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Saturday, October 13, 2012

How I Spent $10 on 2 Plane Tickets 10.13.12

Yes, you read that right. $10! I’ll tell you right off the bat that this isn’t a normal everyday occurrence, or everyone would do it and then the airlines would really go bankrupt. We have paid regular (or sale) price for many airfares and we also use credit cards and other programs to get us more miles when we aren’t flying, so we accrue faster. You can do it, too, but you have to be creative and focused in order to achieve your nearly-free-airfare goal.

Technically, my tickets cost me $88 and some change, because a friend had 5,000 miles in her American Airlines account that were about to expire and she wouldn’t be able to use, so instead of letting them go to waste, I paid her to transfer the miles to my account, since I had less than my husband’s frequent flyer account on Alaska Airlines and they would push me over my mileage goal to get a free flight. Because Alaska and American are codeshare partners (you can use and accumulate miles interchangeably), I decided that we could book two separate fares on the same flight without spending much money out of pocket when the time came. A one-way domestic flight will generally run 12,500 miles and a roundtrip is double that – 25,000 frequent flyer miles.
As you can see above, my miles purchased cost $78.38. I did some research on flight schedules and availability when my trip got closer and I knew the dates I wanted to fly. Being flexible when reserving rewards flights is a must, as they can go quickly and may not have seats free when you want to travel. Lucky for us, we travel during a really awkward time for many – just before the weather gets cold, but a few weeks after the kids have gone back to school – so many seats are usually available if you book 3 months in advance. Most don’t want to pull their kids out of classes they just started, so late September/early October is generally less crowded anywhere we go. It also requires fewer miles to fly on unpopular days like Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Other days can be 35,000 miles for a roundtrip ticket. I always attempt to find flights out on Saturday and back on Saturday, to ensure we have someone to drop us off and pick us up, but Wednesday had a late arriving flight back home and I took it.
Once I found flights to and from LA (more specifically, Santa Ana’s John Wayne Airport, because I loathe LAX), I opened two windows and pulled up American Airlines on one and Alaska Airlines on the other. The flights I found were on Alaska, so when I input my info for American, I asked for codeshare partners and was able to narrow my selections down to just Alaska’s routes. I chose both roundtrip flights and clicked through to the purchase screens, making sure that my seats were still available at that point. To use my frequent flyer miles the processing fee was just $5 for each ticket. A whopping total of $10 for both!
There was the issue of not being able to choose my seat ahead of time on Alaska, because I booked my flight through American, but a quick email to customer service straightened that out quickly and had Eric and I sitting together on both flights. Once we got to the airport, I checked in at the Alaska desk and politely asked if there might be some exit row seats available – they usually wait to assign those at the airport – and was upgraded for free. Woot! Points for getting to the airport early. We had so much more legroom! We weren’t so lucky on the way back, but since I still didn’t have anyone kicking me in the back the whole way home, I had no complaints.

Not all my miles are from flying, as you can see. The majority of them are, but I also gain miles through mileage programs like the invitation-only e-miles.com, trading in “dollars” earned through the e-rewards program where you take surveys to gain credits. I also am able to accumulate Hilton Honors Rewards and then trade them for American Advantage miles. We accrue miles from renting cars at our destinations and using participating ThanksAgain merchants at airports and around town.
On this trip, I earned miles by renting our car from Hertz. They allow you to put in your frequent flyer number to double your rewards. I got twice as lucky, because our trip was during the slow season, so my economy car got upgraded to a moderate size on arrival (I didn’t even ask! Decia at SNA is awesome, by the way). FYI: You can’t be downgraded at the car rental agency, so book the smallest vehicle you can. Much of the time economy cars are gone by the early evening, so if you have one reserved and they don’t have any, they have to give you the next size up they have at the same price. That is what happened to us earlier this year when we went to St. George and ended up going from what would be the size of a Chevy Aveo to a Crown Victoria.

If you have a credit card that gives you miles for every dollar you spend, try to use that as much as possible and then pay off what you spend each month, so you aren’t paying unnecessary interest. These cards generally come with some nice perks, like an up-front bonus of 25,000-50,000 miles when you use your card for so many purchases in the first 3 months, a free checked bag, priority seating or a cheap companion ticket, like the Alaska Airlines card we use. Each year you are entitled to a $99 companion ticket. Since we fly several times a year, these savings can really add up.
Do you have any great tips for gathering more frequent flyer miles or getting upgraded along your trip?

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