In Part 2: Ruta de Siete Lagos, beer tour, and more
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Raise your hand if you like calling credit card companies. Seeing no hands, let me give you some tips to avoid a few calls.
If you’re a beginner to the miles-collecting game, signing up for airline and hotel loyalty programs before you apply for that program’s credit card can save you a few calls to the credit card companies.
Let me give an example.
The second you move abroad, you become a lot more popular! That far flung country looks a lot better to family and friends as soon as they know they’ll have a free bed and tour guide. My sister wanted to come visit me in Argentina in mid-May, so we set out to find her the best award ticket possible. Only one minor problem. As of two months ago, she had zero miles.
We ended up booking her n roundtrip from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires for a weeklong trip for 60,000 United miles. We even added a free oneway to Hawaii for next year for no extra miles and only $2.50 in taxes. This Anatomy of an Award should illustrate how to get from zero miles to a dream trip in two months, United free oneways, United’s hold policy, and the secret United award space open to United card holders.
Unfortunately, all great trips must come to an end. Three-and-a-half months before the end of my stay in Argentina, it is time to book my oneway return to the US: from Buenos Aires (EZE) to Denver (DEN).
I need to be be in Denver for a wedding at the end of July. Because of this, my travel dates are limited–I want to maximize my time in Argentina while still arriving in Denver before the wedding. This gives me about five days of wiggle room.
As this is a oneway trip, I only want to book an award with an airline that will allow me to book a oneway award for half the price of a roundtrip. Luckily, the American Airlines AAdvantage miles I currently have will allow me to do this. I got 105,000 AAdvantage miles last fall using the (now defunct) two-browser trick.
I really wanted to use these miles instead of my new United miles, which I plan on using to Europe at some point.
Searching for American Space
I began with the most simple of searches on AA.com: Buenos Aires to Denver. There was no MileSAAver (low-priced level) award space available in any class–only AAnytime (high-priced level). MileSAAver space would be 30,000 miles, and I am not going to pay double that just to sit in the back of the plane.
Rookie tip: just because my first search showed no space at the miles price doesn’t mean there is no way to find the low miles price. Many airlines’ award search engines don’t show all their partners’ award space, which always prices at the low miles price.
This is such a case. AA.com doesn’t show LAN–a South American member of oneworld–space.
Searching for LAN Space on ba.com
Knowing that American Airlines does not show the available space for all of their partner airlines, I next searched ba.com because it displays more oneworld airlines than aa.com does, and American Airlines miles can be used to book all the oneworld space found on ba.com.
My first search was for Buenos Aires to Denver. The original date I searched returned no available award space in either Economy or Business.
Something to remember when searching for partner space on ba.com is that you must use the tabs that list the surrounding dates in order to see if there is available partner space. Skipping this may result in you missing out on available space. Additionally, you have to run a new search in order to change the class that you want to search for.
Unconvinced that there was zero available award space in any class on any partner flight during the week I needed, I decided to search segment-by-segment.
Rookie tip: award search engines often miss possible itineraries that have connections because of flaws in their computer programming. You can search possible routes segment-by-segment to construct awards yourself that you will later call the airline whose miles you are using to book.
I used Wikipedia to see what US destinations LAN flies to out of Buenos Aires.
So this time instead of searching Buenos Aires to Denver on aa.com, I searched Buenos Aires to Miami. A quick search showed me that there in fact was business class space on a number of LAN flights that week!
They weren’t the direct flight I wanted, but I could handle a stop in Santiago. And they weren’t in economy class, but I was willing to spend 50,000 miles for a business class award. That sure beats the 60,000 aa.com wanted for an economy ticket.
I had found my way to Miami! Now I just needed to find space on a flight from Miami to Denver. Because I was flying international business, I would be allowed to fly domestic first.
Rookie tip: On international business class awards, your domestic portions can be in economy or first class on planes with only two cabins.
I ran a search on aa.com looking for first class award space from Miami to Denver, and found that there was availability on the day that I needed.
Unfortunately, the only direct availability comes with a 12 hour layover in Miami. Any suggestions on ways to pass the time?
I can live with this three flight business class award with a 12 hour layover in Miami to get to Denver when I want to and for a good price.
Knowing I would be unable to book this award online, and that I was booking with American miles, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to make the reservation. I gave the agent my account information, and the flight numbers I had picked out. I requested to hold the reservation for a few days before ticketing. The agent complied, telling me that they would hold the award for five days–standard operating procedure for American Airlines. Two days later, I received a rather cryptic email from American:
When I called the number, I was told by the American agent that they were not supposed to hold reservations for seats on LAN flights, and that I would need to ticket the reservation immediately. By politely explaining that I had to confirm a detail before ticketing, the agent allowed me to hold the reservation for a few more days before purchasing the ticket.
Here is my complete itinerary:
This complete itinerary cost my 50,000 miles and $102.30 in taxes including that unavoidable $25 American Airlines Telephone Ticketing Services fee.
At least I’ll be getting 5,000 miles back because I have an American Airlines credit card. And I’ll have a chance to enjoy lie flat business class on the LAN segments, which is something I haven’t yet experienced.
What I Could Have Done
I could have booked a free stopover in Miami if I had more flexibility in my travel dates. Since Miami is my international gateway city, it is the only place on the itinerary that I would have been able to book a free stopover.
I could have had a shorter layover in Florida. When I searched aa.com for availability from Miami to Denver, I saw a few routes that would allow me to leave Florida hours earlier by flying out of Ft. Lauderdale (FLL). I could have had a three hour layover–rather than a twelve hour one– by taking a taxi to and flying out of Ft. Lauderdale instead of Miami on my last leg.
I could have rolled the dice: after not finding any space on American for a date remotely close to the one I needed, I consulted Scott. He told me that American rarely opens up last second award space, but United open up a ton. If I wanted to use my United miles and book in the last week, I could probably have snagged an easy Buenos Aires to Houston to Denver itinerary.
Here’s what Buenos Aires to Denver looks like for this week for instance.
In terms of getting the best deal, this may have been the way to go–simply wait until mid-July and start searching for available space on United. I could have potentially saved 20k miles by flying economy. However, I am extremely risk averse and would prefer to have my flight locked in more than a week or two prior to departure. Plus I really would prefer to use American miles instead of United miles for this trip.
This award is a relatively simple one, but it highlights some good rookie tips too.
If you are searching for a route and keep coming up with zero availability, that does not necessarily mean that you will have to adjust your dates. Use Wikipedia to see where your airline flies to from your origin airport, and then do your search. This often yields hidden space that did not show up before.
Know where to search for each partner. In this case I searched for LAN space at ba.com and American space at aa.com then combined them by calling American.
Don’t forget that you can fly domestic first class on international business awards.
Every airline has different stopover rules on awards. American’s rule allowed a stopover in Miami that I won’t be using, but it’s nice to know the option.
Some airlines open last second space, and some don’t. Even if you think you have the miles to get space at the last minute, you might prefer to lock in your award in advance to save yourself the stress.
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One of the most common reasons why people think frequent flyer miles are worthless is because they had a bad experience with miles expiring. After all the effort put into collecting miles, it would be quite a shame if they expired without taking you on a dream vacation.
If you’ve ever had any of these questions, you are in the right place for answers: How long do you have until your miles expire? What can keep them from expiring? If you close a credit card, do the miles expire? Are the rules the same for all miles and points?
Will closing my co-branded card cause my miles to expire?
Closing a credit card that is co-branded with an airline (such as the Citi AAdvantage card or Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card) will never, by itself, cause your miles to expire. Co-branded credit cards deposit the miles you earn from signup bonuses and spending directly into the account you have with the airline, so they are no longer linked to the credit card. I have a United card. You can see that miles earned with a Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card are transferred to United:
And I confirm that by logging into my United account. So if I ever cancelled that card, the miles would still be safely in my United account.
What will cause my miles to expire?
What does cause miles to expire, however, is a lack of activity in the program account for a specified period of time.
Full details on the expiration policies for some major airlines can be found here:
The danger of mile expiration does often come when you cancel a credit card. If I cancel my Citi AAdvantage card, I am no longer earning American Airlines miles on purchases. I have to make sure that there is some sort of activity–either earning or redeeming–in my AAdvantage account within the next 18 months, or I will lose all my miles.
Luckily keeping your miles from expiring is trivially easy. Any earning or redeeming keeps them active.
How can I keep my miles from expiring?
If you are coming up on the 18 month deadline and need a quick way to keep your miles active, there are a number of things you can do.
What if my miles have already expired?
Hopefully you are reading this before your miles expire. If, however, you let your miles expire, some programs let you buy back the miles you lost for a fee. These reactivation policies vary from program to program.
For example, American Airlines allows you to reactivate any miles that expired dating back to 2002. They charge $200 for up to 50,000 miles, $400 for up to 75,000 miles, and $600 for 75,000+ miles. US Airways allows you to buy back expired miles within 18 months of their expiration. They charge $400 to reinstate 100,000+ miles, $250 to reinstate 50,000-99,999 miles, etc.
In general, buying back your miles is a great deal. I would gladly pay $400 for 100k US Airways miles, which are enough for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe. But, it’s better not to let your miles expire and have to pay the fee.
What about my bank points?
All that was about frequent flyer miles. Bank points are quite different.
Closing a credit card that earns bank points can cost you all of the points in the account. These cards hold the points that you earn in the credit card account–for example, the Ultimate Rewards points that you earn using your Chase Sapphire Preferred card are held in your Chase Sapphire Preferred account. If you were to simply cancel this card, you would lose all the points you worked to accumulate.
Luckily, transferable points are easily transferred to another account within that loyalty program. In order to avoid losing transferable points when you cancel a card, transfer them into another account within that loyalty program before you cancel.
In our example of cancelling a Sapphire Preferred, you would need to transfer your Ultimate Rewards into another account of yours that holds Ultimate Rewards to avoid the points disappearing. You could achieve this by transferring them into your Chase Ink Bold account or your Chase Ink Plus account.
Or, of course, you could transfer the points to one of the airline, hotel, or rail partners, so you could transfer the Sapphire Preferred’s Ultimate Rewards to United before canceling.
Frequent flyer miles do not expire when you close the credit card used to earn them, but they do usually expire after a set number of months of inactivity within that airline’s loyalty program account. In order to avoid your miles expiring, you can keep your account active by doing anything that changes the account balance like redeeming miles, signing up for a dining program, purchasing miles, or donating miles. If you accidentally allow your miles to expire, some airlines allow you to reinstate them for a fee.
Transferable bank points will disappear from your account when you close the credit card used to earn them. In order to avoid losing these points, transfer them to a transfer partner or another account within that bank’s loyalty program before you close the credit card.
Scott asked me to tackle two related questions he gets several times per week by email. Can you transfer your miles between different people’s accounts in one loyalty program? And you can transfer your miles from one airline to another?
When collecting miles, its easy to find yourself in a situation where you have a bunch of miles and points spread over a number of different programs. You might not have enough in one account for the award you want, so you might want to combine miles between programs or between your account and a friend’s in the same program. Can you do it?
Q: Can I transfer my American Airlines miles from my account to someone else’s American Airlines account? (More generally: can I combine miles between two accounts in the same program?)
A: Yes, but there are transfer fees above one cent per mile making this a bad idea.
Sharing or transferring American miles costs you $0.01 per mile, plus a flat $30 transaction processing charge.
Transferring 1,000 miles costs $40 or 4 cents per mile. Transferring 10,000 miles costs $130 or 1.3 cents per mile. Scott values American Airlines miles at 1.77 cents each, so even larger transfers wipe out almost all the value of the miles and should be avoided at all costs.
But let’s look at a workaround, so that you don’t have to transfer miles and incur huge fees.
Example: I want to fly roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30k AA miles in my account, and my brother has 30k AA miles in his. The award costs 30k miles each way (unless you know Scott’s trick to make it 20k miles.)
If my brother were to transfer me the extra 30k miles I need to book this roundtrip award, it would cost $330. Instead, there is an easy way to book this award without incurring the pointless charge. Keep in mind two things:
If you have enough miles, splitting the roundtrip into two oneways booked from separate accounts is an easy way to avoid the transfer fee.
I would simply use my 30k to book a oneway award for the JFK-TXL outbound of my trip…
and I would use my brother’s 30k to book the TXL-JFK return oneway return in my name.
This basic principal can be applied in a number of ways. I recently booked a roundtrip award from EZE-DCA. I booked the outbound leg as a oneway using my American miles, and had someone else book the return leg in my name using his United miles.
Because tickets can be booked in anyone’s name from anyone’s account, you don’t need to transfer miles as often as you might think. That’s good news because American’s price of 1 cent per mile plus a $30 transfer fee is common.
There are two big exceptions of airlines that have bucked the mile transfer fee idea. Anyone who has HawaiianMiles with Hawaiian Airlines can transfer miles, for free, to anyone who holds a Hawaiian Airlines-linked Visa using the airline’s ShareMiles program, as Scott previously discussed. The miles sender doesn’t need to have a Hawaiian Airlines credit or debit card, but the receiver does.
Additionally, you can pool British Airways Avios with members of your household for free, as outlined by The Points Guy, meaning there is no need to transfer them.
Q: Can I transfer my American Airlines AAdvantage miles from my account to my British Airways Avios account? (More generally: can I combine one type of miles with another type?)
A: No. You can not transfer miles/points from one airline’s account to another, even if they are partner airlines. However, partner accounts can be used to book the same flights.
This is a very common question. People think if American and British are partners, maybe they can pool the two types of miles. Unfortunately you can’t pool the miles, but you can have them work together as in the following example.
Example: I want to book the same flights as the last example–roundtrip from New York to Berlin. I have 30,000 American Airlines miles and 30,000 Avios.
I can not transfer my American Airlines miles to my British Airways account or vice versa, but I can use either type to book airberlin flights or any other oneworld partner.
I can use my 30,000 American Airlines miles to book the outbound from New York to Berlin…
and 20,000 of my Avios for the return on airberlin.
You might notice these are the exact same flights as the last example. That’s because we can use American miles or British Airways Avios to fly airberlin, and we can book flights for ourselves from our accounts or someone else’s account.
These two examples illustrate two ways to avoid transfers. Avoiding transfers is key since transferring in the first example would have been a prohibitive $330 and transferring would have been impossible in the second example.
In order to avoid a situation where you have miles spread across a bunch of partner programs, you can simply credit all paid flights to the same partner in the first place. When booking a flight, the default setting will credit the miles you earn to the airline you are booking on. However, there is usually a drop-down list of their partner airlines from which you can select.
If you travel on British Airways for work, but do most of your personal travel on American, you can have the miles you earn on those British Airways flights and the miles you earn on the American Airlines flights all credited to your AAdvantage account. Then you won’t have to worry about having some miles in one account and some in another.
With very few exceptions, you can not transfer miles to another account within the same program without incurring excessive transfer fees. However, you can often avoid these fees by booking flights in the name of the person you were going to transfer your miles to.
Additionally, you can not transfer points across programs–even if they are within the same alliance. However, you can make partner’s miles work together by using two different types of miles on the same airline partner.
Transferable points are the other big solution to the problems raised in this post. Chase Ultimate Rewards, Starpoints, and Membership Rewards keep these problems from arising, and I’ll talk about them soon.
She really wanted the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card because it comes with two free weekend nights at almost any Hilton worldwide. With the recent major devaluation to the Hilton award chart, Hilton points are worth way less, but these two free nights are still two free nights.
Application Link: Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
When her application for the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card was not immediately approved, she did what I always suggest. She called Citi’s reconsideration line immediately. These are the reconsideration line numbers I use.
American Express (866) 314-0237
Barclay’s (866) 408-4064
Chase (PERSONAL) (888) 245-0625
Chase (BUSINESS) (800) 453-9719
Citi (800) 695-5171
US Bank (800) 947-1444
I’ve made several reconsideration calls, and this was Rookie Alli’s third. In our experience, reconsideration calls are painless and a bit of a misnomer. Most of our reconsideration calls happen not when the application is denied, simply when it’s listed as pending.
And most of the time, the agent only asks questions we’ve already answered on the application.
The one thing I always do to prepare for a reconsideration call is to rehearse an answer to the question of why I want the card I’m calling about. The best answers reference the co-branded partner (ie Hilton on the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card), some benefit of card membership besides the sign up bonus, or both.
For this card, Rookie Alli’s answer was going to be: “I want the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card because I travel a lot and am loyal to Hilton, so I want to have a card that has a high earning potential of Hilton points.”
It’s not difficult to formulate a good answer.
But as with many “reconsideration” calls, there were no tough questions and no reconsideration–just a short hold and an approval. Take a look.
Hopefully this video clears up any apprehension you might have about calling the reconsideration lines. Not all calls are this painless, but most are.
If your credit card application is not immediately approved: