Success with AA/US Air FF tickets

Old Nov 14th, 2014, 08:34 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 36,790
And how much do you need to spend to get back $5000 to buy a ticket like I got for 72,000 miles? Just curious.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Old Nov 14th, 2014, 02:53 PM
Join Date: Feb 2014
Posts: 660
A couple of things NeoPatrick.

First, the assumption is that a seat costs $5000 and you then look at how much you need to spend to get $5k cashback. That's a flawed assumption.

Example, A flight from N. America to Europe return can cost anywhere from $500 to $5000. It all depends on what airline, what seat and when you look to book. Today with dynamic pricing, no one can tell when a seat will be at its lowest. It could be months in advance or the day before.

My point is, the value of the seat can vary tremendously and to say you need $5k cashback isn't necessarily true. As Gardyloo shows with his examples re taxes etc. and how they can vary the cost of a ticket is another reason.

So how much an air mile is worth is very hard to say. If you pay $1000 for a seat and the guy sitting next to you paid $500 what is the seat worth?

Second, what value are you going to assign to the convenience of cash vs. trying to find an air miles seat? You started out saying how hard it is to find a seat. It's not hard at all with cash. So shouldn't that have an assigned value?

For example, if you do things like getting up at 1AM (as you said) to try and secure a seat, what would it be worth to you to just book a seat at whatever time of day is convenient to you? Remember also, that the cash back option did not cost you anything, any more than the air miles did. You get the cash simply for spending your own money they way you would spend it anyway. It's FREE cash in that sense.

So you can't just say air miles are worth $X and cash rather than air miles is only worth the same in terms of value. Value includes other things like convenience.

Third, most people talk about 1% cash back. Why? There are cards that pay more than 1%. My card pays 2% as standard on every transaction I use it for and just like air miles programs, there are times when they give bonus points for various things. My card is associated with a retail grocery chain who also happen to have gas stations. Every time I use my card to fill up with gas I get 4% in points PLUS 4 cents off the gas price. So $50 fill up gets me say $3.72 cash value.

Also, in store, an item that costs $3.99 normally is offered at $2.99 on sale plus a 1000 point bonus. For one item! They now track your buying patterns and link bonus offers to your frequently bought items. So a typical $100 grocery bill might get you 2000 points (worth $2 cash)and an additional 1300 points in bonus points because you bought your usual items and they are offering a bonus reward to you for doing so. That $100 purchase therefore netted you a $3.20 cash value.

Your every day credit card purchases get you the standard 2% so then the question is how much do you use your card? Yesterday, I paid $4 for parking with my card and $4 for a coffee and muffin with my credit card. I put EVERYTHING on my credit card almost. Many people put their regular monthly bills like electrity, water, property taxes, heating, insurance, etc. etc. ALL on their credit card. Obviously, if you do, you just make sure you pay your total balance every month.

It's not like people who use a credit card to run up a balance and then make minimal payments which means they are losing far more in interst costs than they are gaining in points. You USE the credit card rather than the card provider USING you in other words.

Now if you use your card to the max, how many dollars will you put through it in a year? That varies by individual obviously but it isn't a small number. If you put $10k through it can net you say an average of 3% overall which is $300 cash. FREE cash basically. So how many times $10k would you spend in a year? I can earn $2k cash back in a year without any problem.

I can then use that cash for ANYTHING I want, not just flights. How easy is it for you to buy a TV with your air miles? What value should you assign to what cash can buy you vs. what air miles can buy you? They aren't equal value in that regard are they.

For someone who flies on business and doesn't actually pay for their own flights, a FF program makes complete sense. They have nothing to lose. But as I said, for someone who does not fly on business and who uses a credit card to accumulate miles, then they can compare the potential VALUE of air mile rewards vs. cash rewards. To me, cash wins.

Ask yourself this, rather than asking 'how much do you have to spend to get a $5k ticket?', how long does it take you to get those 72,000 points for a ticket to Europe? How long if you fly on business and how long if you are only getting miles from a credit card? I can buy 2 flights to Europe per year with cash earned using my credit card. I have no problem finding a return flight for $1k twice a year.

On another note, hotel reward programs are undergoing their own issues right now. Redemption levels have been climbing up. In other words, their loyalty program points are becoming less valuable. Doesn't mean don't join them, it costs nothing to join.

But they are becoming less valuable all the time. Again for the business traveller, something for nothing is better than nothing at all. For the average person who travels for pleasure however, choosing a hotel because of points is pretty much a suckers game. They can't earn enough point per year to make it worth the bother. They would do better to learn how to get a better price at the hotel paying cash. Even worse is someone using say a Hilton credit card just because it gives them hotel points. They aren't going to be worth anywhere near even 1% I'd say. Yet people sign up to a credit card from Hilton

In all of this, it very much depends on the REAL VALUE of points, regardless of whose points or how they earn them. Most people just look at air miles when they look at credit cards and I think that is a big mistake. There are other rewards that can be worth much more depending on the individual. Here is a good link for people considering a new rewards credit card.
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Old Nov 14th, 2014, 11:18 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,298
It's been a couple of years since I cashed in American miles, and maybe things have changed, but when I did use FF miles I called 331 days in advance. I didn't always get my first-choice flights, but I've always been able to secure something that works.

I always call and speaking with a human. If I'm saving thousands of dollars, I'll gladly suffer a service fee.
Jean is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 05:12 AM
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Jean, that was always my experience as well. But things HAVE changed. They no longer add the full inventory (or sometimes any inventory at all) on those dates. And as I mentioned above, sometimes they don't add any non stop flights or any flights to more popular destinations. There is no longer any way to find out how many days ahead they will add those.


Soujourntraveler, I don't disagree with what you have stated very succintly, but I feel totally different. Sure I can always buy a $1000 ticket to Europe in coach, but to me it is infinitely nicer to be in business. There's no way to put a dollar value on the difference, but as I've stated, once you've been able to get business class seats for "free" (and yes I WILL maintain they are free since I'm not spending any money to use a specific credit card that I wouldn't be spending anyway, nor have I ever spent a penny in interest -- not to mention being able to combine actual miles with credit card miles plus lots of bonus things), it's pretty hard to be able to get excited about spending actual money for a coach class ticket. In other words, it was always so wonderful to be able to fly Business or First WITHOUT spending my own money. And the cash back awards may be better than nothing, but the rewards don't compare by even a fraction to the benefits we "used" to be able to get with FF award programs. That's all.

Yes, Gardyloo, I understand all you're saying too, but if I walk into a car dealer and the guy says "here, because you've been loyal to us, we're going to give you a new car for free this year" I am NOT going to refuse and say, "oh, but actually I HAVE paid for it because you've made money on me in the past". That's what I call looking a gift horse in the mouth. I don't really need to argue about how they have "sold" that gift car to some other corporation as part of a special advertising program -- all I really care about is that I'm getting the car for free. Sure, it's time for the airlines to wise up and stop "giving" us all those easy to get award flights" but that doesn't mean I'm going to be happy about it. I realize I should just shut up and be grateful for how long the program lasted, but that's easier said than done.

But meanwhile, and I mentioned this to a couple of agents -- what gets me is that a day doesn't go by without my getting mailings or emails touting how I can earn extra miles with American and US Airways, and other airlines. What would be nice if they could somehow tell us better ways to USE those miles, since that is the part of the program they are cutting. They keep adding more and more ways to earn miles, but make using those same miles more and more difficult.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 05:55 AM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 25,193
And news flash, the economy has also been recovering, at both ends of the flight sectors (meaning, people in Berlin want to visit Broadway as much as Americans want to traipse up and down the Kudamm.)

This actually isn't true. The economy in Europe has not been recovering and may even be slipping back into recession. At a minimum, it is in a period of near-zero growth. Many Asian markets are also quite weak now.

I don't think the above necessarily changes your analysis, but it isn't true.
travelgourmet is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 07:43 AM
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Neo, what I was saying (with about three times too many words) was that like they say on mutual fund OSs, "past performance is no indication of future performance."

The "easy days" of FF redemption were when there were more seats than economic demand could fill. Since the crash in 2008 (and TG, both sides of the Atlantic have seen significant economic recovery since then; I'm not talking quarter-by-quarter GDP stats) the airlines have "right-sized" their fleets and routes with a vengeance.

I don't think it's a case of needing to go meekly into the new reality as much as it's a case of having to work harder to find the flight. Start by studying the redemption options and routes open to you. For example, you can't book Iberia flights using AA miles online. So sign up for Iberia's FF plan (free) and use their rather clunky website to find availability. Then phone AA (and yes, pay the phone fee) and chances are very good (I've never missed) you'll get the seat you found on the IB site.

Same goes for Cathay Pacific flights - you'll never see them on AA's site, but sign up for Asiamiles, spot the flight, phone AA - bingo.

Look for FF mile sales. About twice a year US Airways has 100% bonus offers on sold FF miles. Buy 50,000 for around 3.5 cents per mile (a ripoff) but then get 50,000 thrown in - now 1.75 cpm, a good deal. Turn around and redeem the miles for an off-season business class round trip to Europe for $1750. (And surprisingly, the "off season" for business class is often the summer peak, when actual business demand falls off sharply.) Or pay for "AAnytime" seats (AA's always-available category) if the math works out. Remember US miles are shortly going to be AA miles.

Or get a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card, which allows you to transfer SPG points into miles on 33 different airline FF plans, including American, Singapore, BA, Virgin... Then shop for open flights on any of those partners, switch the SPG points to your account on that airline, and off you go. (This is amazingly effective with hard-to-get seats like Singapore's A380 between JFK and Frankfurt.)

Anyway, point being, it calls for both a perception and behavior change, because there's no sign at the moment that things are going to revert to the days of plenty.
Gardyloo is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 09:00 AM
Join Date: Feb 2014
Posts: 660
"rewards don't compare by even a fraction to the benefits we "used" to be able to get with FF award programs. That's all."

I am in total agreement with that Neo. As I said, I was in FF programs since they began but as Gardyloo has just said, "it calls for both a perception and behaviour change, because there's no sign at the moment that things are going to revert to the days of plenty.'

It's like you're saying the programs suck but I won't look at any alternative.

Also bear in mind, that although this is a thread you started, others may also read it and for those who are going with credit cards to accumulate miles (not FF programs with plenty of business trips) thinking it is the best kind of reward to go for, they may want to re-consider their decision.

The days of air miles being a real plus are gone. Their value is becoming lower and lower over time. Their convenience is now non-existant.
Sojourntraveller is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 06:13 AM
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"It's like you're saying the programs suck but I won't look at any alternative."

Where did you get that? How can I refuse to look at alternatives since it IS impossible to get the old awards? Although you'll notice this thread started as a success story for getting awards! So there's no real reason to give up completely, either. And didn't I already talk about how I'm mainly switching to hotel cards? On the other hand, nothing says I can't complain about not matching the "good old days" -- in fact, I think it would be "un-American" NOT to! Actually I fully agree with Gardyloo, who says that getting awards simply takes new and different efforts today. He does NOT say, "awards are too hard to get, so make yourself content with not working for them and make yourself content with just getting a small fraction of a similar"free flight" with simple to get cash back dollars".

But how much effort is "worth it" to others is totally up to them. I don't think it was ever exactly "convenient" to claim awards! Sure it's harder today, sometimes seemingly impossible, but I'm not here to tell others what they should consider too difficult. On another post recently I talked about Costco's program that allows you to get a refund if their price goes down. I was talking about a $400 credit if I either returned a recently purchased TV to get a new one or if Costco will simply credit it without a return. I was surprised that some seemed to think spending 15 or 20 minutes to put the TV back in the box and return to Costco when I'm going shopping anyway just was "too much effort" for $400. Well, certainly NOT for me. I guess it's the same for you and others with air tickets -- "it's too hard to search to get really great tickets for free, so instead I'll just buy economy tickets with cash". Fine for you -- NOT fine for me.

Sure it would be easier to plunk down $2000 for two economy tickets to Europe using some cash back from a credit card. But I happen to have the time and the energy to get more value for my money. Getting two tickets to Europe in Business class without having to plunk down that $2000 is WELL WORTH quite a lot of effort for me. You don't have to do it if you don't see a huge advantage to flying business over economy, but it IS worth quite a lot of effort to me. But again, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to complain about how much effort it takes. We all tend to complain about things we do and will continue to do.
NeoPatrick is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 06:36 AM
Join Date: Nov 2014
Posts: 3
It has gotten challenging. Last year I had used AA ff miles for a flight to Rome and the flight was cancelled several months out. AA allowed me to change the flight to Milan. I ended up taking a train which actually worked out fine because it allowed me to get some sleep instead of walking around Rome like a zombie waiting to check into my hotel. I had to shell out money for the train but it wasn't much and brought me right into the city of Rome as opposed to the airport. It is still worth it for me, it has caused me to become more creative.
lunaismypup is offline  
Old Nov 16th, 2014, 07:31 AM
Join Date: Aug 2007
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TG, both sides of the Atlantic have seen significant economic recovery since then

That isn't true. The EU 28 saw negative real GDP growth in 2009 and 2012. They grew at 2% in 2010 and 1.6% in 2012. 2013 was essentially flat. US GDP growth has far outpaced Europe's and the increase in demand has come primarily from the US.

Then shop for open flights on any of those partners, switch the SPG points to your account on that airline, and off you go.

It should be noted that SPG conversions are not instantaneous.
travelgourmet is offline  
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