Saturday, November 9, 2013

some frequent-flier basics (part four: searching for redemption)

So now that you know your preferred routes to your destination, the going rate most carriers are offering if you pay money for the flight, and the expected cost if you want to redeem miles for it, it's time to log in to the airline's website and start looking at availability. 

Make sure you have all of the necessary personal information handy: all travelers' full names, dates of birth, frequent flier number, passport number and expiration date (for international flights). 

In this example, I'll show Log in with your user name and password, since many of the fees and seat choices will change if you're a member of their program. Select your dates and destinations, make sure to click the Award Travel button, then click Search

Flight availability and pricing is shown for all 3 classes of service – Economy, Business, and First (most domestic flights only have 2 classes whereas international flights tend to have all 3 classes). Direct flights are shown first (both United and Partner flights), followed by flights with stops. If you're lucky, your first choice from your earlier Kayak search is here with Saver availability – just click the "Select" button and move on to the next step!

United award availability

If not, then it's time to start making some decisions. The calendar at the top of the page is color coded to show availability on various dates (NOTE: those colors reflect United availability only – partner availability is not taken into account). Click a different day to see its availability.

As a general rule, Standard Awards are not a good use of your miles, but if you're strapped for cash and there's no saver flights that work you can always use them. Once you've (hopefully) found something acceptable you can afford, select the flights and complete the transaction. The miles are automatically deducted from your account. 

This is probably a good time to go on to a larger topic: what are you miles "worth"?

part 5 >>

  << back to part 3

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