Two Simple Ways To Earn Miles/Status From Award Bookings

Image credit: Larry Johnson on Flickr

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to toss a quick tip out there during holiday travel season. As you probably know, when you use miles/points to book a flight ticket, you don’t earn any Elite/Premium/Status/Redeemable Miles. There used to be frequent flyer programs that would give lifetime mileage credit for award travel, but none of the big programs today do that. There are two ways around this: credit card portals and IRROPS.

Credit Card Portals

One is to use credit card points to “purchase” a flight from the travel portal. For example, let’s say a United flight is bookable round-trip within the US for $350. If you use United miles to book the trip, you’ll need 25K miles at the saver level, and you won’t earn any status/points for it. If you use the Chase travel portal and have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, then you can book the same flight at 1.5 cents per point (cpp), or ~23.3K Chase points. So this is better value than transferring Chase to United, which would cost 25K miles. BUT, you also will earn elite miles and redeemable miles on this ticket based on your status. As a basic United member, you’d earn 5X the fare excluding taxes in redeemable miles, and as a United 1K you’d earn 11X the fare excl. taxes. So a $350 ticket could get you ~3,850 UA miles when booking through Chase, making your net cost 23.3 – 3.85 = ~19.5K miles. And you earn premier miles to keep your status!

This’ll work with the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal, Amex Travel Portal, and the Citi ThankYou Portal among others. Generally speaking, portals can be a good value for credit card points if booking economy travel. At the business/first class levels, you will probably be using many more points from a credit card program than you would be from a frequent flyer program. And credit card points are more flexible/valuable than airline miles because you can transfer credit card points to various hotel/flight programs, whereas airline miles get their best value from booking on that airline and its partners.

Lastly, make sure you have the right cards to maximize here. Amex points are generally 1cpp for travel unless you have the Amex Business Platinum which gives 35% back, bringing their value up to 1.5cpp. Chase is 1.25cpp with the Chase Sapphire Preferred but goes up to 1.5cpp with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you have the Citi Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier, you can redeem your Citi ThankYou Points (TYP) at a fixed rate of 1.25cpp towards travel on thankyou.com; if you have the Citi ThankYou Preferred, you can redeem your TYP at a fixed rate of 1cpp for travel booked on thankyou.com.

These aren’t the highest cpp’s compared to redeeming frequent flyer miles for premium cabin travel, but you should compare it to your willingness to pay. If you book a $300 flight with 20K miles or a $4000 flight with 120K miles, the latter is a “better redemption” at 3.33cpp, but if you wouldn’t have paid more than $1800 for that flight, then your real cpp is pretty similar at 1.5cpp.

IRROPS

This one is definitely a “travel hack”. IRROPS stands for “Irregular Operations,” and this term refers to the times when flights are delayed/cancelled. The airline has to figure out what to do with you. Usually they will rebook you on a different flight later that day, but if it’s a red-eye they will usually give hotel and food vouchers and fly you out the next day and they generally offer some cash/flight compensation as well.

There’s also a difference between IDB (involuntarily denied boarding) and VDB (voluntarily denied boarding). IDB means the airline doesn’t let you board and rebooks you. VDB means the airline asks for volunteers to take a different flight. In VDB, you have to manually inform the airline that you’d like to volunteer. Usually this involves the information mentioned above (food/hotel, cash compensation). The cash can be $300-$500 in most cases, and is often in the form of flight vouchers that last for a year, but these offers can go in the thousands during busy travel times. Delta also gives out Amex gift cards sometimes instead of flight vouchers, which are fantastic since that’s basically cash! And if you’re leaving out of Europe, depending on the length of delay and reason for cancellation you may be entitled to additional compensation from EC 261 rules. That’s a longer post for another day but that can also add hundreds of euros in compensation.

So that’s nice and all, but there’s a hidden perk. What if you’re traveling on an award ticket and you get IDB’d/VDB’d? As far as anyone is concerned, you’re a regular passenger so you get delay compensation depending on how the airline’s feeling, and you’ll get rebooked on another ticket. This is *supposed* to preserve fare class i.e. you stay in an award bucket, but often times this means that you get booked in a revenue booking class. That means you earn points and miles for the trip! I’ve had this happen to me personally:

  • FRA-LHR in Lufthansa business class (part of a First class award). They had to re-route flights due to weather and my flight was canceled, so I was booked on FRA-ZRH-LCY, which was also canceled, so I got put on ZRH-MUC-LHR. This was on a LH F redemption ex-US so I got to visit all the first class lounges, but the FRA-ZRH-MUC-LHR segments all got booked into a full J fare class, so I earned miles for all those segments.
  • SFO-NYC on Virgin America (economy award). In this case, they asked for volunteers and I immediately signed-up. This was a red-eye flights so I was offered an overnight hotel, food voucher, $500 travel certificate, and a first class seat for the flight next morning! Sounds like an awesome deal as I was in no rush. They did something to hold my current seat but also book me on the next flight. At boarding time they said I didn’t need to bump after all, so I would keep my current seat and wouldn’t get anything. But, later on I saw that I earned elite and redeemable miles for this journey, which means I had gone from an award class to a revenue class on my flight just by volunteering – I didn’t even have to take a different flight!

The holiday periods are a very busy travel time where the airlines are especially likely to ask for volunteers for bumps, and IRROPS are higher due to snow/inclement weather conditions. If you’re flexible and/or traveling on an award ticket, this is a great time to go for a bump and earn miles on the ticket as well as get the other benefits of the bump.

Happy holidays!


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