Consultants help turn frequent flier awards into tickets — for a price

Christine Ballentine is a loyal US Airways customer, and she’s been saving up her frequent-flier miles for a trip to France this summer. But turning them into a ticket hasn’t been easy.

“US Airways is telling me that they have flights into Nice but no flights to get me home,” says Ballentine, a legal secretary in Philadelphia. “It’s very frustrating. It’s like a part-time job, trying to figure out your options.”

Actually, it’s closer to a full-time job.

Ballentine is one of many air travelers who are irked by their inability to do what airlines promised they could when they signed up for their frequent-flier programs: redeem their miles for free airline tickets. Now, many are turning to professional consultants to help them navigate the odd and confusing world of travel loyalty programs.

“Awards seats are definitely scarcer,” says Brian Kelly, who operates “And with over 17 trillion — yes, trillion — loyalty points out there, including frequent-flier miles, hotel points and credit card points, this sector of the travel industry has definitely grown.”

Several recent surveys show why demand for these services is high. A 2011 study by the market research firm Colloquy found that Americans accumulate an astounding $48 billion in rewards points and travel miles but fail to redeem at least one-third of them. And a study by IdeaWorks the year before noted that award redemption rates for airline tickets are low. It singled out US Airways as the stingiest airline: Only 4 percent of its traffic came from frequent-flier awards, compared with 14 percent for market-leading Southwest Airlines. (US Airways’ redemption numbers were unchanged in its latest annual report.)

The problems aren’t unique to US Airways, of course. Ed Holdren and his wife are trying to fly from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Honolulu this fall using their United Airlines frequent-flier miles. “The only seats available during a five-day window are on flights that first fly to San Francisco, 400 miles north of us, and then fly to Los Angeles, 100 miles south of us — and then to Hawaii,” he says. “I asked the ticketing person, who by the way was in the Philippines, if she had any idea about the geography of California. She was clueless.”

Ryan Lile runs the Savvy Traveler, a Los Angeles-based company that helps frequent travelers turn their points into tickets. He charges clients $75 an hour for services that also include travel management, advice on accumulating rewards and general travel tips. “Mileage programs have become increasingly complex in terms of redemption possibilities,” he says.

Janae Bourgeois, an executive assistant to the chairman of a nonprofit organization based in Baton Rouge, La., hired Lile to make the most of her boss’s award portfolio. For example, between January and February, the chairman took four trips and wanted to keep costs down by using points to pay for some of them. To arrange that herself, Bourgeois says, she’d need to be a student of airline award programs, learning the rules, spending hours searching for available seats and knowing the ins and outs of airline alliances.

“Ryan helps us with this because he’s familiar with the average cost of a particular international route, and he also understands the value of miles much better than we do,” Bourgeois says.

Lile’s accomplishments include scoring rare Singapore Airlines first-class tickets using award miles, finding impossible-to-book seats on Air New Zealand’s Los Angeles-to-London route and maneuvering his way around obscure rules restricting United Airlines frequent fliers from booking seats with certain airline alliance partners.

It’s about as difficult to determine the size of this fledgling consulting business as it is to redeem miles for a Christmas Eve flight to Hawaii. In other words, it’s practically impossible.

Airlines don’t track the number of awards redeemed through consultants such as Lile. Kelly, who’s a former consultant, predicts that more frequent fliers will hire mileage experts as the economy rebounds. “Many of the bookers I know are already at capacity,” he says.

I admire the gurus who memorize every program rule and know where the free tickets can be found. That’s insider knowledge worth paying for. Many travelers agree, preferring to spend several hundred dollars per ticket for a consultant rather than pay the fare.

But not all do. Dotti Cahill, a Jacksonville, Fla., nurse, couldn’t find a business-class ticket from San Francisco to Bangkok using her miles, so she turned to a consultant who quoted her a rate of $375 per ticket. “Too expensive,” she says.

My problem is with the airlines. That these points are hard to redeem, a long-standing reality of air travel, is bad enough. That some airlines now charge fees and taxes on top of that is offensive to some loyal air travelers, who expect a “free” award ticket to actually be, you know,  free.

When Dan Zacharia tried to cash in 100,000 miles to book a round-trip business-class ticket to Europe on Air France, for example, the airline said that it would happily take his miles. But there was a little matter of taxes and other “surcharges” that would set him back $900. For about the same amount, Zacharia could buy an economy-class ticket on his desired flight.

“I understand that I may have to pay some taxes, but it shouldn’t come to $900,” says the college professor from Syracuse, N.Y. He sent an e-mail to Air France, which responded that taxes apply to all tickets. No exceptions.

Frequent-flier programs shouldn’t be this complicated. It’s yet another reason to think twice before pledging your loyalty to any airline.

(Photo: jonathanpercy/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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    For me it is a question of value. 100,000 points + tax to Europe vs $3-5,000 for a business class ticket?

    Yes it takes work. Yes you have to be flexible to get seats. Yes you some times must fly crazy routes to get from A-B as you point out. But if you are in 1st class for 10, 20 or 30% of the cost of the ticket is it not worth it? It is to me!

  • Alan Gore

    this kind of service is logically a travel agency function. As loyalty programs get more complex (I have to keep track of loyalty points to buy gasoline now), competition will cause travel agents to offer the service.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I agree that cashing in frequent flyer points can be frustrating. But for me, at least, hours on the phone with agents, is kind of a perverse kind of fun. I enjoy the planning phase. I recently used points for an around the world ticket. Between finding availability and changing my itinerary, it took some really knowledgeable agents to help me out. Some are friendlier than others and don’t mind spending an hour to help a traveler fulfill a dream… But I did my homework, downloaded flight schedules and did as much as I possibly could on my own before calling up. That being said, some info is just not available to the average consumer. I could’ve used BA or Cathay for a Hong Kong to London leg. Turns out the tax on Cathay was $100 less and the agent picked up on that. Kudos to One World and American Airlines!

  • TonyA_says

    Unfortunately, the airlines can make it harder and harder for us to see seat availability of AWARD booking classes.
    All they have to do is hide these booking classes from GDS. IMO the only reason they are still visible (for some airlines) is because their PARTNER sites rely on GDS to work. They can easily figure out a way to shut this down. Bye bye to the services listed by Chris above.

  • JessicaJ

    Although it can be difficult, with a little effort, a little time, and a few brain cells, you can search for yourself no problem. Just spend an hour or two reading on or (or other websites) and there are plenty of threads to help you.

  • $16635417

    I recall a couple of sites a few years ago where you could pay a company to check you in 24 hours before your Southwest flight…guaranteeing you an “A” boarding pass.

    Southwest basically squashed that model with their Early Bird check in fee. Once the airlines figure out a way to squash this model too, you can be assured they will.

  • LizbetDupont

    I just booked frequent flyer tickets with USAIR to Australia leaving in three days on exactly the dates I wanted.  I started on it last week but didn’t ticket due to indecision so just rebooked – same flights.
    I’ve been using USAIR for many years and always get what I want
    HOWEVER it’s prohibitive now that the reinstatement fee is no longer just $5 and now the window is 21 days or penalty within that time, which is okay on international but not worth it on domestic.
    I also help clients find seats frequently.

  • LizbetDupont

    Do you notice that BA’s taxes and fees can be more than twice anybody else’s on the same routes?

  • $16635417

    I agree, I would probably attempt it myself first. As with the flyertalk and airliners crowd, and regular contributors here, I feel I have a bit more knowledge in this area than the average Joe.

    But this could apply to anything in your daily life. I could also study up on the tax code and do my own taxes, but I choose to take them to a professional.

    I can’t help but remember a quote from the movie Tommy Boy. I can get a good look at a T-Bone by sticking my head up a bull’s (blank) or I can take the butcher’s word for it! 

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yeah, saw that. Have never flown them before. Too bad about Malev going out of business as well. Overall, taxes for my RTW ticket were only about $350+, so I’m a happy proponent of frequent flyer miles when you can get them without spending too much money…

  • Miami510

    As a business person there is something counterintuitive about treating your best customers in a shabby way.  Usually best customers are wined and dined and shown every courtesy to encourage more of their business and keep them from doing business with your competition.
    The airlines put roadblocks in the way of enjoying that which they’ve promised to their best customers… and they do some of it in a secretive way: 
    “Those dates have been blocked”
    “Those miles have expired.”
    “We’re not upping the required miles necessary for that trip.”
    “The seats we’ve allotted for frequent flyers have been filled…
      and we don’t tell you how many seats were allotted.”
    “The flights leaving at 9:00 to 11:00 AM have no frequent flyer
      Allotments… I do have one at 5:45 AM”
    In short, they want to make their best customers fly at the least attractive times and only when they have seats they do not expect to sell.
    They also make the entire procedure of redeeming miles so opaque, that specialists are needed to get flyers that which they are entitled to.  That’s wrong.
    If I treated my customers that way, I wouldn’t last a year.

  • Asiansm Dan

    I am very surprise by this article because USAir is a Star Alliance member. Being Aeroplan FF I don’t have any problem to find an award ticket, any class (First Class is harder, but still available except no First Class for inter-Europe and Business Class is a joke in Europe).
    I am not a fan of USAir but the plus of USAir Award is USAir don’t have Fuel Surcharges so you pay only Airport taxes for Europe. 
    The problem of USAir availability may be on the yield management of it own USAir award stock and reservation system unable to combine Star Alliance Award Stock and US Air award Stock.
    I sugget the OP go on (you don’t have to be a member of Aeroplan) to see the Award availabilities and do all the simulations and come back to USAir to help the reservation agent for your award booking. When you talking with the reservation agent and you know the award avaibilities, it help a lot and the agent give you more credit.
    Develop some skill, for example, sometimes I cannot book Montreal-Honolulu directly but I find Montreal-Vancouver and Vancouver-Honolulu with a longer connecting time for the same day.

  • TonyA_says

    These services are essentially doing the same thing. They use ExpertFlyer or KVSTool to lookup the award booking class seat availability for others because people are too lazy to call the airline award desk themselves.

  • scapel

    I voted with the majority this time. My last Delta FF booking was just under a year and I haven’t flown it yet. I had to pay $75 to buy some points to make enough for a 1st class ticket but I have used all the FF miles. I don’t fly enough to build up a lot of points so it is easy to spend them all at once. Delta told me they open only a certain number of seats for FF and start 364 days before the flight. I think they fill up fast and then they are closed until close to the flight and then may open up again close to the flight depending on how booked the flights are. Last minute use of FF points might be used to upgrade from Economy to 1st if available. If in economy usually it is a discounted ticket, but one needs to pay the added fee to upgrade to a regular economy flight to be eligible for the upgrade. This can be done once the agent says that a 1st class upgrade is available. You don’t have to be holding the regular priced economy ticket all the time.

  • TonyA_says

    “The only seats available during a five-day window are on flights that
    first fly to San Francisco, 400 miles north of us, and then fly to Los
    Angeles, 100 miles south of us — and then to Hawaii,” he says. “I asked
    the ticketing person, who by the way was in the Philippines, if she had
    any idea about the geography of California.

    Hey Genius, haven’t you heard of Booking Class Codes and Seat Availability? Geography has nothing to do with it.

    Even with people who PAY for tickets are routed in weird ways just to save money. The cheapest route is not always the direct route.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    W/O reading any of the comments here, I think this is a business whose time has come.  

    People are working more hours for less money, doing the job of two or three people and the airlines like to keep us all on the phone for hours on end dealing with their minutiae.  (And the airlines aren’t the only ones – USAA is one of the WORST for keeping people on the phone as though our whole world revolves around those precious calls to their company – we finally terminated our relationship with them after 15 years)

    For so long as someone is willing to take care of something like this for me, so long as I can afford it, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  I work from home and if I’m on the phone dealing with personal business, I’m losing money.  My husband works in an office and, though he’s salaried, if he’s talking on the phone with an airline he’s not at his desk and has to stay late.  He simply can’t spend the time away from his desk to deal with something like this.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Tony, you’re usually one of the nicest people on here.  I DO have a genius IQ and I don’t know I wouldn’t have had the same reaction as the OP.  Geography DOES matter, sometimes.  Does that make me a “genius”, too?

  • TonyA_says

    Nancy, because in the Airline “World”, you are limited to finding a seat in a particular booking class code and the person helping you [in the Philippines maybe] needs to find availability for that class on flights for the day you want to travel AND is MINIMIZING elapsed time unless that person is constrained by routing via specific airports or maximum permitted mileage rules.

    The person in the Philippines DOES NOT have to know geography because the GDS will display ELAPSED TIME. All they have to do is pick the shortest time (and the least possible connections).

    The reason I was sarcastic was because the OP was also sarcastic.

    ADDED: For the OP’s particular route SBA – LAX – Hawaii, US Air Awards has to use UA metal so who knows if there were no seats on SBA-LAX but there were seats on SBA-SFO-LAX for the AWARD Booking Class? I always want to tell people this – if you are SMARTER than the call center agent who you are calling for help, then just do it yourself. Otherwise you take what is there.

    Correction: The OP was using UA Awards not US Air. So he will be in UA metal regardless.

  • William

    While scoring FF tickets to high demand destinations can be tough one of the keys I found out was you need to be flexible with your travel plans. I recently book Star Alliance flights to Europe in business class for September through CO. I researched the flights and even though i had to pay for call center help I got the flights I wanted. R/T 100,000 miles per person plus $ 360 fees per ticket. Not bad for flying business. The trick was being flexible

  • JessicaJ

     Considering that miles are ‘extra’ (you buy a ticket from A to B and get miles for free after that) and the rules are laid out pretty clearly, it’s hard to argue that they are really cheating customers. Also, airlines reward their best customers with elite status and all the perks with that.
    It only seems opaque because you haven’t done the research – a little searching on airline websites and other websites/forums and it’s easy to find lots of free advice and help, if you think it’s worth your time.

  • JessicaJ

     Very true. It does come down to what you feel your time is worth. But here, (imo) it’s not hard to learn the basics, and once you know them it’s pretty painless.

  • TonyA_says

    Nancy, one more thing. Maybe it’s better if the airlines hire these Americans …

  • bodega3

    This is something that I have been doing for clients for many, many years.

  • TonyA_says

    We have called AA and Delta to claim awards. I agree with you it is not that difficult. In fact it was easy. We don’t fly UA but I heard their system is even better. As someone else said below, you just have to be flexible. I really have no clue what the expectation of other people are when they travel with POINTS.

  • S363

    I recently flew Denver-Bangkok round trip using UA/CO miles.  I booked several months in advance and had some flexibility so it wasn’t hard.  Because I’d never been around the world, I went DEN-IAD-LHR-BKK then BKK-NRT-SFO-DEN, using several partner flights.  Strangely, the airline rules prohibit booking an around the world round trip, but one can book two one-ways for the same miles.  I enjoyed the quality of All Nippon and especially Thai Air (the 11 hr LHR-BKK segment) and wish our domestic airlines were as nice.

    I’ve also booked tix with AA miles from DEN to Grand Cayman this week and Grenada in June.  I did those many months ahead and again it was not much problem.  I think a key is to book far in advance, though I know many folks can’t or won’t do that.

  • MJonTravel

    Washington to Rome booked in First Class, Barcelona to Washington in Business. All booked with miles. Didn’t have to pay anyone to do it for me. Did have to do a tiny bit of homework. These programs can be useful but it can take some flexibility and homework on your part.

  • TonyA_says

    The airlines put roadblocks in the way of enjoying that which they’ve promised to their best customers.

    So why do so many people go for the points loyalty BS? Because for some, it’s worth it, even with all the games the airlines are playing.

    My grocery also gives away points when I shop there. I could get a free turkey for Thanksgiving, or cheap gas at a nearby Shell station on a specific day of the week only. Been shopping there for almost 20 years and my points are probably sky high.  But I have no time to go to that gas station on that particular day and no time to pick up the turkey. This year I will take all my points and buy as many canned goods and let my 12 yr. old son take them to the food bank where he volunteers to serve meals each week.

    You got to do what you got to do with these points. I just opened my Costco statement this Feb and found a check. That’s easy – instant rewards. Just go to Costco and shop more. Same with Amazon. Some are easy, some not so easy. Airlines is a tough business so that’s why their points have more smoke and mirrors.

  • TonyA_says

    Yup, sounds like a “scam” to me. $375 consultation fee for a SFO-BKK Award ticket? Oh boy, I can see someone come to Chris asking to mediate to get their money back.

  • Natural born woman on the Land

    This has been a SCAM from the get/go…and I was clued in long ago.  They the siopathic politicians…up front..and they do not deliver….simple…

  • ClareClare

    The only time I ever had enough points for a free trip, they were with Delta.  I wanted to fly IAD to Lisbon in May, with somewhat flexible dates.  A truly heroic rep worked with me for about 40 minutes to find both outbound and inbound flights, and finally managed an itinerary on AirFrance through Paris (CDG–ugh, but w/ a long enough layover it turned out okay, they didn’t even lose my bags!).  I had to buy a few more miles and pay the taxes–total about $150.  Normally that ticket for that time of year would have cost me at least $1000.  I realize that Delta has many, many flaws, but my hat’s off to them for the way they handled that for me.  This was three years ago; wonder if they’ve changed? 

  • DavidYoung2

    Exactly – You pay an accountant for tax advice even though you CAN do it yourself. 

    If you use miles but once or twice a year, and it’s for a big ticket item, hire a pro.  It’s not worth learning all the ropes for something you might use once a year.

    I just used 600,000 Skymiles for 3 r/t business tickets from LAX to AMS in April. I’m gonna call and see if they can do better (even after paying the redeposit fee.) Thanks again for the tip Elliott!

  • JPainis

    It really is just how much you value your time, your money, and your points. It seems that there are actually two things going on here –  consumers complaining about award availability and prices, and whether or not getting help is worth it.
    Complain all you want about the programs themselves, but in the end they are a bonus, not the main goal of airline tickets or airlines themselves. On some airlines (Delta comes to mind) you can get any seat that is available, although you will just have to pay more miles for it – how much do you value your miles? (I once got a domestic RT in economy for 50,000 miles. Do I feel cheated? No. I knew what I was getting into and a paid ticket would have been over $1300)

  • Crissy

    I said yes, depending on what I was trying to do (a business/first class ticket to Australia – Yes!).  

    I could pour through the rules, but my time is worth money too.  I don’t earn enough miles to make that investment in learning how to redeem, so it’s worth it to pay for someone else to do the leg work for me.  

    Should it be so complicated?  No, but the bigger and more vast airlines are the more they need rules and structure.  And, if they didn’t limit the number of people on a flight that had used miles, then they might start losing money.  So, while I agree that it’s too complex, I do understand the position of the airlines.

  • Asiansm Dan

    BA fuel surcharge, extra fees,  taxes are the worst in the industry adding to the highest Airport fee of UK. You should never take a reward Ba ticket with a transit in UK. Sometimes buy a ticket to Europe without passing by UK cost less than a BA award ticket with a transit in LHR.
    Now I use BA miles for AA in America/Canada or CX inter-Asia. Bye bye UK and Europe with BA.
    If any of you having to transit by LHR recently, it’s a horror story for economy passenger, I had a FAST TRACK card and it take almost 1 hour. CDG is another national embarrassment. Transiting in FRA, MUC, ZRH take always less than 30 mn.

  • TonyA_says

    David, but you did a bang-up job already. 600K miles for 3 people in Business Class to Europe R/T is 100K per person each way. That is the standard award mileage for BUS class. You don’t need to pay anyone else since they can’t do a better job than what you already did. You probably can also do your own taxes by 15APR with Turbo Tax.

  • rockyteddy

    I thought I had a “free” r/t ticket to Providence, RI.  Southwest said I did.  However, when my travel agent went to book it, they said I didn’t have enough points.  I ended up paying $50 for 1000 points so I could have my free ticket–had a few points left over. 

  • TonyA_says

    Remember Crissy, that these “consultants” will not necessarily BOOK (or RESERVE) the seats for you. I doubt they are appointed by airlines. You still have to call the airlines award desk (or go online) to do it yourself. At least this is my understanding of consulting and advising.

  • Jen Armstrong

     Hiring someone to check you in on Southwest…how lazy can one get?! I wish I would’ve gotten in on it though. I could’ve made some very easy money!

  • Stuart Falk

    I have – with great success – retained Ben Schlappig, whose blog, “One Mile At A Time’ is highly respected among frequent flyers and travel industry professionals to book my frequent flyer award tickets, particularly for international First and Business Class awards. He has ferreted out options I would never have found on my own (and I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert) and I can highly recommend Ben’s services.

    Here’s a link to his blog:

    And here’s a direct link to his frequent flyer miles booking service:

  • $16635417

    I took a call in my travel agent days from someone who wanted to go LAX – SEA. I quoted the non-stops and then, as an alternative, Reno Air (one-stop via Reno, of course) for about 1/3 the cost of everyone else.

    I was called an idiot for “not knowing geography” and chastised by the customer for even quoting such a round about routing. I tried to explain that if you went to a map and drew a line from Los Angeles to Seattle it would pass over Reno. Mr. Smarty wanted to know if “I ever heard of thing called the Pacific Ocean, because LAX and SEA are both on it and Reno is in the mountains.” (Of course, SEA is not…but I digress.)

    I apologized for “my mistake” and asked for him to please not consider the Reno Air option and only consider the more expensive ones. He said he would think about it and call back. I later checked for PNRs with his name….and sure enough he got another agent and booked the Reno Air option.

    So even to those that CLAIM to know geography, it does not matter…but price does!

  • TonyA_says

    You can’t believe how many similar calls we get. “Why am I passing (connecting) there, isn’t that out of the way? Just book it.” They know it all, until they see something cheaper. Unbelievable.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    And, best of all, most of them can and do vote.

  • Steve_in_WI

    Regarding the $900 in taxes/surcharges for the Air France flight: I’d be interested to see a breakdown of how much of that is a fee that Air France charges vs. how much is a tax charged by some other entity. I have a hard time blaming the airline for passing along the cost of taxes on a reward ticket. Besides, the fact that he could buy a coach ticket for about $900 just illustrates the fact that he *is* getting value for his miles – a business-class ticket is presumably several thousand dollars, so using miles to fly business class at a coach price doesn’t sound too bad to me.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    But Mike, that’s someone who’s being an ass for the sake of being an ass.  I’d have taken the Reno option right out of the gate for a completely different reason: it’s an airport I’d never been to.

    My husband and I both travel a great deal.  Since our son was very young, we’ve had a tradition of getting him a t-shirt whenever we go to a new airport.  This kid has two drawers full of these shirts and refuses to get rid of any of them, even the ones he’s outgrown, because of the sentimental value he places on them.

    I’d have taken Reno in a New York minute! ;-)

  • IGoEverywhere

    People that use frequent flier milage are sheep following the sheppherd. It is a broken system. I am looking at $7000.00+ in cash rebates, and I can afford to buy the tickets instead of crying about double and triple changes. I donate the milage and deduct it on my taxes. Try to get a 25000 mile ticket to Seattle this summer, I bought them with cash rebates and never worried about a thing. I will upgrade to 1st class on the day before the trip for 140.00 dollars and be comfortable. Cry away you milage freeks.

  • TonyA_says

    The $900 or so has a huge portion in fuel surcharges that are collected on AWARD tickets. To illustrate a typical Air France Business class PAID ticket will cost $5,318. 30

    USD ADT01      4289.00         1029.30           5318.30

    If this was an AWARD ticket the base fare will be FREE but the TX/FEE will not all disappear.

    Here is the breakdown of the TX/FEE:
     TX 5.50YC 7.00XY 33.40US 5.00XA 2.50AY 27.00FR 52.90IZ 35.50QX  856.00YQ 4.50XF

    $856 (YQ) of the $1029.30 is a fuel surcharge that goes to the pocket of Air France.

    Did this answer your question?

  • Steve_in_WI

    Yes, thank you. So it sounds like while Mr. Zacharia sort of has a point that he’s being charged a fuel surcharge on his award ticket, he’s still saving at least $4,000 on a business class ticket. 100k miles for $4,000 sounds like a pretty darn good exchange rate to me.

  • TonyA_says

    It’s 100k miles EACH WAY for Skyteam to Europe on Business Class, I believe.

  • Joe Farrell

    I just managed to coordinate a free trip in June using the minimum amount of miles on two programs on separate airlines for three people so = at least in theory – we arrive within minutes of each other at the same airport and then depart again and then arrive again within 2 minutes according to schedule.  I doubt seriously the schedules will keep – but hey – and it took going back to the site over and over again.  I rather suspected that they would free up some seats on Oscar night since so few people would be online – it makes it ez for the airlines to say they have seat availability – I bet if I checked during the Super Bowl it would have been lots of availability.

    The lowest airfares were in the $475-$550 dollar range – so for the 3 tickets we saved $1500. . . .with the increase in air fares the last year, and the lowered availability, the old decision of paying $300 for a ticket or using miles is gone now – it definitely is worth it to use the miles. 

    It does take some time – and we could not stay as long as we wanted – and the connection times are extreme – 4 hours in our case – but its worth the effort – you waste a full day flying east anyway – so it killing the day traveling is gonna happen regardless – the evening flights get us home late on a Friday into LA instead of Sat – we only lose 12 hours time with friends – keep trying – and try on days that there is ALOT going on –

  • Benjamin Gray

    This is really an eye opener, most of the times redeeming frequent flyer points and mileage is such a burden, however, with the help of reputable experts like your trusted travel agents will really make a difference. With travel cost soaring high, I believe the value there is  being able to focus more on the tasks ahead of you, may it be a getaway or a business trip, instead of worrying about almost anything in doing it on your own, least to say you get to relax since you know you got a much better deal and your consultant have already done the planning for you and have mapped up your trip.

  • Lindabator

    Did you see the Twilight movies?  The mom took old t-shirts and made a bedspread out of them – cool way to remember all the fun sites!

  • Jasper Nijdam

    You should never assume that something you get for free has any value. I never book or buy anything considering the points or other rewards. I just buy what I need. I do collect all possible miles, rewards and points, but under the assumption that they will return me much less value than promised. I never count on getting anything for free. Whenever I do manage to get something for free, I consider it ‘good luck’, not receipt of something I was owed.

    I consider it incredibly naive to think that you’ll actually get what you were promised for free.

    But, please consider it my special, personal gift to you that I offer you a free 15 minute walk in the sun (a priceless value!) as a thank you for reading my comment ;-P

  • Dick Jordan

    I’ve actually been pretty lucky redeeming my United miles and Alaska Airlines miles for “free” (except for those pesky fees and taxes) seats, including ones for myself and my wife in First and Business Class on international flights.

    However, as another reader suggested, giving travel agents the capability of finding free seats and handling the mileage redemption for the customer seems quite logical.

  • judyserienagy

    I might, things are getting pretty complicated out there for upgrades.  I was a Continental person forever and knew that system well, but the new United will require a whole new learning curve.  I might need some professional help to book a trip to Australia September 2013.

  • Red Guevarra

    OMG you guys, really? Because on Alaska miles, Business to CDG or AMS only 62.5K per way on AF or KLM metal, off peak. And coach is only 20K per way on AA metal, off peak.

    Alaska’s my favorite program of all.

  • Red Guevarra

    I do this already (I’m a mileage portfolio manager). And I specialize in retroactive earning.

  • Red Guevarra

    Then you’ll love redeeming Alaska miles! You can customize your one-ways so that you get all these crazy routes, usually on AA aircraft! Which I love, of course.

  • Red Guevarra

    Funny! Have they not heard of the cell phone alarm/calendar?

  • M.E.W.

    I hear and see the frustration from travelers about these kinds of issues all the time. But Dr. Zacharia, well, he’s one of my favorite people on earth, and had I ever been aware that he was having any issues with air travel of any kind, in a heart beat I would have handed him his very own, completely free, no strings, First Class ticket to Paris or anywhere else he is heading. The offer stands.