I wish I could write this clearly. But I have this compulsion to give too much detail, to hedge, to be completely accurate and so I avoid making too many useful generalizations. And I think that limits both my reach and my ability to help people.
The advice he offers is generally sound, and echos what I write here though much more clearly and succinctly than I write it:
- The IdeaWorks study on award availability is flawed
- The best use of airline miles is premium cabin international awards.
- Only top tier elite status really gets you a good flying experience, but having some status can be helpful — the kind of recognition you pretty much get just by signing up for your airline’s co-brand credit card.
- Don’t hoard your miles, don’t buy miles without an immediate use, they may be devalued when revenue-based program changes come.
- Don’t rely on airline websites to give you a good idea of what awards are available. For many partner airlines you have to call. And don’t expect the agent on the other end of the line to give you good information, either. Hang up, call back.
- Hotel programs offer real value.
Joe singles United out as his example of when you need to call and not rely on the airline’s website, though it’s a little bit unfair since United is farther along in having its partners online than any of its US competitors. United’s website is actually decent for award booking compared to American and especially Delta (broken pricing engine, few partners) and US Airways (no partners at all).
And while Joe gives a recent Hyatt stay as an example of value, he doesn’t really distinguish between the different programs in his piece — different hotel programs provide wildly different value in terms of free night redemptions, and for upgrades as well as breakfast.
Finally, Joe’s advice on how to hedge against program devaluations is also great advice for having the points you need to get the awards you want — flexible points that transfer to a variety of mileage programs. Joe names Chase Ultimate Rewards, and that’s probably my favorite, but I prefer to diversify even there too so as not to be at the mercy of an individual issuer. Hence I like both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints as well.
I do wish I could write this clearly…