Frequent Flyer Points

The currency of savvy travellers

Frequent Flyer Points are almost a currency of their own. What you have to understand is the “exchange rate”. 100,000 American Express points can be converted to $1,000 voucher at a department store. Or you can convert to frequent flyer miles and use the same points to buy a business class seat from Australia to Europe worth around $8,000. If you only have 50,000 points you can buy an economy fare for say $2000 and upgrade to business class with your 50,000 points (worth only $500 by other measures).

Quite simply reward seats and flight upgrades are absolutely the best possible exchange rate for frequent flyer points or miles.

Of course, if you think a business class seat isn’t worth having then your perspective may be different 😉

Hang on you say… how on earth do you accumulate so many points? Not that many years ago we came to understand the value of points so we developed deliberate strategies to earn as many as possible. The details are probably something that I need to write a separate blog about but central to our approach is American Express.

The rewards points earned vary wildly between different types of Amex cards. Ours gives 1 point per dollar spent. 2 points if it is for travel and 3 points if it is for dining. Knowing how to work the system helps to. I just paid $16,000 for cruise tickets and in the process gained 32,000 Amex points and 96,000 Virgin Airline frequent flyer points.

Why American Express? By having the right Amex card we can transfer points to a whole range of airline loyalty programs and use them for flights or upgrades. We first find which airline is offering seats that will work for us, then make the transfer, then book the flights.

Anyway, enough of the mechanics – I promise I’ll expand in another blog. What I want to say is that about the only downside of using points for either reward seats or upgrades is that you need to book far in advance and you need to be prepared to be flexible about your travel dates.

Airlines release reward/upgrade seats at different stages. You may well be able to jag something only a week or two ahead if the flight is not heavily booked. But personally when planning dream vacations, I like to know that I have my upgrade or reward seats locked in from the very beginning so I literally book a full year in advance whenever possible. Even then it is sometimes necessary to be flexible about what day we travel in order to secure a reward seat.

Caution! Many airlines offer “classic” reward seats where Australia to Europe (business class) is around 90,000 points one way. But then they also offer more freely available seats on the same flight for 650,000 points/miles. You guessed it… to get the classic reward seats you need to plan ahead and book well in advance.

By the way, if you are booking for two (or one), reward seats and upgrades are pretty achievable. If you want to give the (by now grown up) kids a treat by taking them with you, it can be a struggle to secure say, four or six reward seats. It can be done but you may have to work harder at it.