I don’t write often here about my award booking service, except in passing to explain why I redeem so many darned miles and deal with airline call centers so frequently. For instance, I’ve completed 4 award trips in the past 12 hours for 7 passengers, making 5 separate reservations with Continental (2), United (2), and US Airways.
But just as often as someone comes to me for an award that I book, I explain to them that they don’t need to.
I do get the occasional ‘one passenger, domestic coach’ request and by the time they’d pay my fee I suggest it isn’t worth it any longer… just buy the ticket. My service really is designed for securing premium cabin international travel, the value proposition is just much stronger, than searching for domestic coach awards.
I’m also fortunate that this isn’t my primary occupation, I don’t necessarily take all comers, when someone tells me that they’ve got awards on hold using American AAdvantage but traveling on British Airways and the fuel surcharges and London taxes are high and would like me to find them alternate flights on another carrier that would save them some cash outlay, that it would be worth paying me $250 to do so.. I admit, I’m not really interested. I can’t take on every request, and I work with folks who just aren’t able to get the awards they want on their own, where the value of my service is huge and not just marginally worthwhile. I get real excitement out of making honeymoons and 50th anniversary trips possible, about showing folks that their miles can help them travel in a style they’ve never imagined. While I’m all in favor of saving fuel surcharges that airlines sometimes charge, it’s not what I’m here for.
But mostly turning down business falls into one of two categories:
- When clients should just make a phone call to the airline. When the award is so easy that I feel guilty. Sure, I can do it for them. But I tell them give it one shot to the airline first, and if they don’t get what they want immediately to come back to me. I’ll tell them which airline to call, with which miles, and what to request because it’s widely available across their potential dates. So hopefully I provide them a bit of useful free advice. But why pay me for a simple non-stop that’s available every day and all but the least competent agents will be able to manage (and is usually even bookable online!).
- US to Hawaii in first class for two passengers, from many major cities. And this is what inspired the post this morning. I’ve had folks in Los Angeles, in Seattle, in New York and this morning in Atlanta ask about two first class tickets to Hawaii. They didn’t think their 140,000 Delta miles plus their 80,000 Amex points (in addition to what Amex would let them borrow) would be enough points, based on their call to Delta.
My suggestion to these folks, or really to most folks looking at Hawaii for two?
Get an Alaska Airlines Visa from Bank of America. It comes with a $75 annual fee, and you get an annual $99 companion ticket. It’s the only true free companion ticket I’ve ever seen, I think.. it’s valid from any fare, and valid for any seat on any Alaska aircraft. Buy one first class ticket on Alaska, and the second one is $99 plus tax. That’s a huge value.
The folks this morning were already talking about buying separate tickets for two passengers to Los Angeles, and hoping to get first class awards to Hawaii from there. This would put everything on one ticket, save them all of their miles for a better use later, and even save my fee of course.
There’s a reason that the Alaska Airlines Visa won Best Loyalty Credit Card in the frequent Traveler Awards last month, I think. And it’s not just because you earn Alaska miles, if that’s your interest the Starwood Amex is actually better (because by transferring 20,000 point increments you earn 1.25 Alaska miles per dollar with the Starwood Amex, not just 1). That companion ticket is a benefit worth its weight in electronic gold.
See, sometimes expertise means not charging people. And sometimes coming to me means getting my own idiosyncratic brand of advice. Which is why I always tell folks that I’m happy to do anything I can, if my suggestion doesn’t appeal I’ll work on their request as-is. But I might do things a little differently than they had considered. I make less money because of it.