Ten Upgrade Strategies

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1 Ten Upgrade Strategies Ten strategies for using the best frequent flyer miles programs First Class Flyer

2 INTRODUCTION: FIRST CLASS FLYER S UPGRADE PERSPECTIVE Progress works hard to downgrade the air travel experience. First Class Flyer works hard to upgrade it. Our ultimate upgrade is coach to First Class achieved for less than the cost of coach. This is of course easier said than done. And yet, on the occasions it can be done, not as hard as you might think. Our penultimate upgrade is coach to First Class for the price of coach. Not far behind is First Class for a lot less than a First Class ticket. Then: Business to First Class, or coach to Business, again for less than you might expect to pay (should you have to pay anything at all). Nice to know, not one of these upgrades is won by complaining or fibbing or lowering your own standards of dignity and civility. The most disagreeable thing you might have to do is ask, but even the thought of you doing that that leaves me feeling like a failure. If I can t coach you out of coach and into Premium, or from Business to First, by digging up and pointing out previously undiscovered anomalies, loopholes and disparities I ll give the game away. If I can t get you accumulating more miles and getting more boing for your points I ll fold First Class Flyer and start raising chickens. And when I surface from those days of fine-print mining that deliver the aforementioned upgrade gems, I like to wrestle with the question, How might the rest of the air travel experience be upgraded, beyond the cabin class upgrade itself? Seats themselves can vary so much in the same class, on the same airline, and on the same route that just getting onto the right flight can constitute a major upgrade. And airline to airline, well the variations there are a whole other story. FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

3 Discovering un-thought of ways to upgrade the airport experience too, even the booking experience, and especially the loyalty program experience, and the hotel experience is for me a buzz. That s why they call me Mr. Upgrade. See you up front, Matthew J. Bennett FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

4 10 STRATEGIES FOR USING THE BEST FREQUENT FLYER MILES PROGRAMS TO GET AIRLINE UPGRADES WHERE TO START YOUR QUEST FOR AN UPGRADE When planning a travel itinerary, there are three factors in every frequent (or non-frequent) flyer s calculation: (1) time, (2) money, and (3) the number of miles in his/her loyalty program account (mileage balance). The following tips will help to leverage, maximize, and save on each when flying. You may want to start by looking up the balance(s) in your loyalty program account(s). Whether you have 40,000 or 400,000 miles, you ll need to know your balances to fully understand the upgrade strategies. CARRY THE CREDIT CARDS WITH THE BEST MILEAGE PROGRAMS Avoid credit cards that offer their own mileage programs, such as those from MBNA or Capital One. The points earned are usually not valid for Business or First Class travel. Our favorite is the American Express/Starwood Preferred Guest Card. It has more partners 29 than any other card, and includes the top carriers, among them Air France, Air New Zealand, Alaska, Alitalia, All Nippon, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Lufthansa, Mexicana, Northwest, SWISS, US Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

5 Starwood Preferred Guest also offers the only everyday and every airline transfer bonus: 25 percent. That means transferring 20,000 points nets 25,000 miles with most of the partner airlines. It can often be the difference between flying economy and Business Class, or Business and First Class. Most co-branded airline credit cards make you earn 50,000 miles to fly free in economy. But rack up 65,000 points through the Amex/Starwood card and it will net you 80,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles with the transfer bonus. You can then use those miles to fly free in Business Class on Cathay s partner, British Airways, nonstop from all its gateways to London except San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. BUY MILES OR POINTS TO UPGRADE There are three ways of accruing enough miles to get premium tickets and upgrade awards. Most people know the first two fly and spend (using an affinity credit card). But there s also a little-known third route: Buying miles directly from an airline, one of its partner carriers, or by purchasing points from a credit FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

6 card partner that can be exchanged for premium mileage awards. The savings from this strategy can be enormous. Not all mileage-purchase programs are the same. Almost all airlines allow you to buy miles for yourself. With some programs, you can purchase all the miles you need for an upgrade, whereas others only allow you to buy the difference between the miles you have and the miles required for an upgrade or award. Many programs also allow you to receive miles as gifts an option that isn t exploited enough even by savvy fliers. It pays to read the fine print because the more purchase avenues a program offers, the easier it is to acquire enough miles for upgrades and free tickets. Here s how to save 75 percent if you want to make London your gateway to Europe. Buy 100,000 Mexicana miles for $2,200 (2.2 each) directly from the airline and you can redeem them for travel on Mexicana s mileage program partners, among them American Airlines. (American s Business Class fares to London can cost as much as $9,000 otherwise.) FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

7 PLAN YOUR TRAVEL BY THE SEASON Business travelers tend to stay home over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year s, and when business travelers don t fly, airlines often dump Business Class seats at prices that can be less than some coach fares, which are usually in high demand at these times. Look for reduced Business Class fares on sale from September through November. If you shop carefully for holiday travel, you may find some Continental Airlines discount Business Class airfares from the US to Europe at astonishingly low prices. Recently, Continental offered round-trip discount Business Class airfares for $900. Look for them to repeat the offer during other holiday seasons. Generally, discount Business Class airfare in this price range for flights to Europe carries heavy restrictions. And you can expect West coast departures to be $700 to $1,500 higher. Similarly, airlines often have excess Business Class inventory to dump during the summer, so fare wars erupt. Over the last few years, American, Continental, Lufthansa, and United have slashed summer fares to Europe. FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

8 UPGRADE USING CREDIT CARD POINTS Note that the differences between one airline s mileage award and another can yield little-known and lucrative values. The formula used to determine the number of miles it costs for a given award, such as discount Business Class travel for the price of coach, varies widely from one carrier s program to another. Sometimes, all it takes to acquire a discount Business Class travel upgrade is the willingness to do a little geeky scrutiny. Example: All Nippon offers Star Alliance awards based on flight distance charts, which is a better value from the northeast US than some of the region-to-region Star Alliance awards offered by United and US Airways. There are two important caveats, though: You must use two different Star Alliance partners, and the total itinerary cannot exceed 8,000 actual miles. Example: Fly Washington, DC to Paris on United (3,849 miles), and book the return flight on US Airways (3,850 miles). With the total miles traveled (7,699) below the 8,000 mile maximum, All Nippon charges only 65,000 Star Alliance miles for a Business Class ticket a savings FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

9 of 15,000 miles compared to the 80,000 charged by United and US Airways. To get the 65,000 Star Alliance miles, transfer 55,000 miles from your Starwood account (each 20,000 miles transferred yields a 5,000-mile bonus). An economy seat on United and US Airways costs 50,000 miles, so for a paltry 5,000 miles more, you travel Business Class instead. EARNED MILES WITH YOUR PREFERRED CARRIER, WHEN FLYING A BETTER ON You don t have to fly your primary carrier to earn miles or elite credit in its program. Purchase a Business Class ticket with a carrier that partners with yours and you can get both the miles and the elite credit you re after as well as a better Business Class seat. For instance, you can earn miles on Delta airlines and fly on Air France to Paris. Or earn miles on United and use them to fly Lufthansa to Frankfurt. Or earn miles on US Airways and use them to fly Swiss to Zurich. BOOK MILEAGE REDEMPTIONS EARLY When redeeming mileage, it can pay to book award tickets and upgrades as far in advance as possible. It also pays to know how far in advance you can actually secure a mileage booking, since it ranges from 329 to FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

10 352 days. Of the US carriers, Northwest has the longest window, 352 days. Some airlines will allow you to book a seat farther in advance than others. Your odds of getting a seat increase if you check with each airline at the earliest time it allows you to make a booking. In other words, don t pass on what is available on Northwest now for what might be available on Continental later. Some flyers make the mistake of waiting to book their outbound flight until they can book their return flight. Don t do that. It s best to make it a two-step process: Confirm your outbound flight ASAP and ask the reservationist to hold the outbound seat(s) until you can confirm the return segment. If push comes to shove and the airline will no longer hold your outbound flight without your ticketing it, book a dummy return flight (as long as you can change it later for the flight you actually want). USE THE U.S. GATEWAYS WITH THE MOST FLIGHTS TO EUROPE All gateway cities are not created equal. As you might expect, fares tend to be highest from gateways with fewer flights to London (Denver, Seattle, and Phoenix, for instance) and lowest from gateways with more FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

11 (New York). If you have to make a connection anyway, factor this into your planning. TRY FOR A BUSINESS CLASS AWARD FOR THE PRICE OF COACH Sometimes you can find reduced mileage redemption rates for off-season travel to Europe and the Caribbean. US Airways often runs a promotion discounting Business Class seats from the US to the Caribbean by 10,000 miles, and 20,000 miles to Europe. See its mileage chart online for details. Business Class to Europe for only 60,000 miles? Most other carriers charge 50,000 for just economy. Why fly in the back of the plane when you can transfer enough points from your Starwood Starpoints account (only 50,000 points) to net 60,000 US Airways miles which is what Business Class costs in this promotion. Don t have US Airways miles? Get them by transferring Starpoints into US Airways miles. Or, buy the 60,000 miles directly from the airline for $2,100, or from Starwood for $1,750. That s not always a great deal from the East Coast, since published fares can be about the same and they earn miles and elite credit. From FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

12 the West Coast, however, it s a good option because published fares cost $2,500 to $2,800 to these European destinations. UPGRADE FROM BUSINESS CLASS TO FIRST CLASS If you can make London your gateway to Europe, this strategy can save you up to 79 percent off the usual cost of a First Class ticket. Three major airlines, American, British Airways, and United, offer a true First Class cabin on non-stop flights between the US and London. And only two loyalty programs, British Airways Executive Club and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, allow you to use your miles to upgrade heavily discounted Business Class fares. Use 60,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles to upgrade an American Airlines I (discounted) Business Class fare starting as low as $1,000. (American forbids this with AAdvantage Miles.) Buy 50,000 Starwood Starpoints ($1,750), which are convertible to 60,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and you have an upgrade for only $1,750. Alternatively, buy 40,000 Starwood Starpoints ($1,400), which are convertible to 50,000 BA miles. Voila! An upgrade for only $1,400. FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

13 UPGRADE AT THE LAST MINUTE WITH CASH Three airlines flying to London from the US offer last-minute upgrades: US Airways as a matter of policy, and American and United at the gate agent s discretion. Envoy is the name of US Airways international Business Class, and thus the carrier calls its gate upgrade program GoEnvoy. Available with any coach fare, it offers an upgrade to Business Class for $500 each way, with 30-hour advance confirmation. Tip: If an upgrade is not available 30 hours out, try a different routing. It could be worth the ticket-reissue fee and the fare difference, especially on the return leg, where the change fee is usually only $150. American and United don t publicize their gate upgrades because they re not always offered. United s gate upgrades typically cost about $550 from economy to Business Class. American s rate is about the same for Business Class. Here s the key on both: You have to ask. LIFE IS SHORT. FLY FIRST CLASS WHENEVER YOU CAN If you re going to spend hours and hours aloft, you should know how to make it the best experience possible at the price you re willing to pay. For a free copy of First Class Flyer and more information, please visit FirstClassFlyer.com, or call (888) , 9 am to 5 pm, Pacific time, Monday through Friday. FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

14 Note: Fares and conditions change frequently. The examples used in this report were accurate at the time of publication. For up-to-the-minute news on fares, conditions and upgrade strategies, subscribe to FirstClassFlyer.com FirstClassFlyer.com Free Report

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