How can you best use your frequent flier miles and hotel points? A cafeteria conversation the other day nudged me back to that subject.
Many trend watchers believe that using miles is going to become increasingly difficult, and you should try to use them asap. There's truth in that: The number of flights is becoming increasingly limited, and getting free seats has never been simple. And many airlines are increasing the number of points required for free travel.
But as someone who has been 'round the world on miles on multiple occasions, I take a cheerier view. Getting free seats on some routes with a limited number of flights and seats is going to be nigh impossible, especially at prime time. But capacity is still strong on many routes -- especially international ones from Miami, and especially in the off-season.
If your plans call for Asia, Europe or Africa in the off-season, if you're willing to plan ahead, if you're willing to be flexible and creative (and persistent) -- I think you'll still be able to use miles on airlines that have strong alliances. You probably won't get the direct flights and easiest routing, but when I'm saving $1,500 per person -- as I did on a recent Europe trip -- hey, I can deal with a little hassle. Here are some tips that I've posted before.
GETTING BEST VALUE
But back to getting the best bang for your points.
The cafeteria conversation was with a woman going to Asia for the first -- and possibly the only time -- in her life. She and her husband had already snagged First Class air seats. Now they were thinking to use points at the upscale Starwood Hotels for their lodging.
I suggested she rethink. The places they're visiting in Southeast Asia offer killer hotel deals. In Bangkok, you often can get a four-plus-star hotel for around $200 per night (the vaunted Mandarin Oriental's basic room costs $289 this fall), and $80 will buy you some place convenient, attractive and stylish on Asiarooms.com. That same level of hotel costs $250 in Europe these days, and if you're aiming for luxury, Europe is going to cost you $600 or more. Economically speaking, she's better off saving her Starwood points for a pricier destination and paying outright for her lodging.
But here's the caveat: For many people, travel is as much about style as the place they're visiting. They'd rather have one fabulously luxurious vacation than several less-grand trips to interesting places.
Travel, after all, is the icing on a cake that sometimes tastes like cardboard. If you can get the vacation you want, why wouldn't you?
Me, I'd rather fly coach and stay in a cheaper place so I can go back, go elsewhere, just go...again and again. The proof: Yesterday I counted up. If you go by the list at Travelers Century Club -- and if my checklist is right -- I've been to 99 countries.
I've got dozens left to go. Coach is just fine by me, and even the 6-foot-4-inch Husband goes to Asia in the back of the bus. Just give him an Ambien, and God love him, the man will fly anywhere.