Miles&More miles, 200 topbonus miles,150 PINS miles, or 150 Etihad Guest miles.
- From time to time, airlines offer free miles for registering to their frequent flyer program or for referring your friends to their frequent flyer program. Air Berlin is having such a promotion right now, which you access here. You earn 1000 bonus miles for registering to Air Berlin’s Topbonus program. In addition, you get 500 bonus miles for your first referral and then 1,000 bonus miles for each additional referral, with a maximum of 9,500 bonus miles per year. This could mean a potential 10500 miles which is enough for a free economy ticket within Europe.
Enjoy the weekend and stay tuned for Monday when I reveal a new top 10 travel list.