A few months ago I helped David Code make an award booking. David free lances for the Huffington Post, so he tried to turn the experience into an article that was eventually rejected. Not wanting the article to go to waste, I’ll publish it here. I’ve edited only a few words and added links to relevant posts.
How To Add A Free One-Way Flight To Hawaii To Your Next Frequent Flyer Award Ticket
Many parents don’t even bother keeping track of their frequent flyer points because the airlines make it so hard to book tickets that it seems pointless to even try.
But what if one blogger could help you turn the tables on the airlines?
Scott Grimmer lives up to his nickname on the travel blogs: “MileValue.” He helps people get so much more value for their frequent flyer points because he is incredibly innovative, and a great teacher. He has that kind of persistent, enthusiastic joy that the best teachers have even when they face obstacles. And I gave Scott a mighty big challenge.
Scott received both his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Virginia, and it shows. He has an uncanny knack for zeroing in on what his readers want, and then teaching his readers the strategy they need to get there.
I first read about Scott when I was trying to book award tickets for my family to visit Europe. My wife had a business trip to Scandinavia, and the kids and I decided to tag along. There was a lot of buzz on the travel blogs about Scott, the new blogger who could help you add free one-way flights to Hawaii ON TOP OF any international trip you already had planned.
One day my wife told me that, after her trip to Scandinavia, she had to fly to South America in a couple of months, and I thought, “This is our chance.” I emailed Scott to see if he could tack a free (or reduced-mileage) one-way to South America on top of our European flights.
Since my wife’s travel is paid by her company, I had to book three award tickets for the kids and me. So, our trip to Europe meant 60,000 United miles per person, and ditto for South America. But Scott offered a strategy that seemed way too good to be true: Both trips for a total of 95,000 miles per person. Since we were booking for three, that meant a savings of 75,000 miles—the equivalent of three domestic round-trip tickets!
For those who don’t want the hassle, Scott runs a service that can book your award tickets for $99 per person, but I was eager to go deep into the jungle with Scott’s coaching, and it was a journey full of drama and close calls.
Scott’s concept is simple—it’s just that people never think of this when they book tickets. Some airlines offer a free stopover on every round-trip international award. Scott simply says, “Why not treat your home airport as a stopover?” Most of us fly to Europe and back with no stopovers, thereby wasting a one-way trip to Hawaii, or Alaska, or other fun destinations that could have stretched our hard-earned points much further. In my family’s case, Scott coached me to book to Europe and back, designate our home airport in Pennsylvania as a stopover, and then continue on to South America 2 months later. This is perfectly within the rules, but no one thinks of such things.
I started by trying to book my itinerary online at the United web site, but I kept getting an annoying error message, “We were not able to find any available flights for award travel meeting your requirements.” Most people would have given up in frustration, but Scott suggested that when it comes to airline web sites, logic does not apply. Rather than using the round-trip or multi-city search option, my coach told me to first find availability for each leg of our journey using the one-way search, and then plug dates that I knew were available into the multi-city search. But this strategy yielded the same, annoying error message.
Then Scott gave me a work-around. He told me to book any portion of our itinerary that I could, just to create a file. He noted that, on the payment screen where I was supposed to input my credit card data, there is always a “book by phone” link that allows paranoid shoppers to call and give their credit card data to an agent over the phone, rather than send their credit data over the internet. This little secret gave me a reservation and a record locater number, such that now I could call a booking agent, have them search my flights out for me, and book the ticket without any call center fees. Nice.
I had Scott ready and waiting on IM while I was making the call, and twice I got rude, unhelpful agents on the line. Scott’s advice? “Just thank them, politely hang up, and call back. Sooner or later, you’ll get a friendly, helpful agent.” Sure enough, the third airline agent I called took great pride in his work, and he was able to find award seats on the flights I wanted! So, if I had just taken the first two agents at their word, the flights I wanted were “unavailable.” But persistence pays off, and, “Hang up/call back” is the motto of every frequent flyer expert, when it comes to getting the flights you want.
But the drama had just begun. The airline agent booked our trip from our small-town PA airport to Oslo and back in October, with a “stopover” in our home town until late November, followed by a one-way flight to Santiago, Chile. However, he said his computer wouldn’t complete this booking because this routing was “against the rules.”
Again, most people would have given up here. But Scott texted me to, “Politely ask to speak to a supervisor.” I did so, and the agent put me on hold. When he came back, he sang a new tune: “The routing is legal, but only if you use Washington DC as your stopover, not your home airport.”
Washington DC is a 4-hour drive from our home, but it is do-able. Most people would have settled for that. But Scott texted me that the agent was making stuff up to get rid of me. He sent me a script: “I don’t see why it makes any difference if my stopover is in Washington or my hometown. Can you please tell me what rule that is, and where I can read it online?”
The agent hemmed and hawed, but Scott’s next text drove home the blade to slay the dragon: “Please ask your supervisor to do a manual override.”
Huh? A manual override? Sounded bold, and impressive. I asked for one.
I was put on hold again. This time the supervisor herself came on, gentle and kind, and told me that would be $112 per person in taxes.
I was ecstatic! I had run into so many obstacles trying to book this online, and the call center agents had given me so many excuses for why it was impossible, that I absolutely would have given up if I had not had a seasoned coach to feed me scripts. Believe me, after so many past frustrations in trying to use my reward points, it felt great to finally take full advantage of the airlines’ rules, instead of them taking advantage of me.
The good news is, you can do exactly what I did for your own family’s trip. If you don’t want the hassle, just use Scott’s booking service and let him take care of things. Or, if you’re adventurous, take the time to read Scott’s MileValue.com blog where he walks you through the booking process so you can pull off the same miracle that I did.
The airlines offer us frequent flyer points for our loyalty to them, but then they make those points almost impossible to use. I say, “Enough.” Thanks to Scott, we can take advantage of the airlines’ silly rules for a change, and stretch our hard-earned points much further than we ever imagined. Scott can help you exchange your heartburn for empowerment when you deal with the airlines. I give him two thumbs up—way up.
For more info on the type of booking David made, see Master Thread: Free Oneways on United Awards.