Category Archives: Free First Class Next Month

Free First Class 2014: Cheap Flights, Fuel Surcharges on ITA Matrix

This is the twenty-fourth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I use the ITA Software Matrix for two reasons:

  1. to find cheap flights
  2. to find the fuel surcharges on award tickets.

You can search ITA Matrix for roundtrip paid flights for departures over a 30 day period and trip lengths of your choosing. That makes the ITA Matrix another tool for finding cheap paid flights like Kayak price alerts.

On ITA Matrix, you can see a breakdown of a ticket price into base fare, taxes, and fuel surcharges. This makes ITA Matrix invaluable for estimating the out-of-pocket cost of booking an award ticket when fuel surcharges will be included on the ticket.

  • How does the ITA Matrix’s monthlong search work?
  • How can you find the fuel surcharges included on a paid ticket and why does that matter for award tickets?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Setting Kayak Price Alerts

This is the twenty-third post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Over the last few years, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by setting Kayak price alerts to track the price of a plane ticket I need to buy for a few weeks before booking when the price drops.

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 9.47.21 PM

Kayak price alerts are an extremely simple tool that everyone should know about to save money on cash tickets for trips you know you need to take.

  • How can you set a Kayak price alert?
  • When should you book a trip with cash versus miles?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: SeatGuru

This is the twenty-second post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

Today I’ll be explaining a tool I use every time I book a flight or research an award to ensure I get the best seat possible, seatguru.com. SeatGuru is an online compendium of airline seat maps.

Using SeatGuru can be the difference between picking an award routing with a fully flat bed in Business Class versus an angled lie flat seat. It can be the difference between sitting in privacy and sharing an elbow rest with a stranger.

Along the left top of the site, hold your cursor over Browse Airlines. Select from the list.

  • How do you use SeatGuru to snag the best flights and seats?
  • How do you select seats on awards?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Segment-by-Segment Searching

This is the twenty-first post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

This is a post about the main process I use every day to search for awards.

In an ideal world, you collect the right frequent flyer miles for the trip you want, go straight to the website of the airline whose miles you have, search for award space, and your dream trip pops up.

Airlines use frequent flyer miles to give away seats they don’t expect to sell otherwise, though, which means your ideal itinerary might not have award space if it’s at a popular time on a popular route. In fact, no itineraries with award space may show up on your search.

Just because nothing shows up on an airline search engine doesn’t mean no award itinerary is available.

When a simple search produces no result, you need to move on to segment-by-segment searching.

The idea is that just typing where you live and where you want to go into an airline’s award search engine may not reveal Saver award space even when there is a legal, possible award. Searching segment-by-segment, starting with the hardest segment can yield itineraries that the search engine missed.

In this post I’ll give a step-by-step example of how I used segment-by-segment searching to find award space between San Francisco and London when united.com didn’t show any award space.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.29.52 PM

  • What are the six simple steps to search segment-by-segment?
  • What popular non-travel website is your secret weapon in segment-by-segment searching?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Basics of Redeeming Singapore, Aeroplan, Lufthansa, Avianca, ANA, Flying Blue, and Korean Miles

This is the twentieth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics of several international airline programs which are transfer partners of one or more of the following types of points:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints
  • Citi ThankYou Points

I think of these international airlines programs as niche programs. Most of their redemption options are terrible because of fuel surcharges, but a few redemptions with each program are great because of no fuel surcharges or a super cheap miles price.

Know the great options in each program to save yourself miles and cash by maximizing these programs:

  • Singapore KrisFlyer (UR, MR, SPG, and TY)
  • Air Canada Aeroplan (MR, SPG)
  • Lufthansa Miles & More (SPG, also the only one of these programs that offers a big 50k sign up bonus on an American credit card every few months)
  • ANA Mileage Club (MR, SPG)
  • Air France Flying Blue (MR, SPG)
  • Korean SkyPass (UR, SPG)

Why Collect These Miles?

Most of these programs have a sweet spot that lets you book the same flights for fewer miles than if you used United or Delta miles. For instance, pay 30,000 Singapore miles each way in First Class between the continental United States and Hawaii instead of 40,000 United miles.

Korean, Singapore, and Lufthansa miles allow the booking of mind-blowing First Class products you can’t book with Delta and United miles.

  • What airlines can you fly with these miles?
  • What are the routing rules for these awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special deals in each program?
  • What about fuel surcharges?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Basics of Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America Points

This is the nineteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Southwest Rapid Rewards, JetBlue TrueBlue, and Virgin America Elevate programs. I’m taking all three together because they are similar programs.

Why Collect Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America Points?

All three types of airline points can save you big on your next domestic trip or near international trip.

All three types of points can access every flight on their respective airlines with no blackouts.

  • What airlines can you fly with Rapid Rewards, TrueBlue points, and Elevate points?
  • What are the special features of each program?
  • How can you book Rapid Rewards, TrueBlue, and Elevate awards?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Basics

This is the eighteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program.

Why Collect Alaska Airlines Miles?

Alaska Airlines miles are great for booking Emirates First Class and Cathay Pacific First Class. These are two ultra-luxury cabins, and Emirates First Class is not part of any airline alliance. Check out my trip report!

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.05.22 AM

Emirates First Class Suite

Collecting Alaska Airlines miles is easy. Both the personal and business cards from Bank of America are churnable, meaning you can get the same bonus over and over.

Alaska Airlines partners with 14 airlines from SkyTeam, oneworld, and outside the three alliances.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.03.05 AM

  • What airlines can you fly with Alaska Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Alaska Airlines awards?
  • What are the special features of the Mileage Plan program?
  • How can you book an Alaska Airlines award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: British Airways Avios Basics

This is the seventeenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the British Airways Avios program.

Why Collect British Airways Avios?

British Airways Avios are very often the best miles to book short, direct, economy flights.

I like international First Class as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just want to fly from Los Angeles to Hawaii or Hong Kong to Tokyo or Chicago to Dallas.

British Airways Avios are completely different than the other major types of miles like United and American miles.

While most major airline miles are region-based, Avios are distance-based.

Different equals more valuable when it comes to miles because it opens up different types of high value awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with British Airways miles?
  • What are the routing rules for British Airways awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the Avios program?
  • How can you book a British Airways award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: US Airways Dividend Miles Basics

This is the sixteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the US Airways Dividend Miles program.

Why Collect US Airways Miles?

US Airways has the best award chart. Seriously, check out how much cheaper it is than its competitors.

The award chart probably won’t see any major changes until Dividend Miles integrates with AAdvantage in 2015.

US Airways has the laxest routing rules. Route basically however you want from point A to point B to point C to have the most exciting and cheapest combination of stopover and destination.

Collecting US Airways miles now is easy. Right now you can get The US Airways® Premier World MasterCard® with 40,000 bonus miles after first purchase. Check out all the places you can go with just that sign up bonus.

US Airways miles have access to amazing luxury products like Cathay Pacific First Class. Check out my trip report!

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 1.42.22 AM

US Airways miles will become American Airlines miles in 2015. If you’re collecting American Airlines miles, and you want more, get US Airways miles now and enjoy their conversion to American Airlines miles next year.

  • What airlines can you fly with US Airways miles?
  • What are the routing rules for US Airways awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the Dividend Miles program?
  • How can you book a US Airways award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Delta SkyMiles Basics

This is the fifteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the Delta SkyMiles program.

Why Collect Delta Miles?

Because they exist. It is no secret that Delta miles are less valuable than American Airlines, United, and US Airways miles.

  • Delta releases less award space than its competitors
  • SkyTeam, Delta’s alliance, is the least interesting alliance
  • Delta’s award chart is more expensive overall than all three of its competitors
  • You cannot book one way awards for half the price of roundtrips with Delta miles
  • You cannot book international First Class with Delta miles

But worth less does not mean worthless. Delta miles can be used to get to all six inhabited continents, and Delta miles are often the best to get to Australia in a flat bed.

  • What airlines can you fly with Delta miles?
  • What are the routing rules for Delta awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the SkyMiles program?
  • How can you book a Delta award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: United MileagePlus Basics

This is the fourteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the United MileagePlus program.

Why Collect United Miles?

United miles are easy to collect in bunches. There are big sign up bonuses available on a half dozen cards that earn United miles or Ultimate Rewards, which can be transferred to United miles. When the miles are so easy to earn, it makes fancy trips or family trips easier to book.

United is part of the biggest and best alliance–the Star Alliance–with the most award space. I find better award space on United’s partners to most parts of the world than I do on any other airline alliance.

United never collects fuel surcharges on awards. The ability to book flights on all of the Star Alliance without fuel surcharges is incredible. Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines–United’s three major award program competitors–all collect fuel surcharges on some awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with United miles?
  • What are the routing rules for United awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the MileagePlus program?
  • How can you book a United award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: American Airlines AAdvantage Basics

This is the thirteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I want to give the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. I’ll start with the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Why Collect American Airlines Miles?

American Airlines miles are the best miles for ultra-luxury redemptions like Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, or Qantas First Class.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 1.42.22 AM

Cathay Pacific First Class booked with American Airlines miles

American Airlines has very cheap off peak awards. If you are willing to go to Europe in the fall, winter, or spring in economy, you can pay only 20,000 miles each way. There are also great off peak economy awards to Japan, Korea, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

American Airlines (and US Airways, which have merged legally but will maintain separate loyalty programs and award charts until early 2015,) has not devalued its award charts for years. United and Delta greatly increased the miles price of premium cabin awards in 2014, but at least for bookings through late 2015, you can lock in American Airlines’ very low prices for business and first class awards, compared to its American competitors.

  • What airlines can you fly with American Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for American Airlines awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the AAdvantage program (off peak awards)?
  • How can you book an American Airlines award?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Airline Hubs, Alliances, and Search Engines

This is the twelfth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

You can always book awards using one airline’s miles on its own flights or on that airline’s alliance partners.

Below is a list of each alliances’ members and those members’ hubs and codes. Knowing these lists or at least where to find them will make you a much savvier flyer.

Carriers are in alphabetical order except American carriers are listed first. Each entry includes the airlines name and its hubs.

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Airline Mile Redemption Basics

This is the eleventh post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

The beginners posts on redeeming miles and points are done. The series moves to the more important, and more interesting, question of redeeming miles and points.

I think earning miles is less interesting because it is relatively easy to open the credit cards with the best sign up bonuses and meet their spending requirements. Plus I offer a free service telling you which cards are best to open for your trip goals.

Redeeming miles and points offers so many interesting choices and actually turns your dream trip into a plane ticket or hotel stay. (Of course, you can skip all the posts on redeeming miles and outsource the work to my Award Booking Service for $125 per person.)

I’ve never put in one places all the options for redeeming miles and points, so that beginners can understand where there miles and points can take them.

  • How do you hotel redemptions work?
  • Why do I always plan hotels last when booking a trip with points?
  • What cabins can you book with frequent flyer miles?
  • Why are some miles way better for domestic trips and some way better for international trips?
  • Should you use your miles for awards or upgrades? What’s the difference?
  • What else besides flights can you redeem miles for?
  • What are stopovers, open jaws, and free one ways?

Continue reading

Free First Class 2014: Don’t Let Your Miles Expire

This is the tenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

The section of the beginners’ guide on earning miles is over, but before I turn to redeeming miles, I want to discuss something crucial that a lot of people muck up:

Don’t let your miles and points expire unused.

What’s the point of earning them if you don’t get to take that dream trip? Too many people have been turned off from the hobby because they let some miles expire and become too frustrated with the whole game to continue. Luckily it’s incredibly easy to keep all of your miles and points safe and ready for your next trip.

  • When do miles and points expire?
  • Will closing a credit card cost you the miles or points you earned?
  • What is my set-it-and-forget-it trick to keep balances active?
  • What service lets you know when your miles are about to expire?

Continue reading