Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Insider Tips: Take With A Grain Of Salt

Travel writers often offer useful and interesting information. Some of them are on shakier ground when they offer supposedly expert tips in regard to frequent flyer programs.

We just ran across an example of this, a USA Today column enticingly titled Frequent flier tips that only the pros know.

Here are three examples of seven tips offered, along with a couple of comments:

"Getting into business class lounges even if you're in economy class"

The columnist points out that if you're a member of one airline's lounge program, you have access to an affiliate airline lounge when traveling abroad. What doesn't he point out? You have to be about to travel on the ongoing flight of an airline that is a member of the same global alliance, e.g. Star Alliance.

"Getting elite status"

"But did you know that most airlines award elite status for life upon reaching the one million miles flown mark?"

Well, yes we did know that, and we've just accomplished it. Still, it strikes us that long before we'd flown that million miles we were well aware of that. Thanks though, for telling something we only learned 700,000 miles ago.

"Getting elite status faster"

"There are easier ways to achieve alliance-wide status if you are willing to collect miles in foreign programs. Aegean Airlines, for example, awards Star Alliance Gold elite status at a much lower threshold than many of its alliance partners..."

Yes, there are such possibilities. For example, we've known for years that we could have earned Star Gold status annually on Air Canada by flying only 35,000 miles rather than the 50,000 required by United, and assigning our Star Alliance miles to Air Canada.

On the other hand, if we'd done that we wouldn't have earned Million Mile status on United.

To be fair, there's useful information in this column. As usual, it's usually worth checking a couple of sources before flying that million miles or storming foreign airline lounges.

By the way, the funniest "tip" we've recently spotted was in the August 2009 issue of Consumer Reports. In a sidebar article, "When bargaining pays off," their "nationally representative survey" reports that 23% of respondents tried to negotiate cheaper airline fares. Of those, 78% claimed to be successful.

Oh yeah! Maybe we can get our own little bidding war going between United and Lufthansa.

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