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Success with AA/US Air FF tickets

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For years I've been cashing in AA ff miles. Done free business class tickets to Europe about 8 times, Australia and New Zealand, Asia, and then started using them for One World awards -- a 13 stop around the world and a multi stop Europe including Russia tour a few years ago. But lately I had been griping that try as I might it just seems impossible to use the miles.

Among things I've learned -- the old "we add flights 323 days before the flight" has gone out the window. I finally had agents admit that some may be added then, but recently NO non stop flights (at least on popular flights) are being added at that time. After getting up at 1 AM several times to try to book such flights at the exact time they were supposedly being offered taught me that. I was working on PHL to Barcelona, or better yet to Nice, and perhaps a return to PHL from Barcelona. But I was only coming up -- 323 days ahead with things like "yes, we have a ticket for you -- on one morning you fly to Charlotte, NC from PHL. The next evening (34 hours later) you fly to Heathrow, then after a five hour layover there you fly to Nice. Oh, and of course because you go through London, there's an extra $495 tax on your "free ticket". Three days to get to Europe? I don't think so! Oh, and none of these were mile saver, so it was something like 270,000 miles each for these flights in anytime business! Seriously?

Well, I kept trying. We wanted to go over Labor Day for a total of about two weeks. Almost as a glitch this last week, I noticed a couple of seemingly available seats. US Air cannot book us to Nice as they just don't book award travel with One World (Iberia, specifically). But somehow we found two Business Class (US Air Envoy Class) seats on the nonstop to Madrid on Sunday, August 23, with a connection on Iberia less than 2 hours later to Nice. And we found two economy seats Barcelona to PHL on the nonstop on Wednesday, September 9. Maybe we can upgrade those later if upgrades become available., but for that flight in the daytime, we can easily survive, especially as the plane is 2 wide seating on the sides.

So we're going earllier than we hoped, and we had to add 3 extra days (much worse things in the world than that!). But at least we managed to get the nonstops flights, and at a grand total of only 80,000 miles each (20,000 each more to upgrade to Business on the return if they become available) and a grand total of $152 each in taxes and fees. (bummer that they charge $35 to book by phone when they admit it is NOT POSSIBLE to book those flights online due to the Iberia connection). But we can live with that.

Is everyone else finding it so difficult? Any good success stories? I think one of the funniest things is that we could NOT book these tickets with US Airways at all (as I mentioned because of the Nice connection) even though both trans Atlantic flights are US Airways flights. And even if we just booked the two transAtlantic flights with US Airways, it would have cost us MORE miles than using AA and including Nice for "free". Can't wait till they get everything with those two airlines combined.

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    Success! Yeah!

    I'm a 1K (100,000 flight miles a year) and I'm finding it more difficult to get what I want with United/Star Alliance. I feel extremely lucky to have secured our three 1st class tickets to Bangkok via Europe for the holidays, found back in February, and to include flight segments on the Thai A380 up front in 1st. We've flown on this plane at least twice and know that it is a very nice experience.

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    NeoPatrick - I'm with you!
    I'm in the middle of playing this game now, too. I've been successful for years nabbing business class tickets for my husband and Me to travel to either France or Italy in either April/May or Sept/Oct - @ 10 years running. DFW using AA FF miles to either Rome, Madrid with Iberia to Rome, Paris or Milan - all successful in the past

    Forget Business class - I'm having trouble with coach 20,000 awards. I've spent hours trying to find a 10 day vacation window that, like you, doesn't have unreasonable connection times. I'm being open about where I fly into and out of...don't want to fly from DFW to Houston to London to Rome.

    Funny part is that if I go through the process to purchase tickets, the flights have been, not only wide open, seem to consist of only crew on board at this point ,

    Is AA stingy releasing any seats due to the merger? What's going on?

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    Some day I'd like to see a truth-in-advertising statement when airlines do ads. Something like:

    "We're the best airline, though we do try to screw with you on using FF points."

    We've had some success using US Air points domestically and internationally (two upgraded Business Class seats on trip to Europe in September), but you have to be really flexible and dogged.

    As I tell novice travelers who are planning a trip: Nail down your flights first. Everything else will be easy in comparison.

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    Yes, those European upgrades have gotten ridiculous. We were considering buying coach class (for around $100 each) and upgrading with miles to business. But that adds $600 each for the round trip in additional to a basket load of miles. At what point does spending $1700 plus a whole lot miles no longer feel like you're really getting something for "free" like it used to?

    Oh, but the worst issue -- NO non stops to Spain on US Air from PHL have upgrades available -- from August into October! Again, an agent actually told us that they just aren't allowing those at the present time -- so it isn't that they're already gone -- they just don't offer them. I'm still unclear why suddenly those two seats were available in business to Madrid, when even when you look at the shaded flights (the ones that are no longer avaialble) the non stop never even appears.

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    Even in the upper tiers of the USAirways FF program and with supposed dedicated folks it can be very difficult to get some of the segments if not impossible. And yes, the awards are costing more miles than ever before.

    I will say this, however, that depending on the time of year the prices can be wildly different for Envoy seats as we have recently learned (yet again).

    I fully understand the desire to get so-called "free" seats (which of course none of them actually are since somewhere along the line MONEY was exchanged) but these days I am less inclined to play the game and simply pay but it's all a matter of priorities and glad you were successful.

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    I joined my first airline FF program back in the first days of their existance. Flying for business for many years, it made sense to do so as it cost me nothing.

    For years after that all my personal travel was done on points. When I finally ran out of points about 5 years after I stopped working for a living, it came as a big shock when I had to BUY a ticket.

    I have noticed that all the miles programs are becoming harder and harder to work with. Since I no longer participate, it doesn't matter to me and perhaps that colours my viewpoint (but then everyone is biased anyway) but I wonder if it is time for people to re-think just where their priorities should be and look at possible alternatives.

    I now use a credit card which gives me CASH rewards rather than air miles. With that cash I can do what I want, buy airline tickets or anything else. I don't have to try to fit a reward program with the issues you are having Neo, I just buy a ticket on ANY flight I want.

    There is a difference between miles earned for business travel which does not involve the individual spending their own money to earn them and miles people earn when spending their own money using their credit cards. Nothing can be done about the business miles but people who pick a credit card to get miles with can look at alternatives such as CASH.

    This thread might be of more interest to those who have a choice than those who are earning miles on business travel in that case. Your example is a good reason to not use a credit card that gives miles I'd say.

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    OneWorld award availability in premium cabins has, from what I can tell, begun to approach zero. I haven't found anything worthwhile in any search for at least the last 9 months.

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    "I don't have to try to fit a reward program with the issues you are having Neo, I just buy a ticket on ANY flight I want."

    Yea, I "get" that, Sojourntraveler. But do you have any idea how many cash back dollars it would take to pay for a ticket like what I just booked with points?

    In theory, if my miles came ONLY from credit card and it cost me 100,000 miles for the ticket, that represents spending 100,000 on the credit card. But if the ticket is worth -- say $5000 which it easily is, you'd have to spend upwards of $500,000 on a credit card to get the cash back to buy that ticket -- almost 5 times as much! (of course either card gives you some bonuses). And the other advantage of being able to use points for miles is that you can combine miles or points derived from a lot of different sources.

    There's a lot of difference between getting a $5000 ticket with miles and buying one with cash -- a whole lot!
    That said, as others have mentioned, I am finding that points on a hotel card seem to be great value and certainly much easier awards to claim.

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    I've had decent luck with AA and United and a customer service agent. Am leaving next Tuesday and was booked from Tampa to Paris, via Dallas, business class award. Booked in June. Usually checking once a day to see if the flight via Miami ever came open, plus calling the 800# once a week just for kicks. Finally 2 days ago a customer service agent just switched me over to the TPA-MIA-CDG flight even though she said no award seats were open. It's one of the refurbished 767's too so I was thrilled.

    Coming back on award ticket on United, coach, and was able to change it twice with no fees to stay an extra 2 nights. I am sure traveling peak season though may be a huge difference.

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    I am in the same situation as Sojourn, having had about 50 seats total in biz for my wife and myself to Europe. If you cannot get a seat using FF miles, why not get cash back? I have been looking for coach seats for next Sept. and now ready to just purchase rather than put more time into the search and I have plenty of time. The problem, my wife found a biz seat very agreeable.

    You do make a good suggestion to use a hotel card. I guess I should be thankful I have had such wonderful experience and luck using miles in the past. I really do not miss today's travel experience.

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    Huggy, yes, I don't mean to sound ungrateful either. I've had wonderful "free" trips since 1986 using miles and I appreciate them. I guess times change though.

    Regarding hotel cards, Hyatt has become my favorite one. In addition to an automatic free night each year (although after the first year when you get TWO nights at ANY Hyatt, after that it's just one and only up to a grade 4 which even eliminates ALL Hyatts in NYC), there are many, many bonus miles given for spending. In no time at all we've racked up points from using the card that we have enough for 5 free nights in Nice next summer -- which is probably where we'll use them. That's about $2000 worth! And again -- there's no way I'd be getting $2000 cash back with spending the same amount on the card!

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    Well, there was an unexpected bonus. I mentioned that the business seat to Europe and the coach one for return cost us each 80,000 miles. But I just noticed we each got an 8,000 mile bonus reinstated into our account. Some benefit of our Citibank Aadvantage card that I wasn't even aware of. So the flights are only costing us 72,000 miles each (plus the $157 taxes and fees).

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    Did not mean to imply that you were not grateful at all. You are correct, times change. Some for the better and some worse. I have had wonderful opportunities which may not have been available today but I am sure that I will miss out on others.

    Sounds like you got a great deal. I now have to use real cash to buy seats. Distasteful process I might add.

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    Oh, no, Huggy. I just meant that it may sound like I'm complaining about the awards not being what they used to be rather than being thankful for the many awards I've gotten.

    And I also have the FF program to "thank" for spoiling me. If I had never had mileage awards, I'd never know how nice it is to travel in Business Class. Makes it even harder now to travel in "steerage" !

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    Agree with NP that the FF award game is constantly changing, and that they're the best way for us huddled masses yearning to breathe the air in the pointy end of the airplane.

    Opportunism is a key. While almost all of my FF awards in the past 25 or so years have been for premium seats on international flights (a trip on Concorde being the cherry on the sundae), there are plenty of other good deals around such as easy $10 round-trips in the BOS-NYC-WAS corridor.

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    Neo: Since you mentioned about the info the phone agent provided:

    When I got on the phone with a US Air agent to try to get an upgrade, she said, "Just keep calling -- sometimes they open up." Also, when I book a coach seat with US Air, I have a deal where they email me if there's an upgrade availability. The deal on that, AFAIK, is that they announce the possibility of an upgrade and ask if you're interested. If you say no, that ends it. If you say yes, they email you within 24 hours to let you know whether it's available.

    None of it's easy, however.

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    We had AA FF for many years and then they changed their program. Then we had Delta for many years and for a round trip coach from JFK to Netherlands for this past spring, they wanted over 75,000 miles.

    Now we have a credit card that gives us 2 miles for every dollar we spend and we can apply it to either hotels or any airline flight we wish.

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    If what I'm about to say sounds snarky, forgive me, I really don't intend for that to be the case.

    Have you noticed over the past year or two that there are more and more news reports (on TV, on the web, in the papers) about how airlines are increasingly profitable and that flights are running closer to capacity? Just this morning on CNBC (in conjunction with Virgin America’s IPO) the commentators were bellyaching about how you never have an empty middle seat next to you anymore.

    The reason for this is that the airlines have bounced back from their bankruptcies and mergers (usually both) with a vengeance, and they’ve done it not by raising prices too much (although they certainly have) but mainly by reducing capacity. Fewer flights with bigger planes, using a merger (e.g. Northwest/Delta) to remove duplicate flights on the same routes, getting rid of low-capacity/high-cost aircraft (Northwest’s DC-9s and American’s MD-80s) and replacing them with lower-cost higher capacity planes.

    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.)

    So you’ve got reduced supply, increased demand, and you’re complaining that you can’t get FF mileage seats as easily as in the past? Earth to travelers…

    Most people don’t know that frequent flyer programs are often the single most profitable aspect of airlines’ operations. A few years ago, when Air Canada was in bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court/trustee made them sell off Aeroplan, their FF program, to private investors. At that time, the value of Aeroplan exceeded the value of the rest of the airline’s assets – combined.

    It works like this. Take American (or, shortly, USdbaAA). AA sells off billions – probably dozens or even hundreds of billions (nobody knows) to Citibank, its designated credit card partner. Citibank pays some millions of dollars to AA for these miles. (Nobody outside the companies knows the precise terms – very closely guarded information.) Citibank then re-sells them to you. You pay for them in annual credit card fees, in a slice of late-payment or interest charges (you may pay off the balance every month but if so you’re the exception) and through tiny markups invisibly added to the price of things bought with your card. You know this is happening.

    There are various estimates and speculations about the costs and profits associated with this, but it’s probably at least a 200% - 300% markup that Citibank makes on the deal. Many people are oblivious to the sheer volume of money that changes hands daily with credit card transactions, but you can rest assured that it’s profitable enough to the banks that “giving away” 25,000 miles for sign-up bonuses doesn’t make them break a sweat.

    Back at American, they’ve put Citibank’s check in the till, but haven’t shelled out anything – yet – in the way of product or service delivery. That waits until miles are redeemed for flights (or for really lousy deals on rental cars or hotel rooms.) In the meantime, AA has the “float” on the bank’s money.

    Now those miles they just sold are contingent liabilities on their books, so it’s not as if they’re not at risk. But here’s where the airlines have you. First, the miles expire in 18 months or 36 months, whatever, unless you add to them or spend them somehow. So, like many gift certificates, there’s huge “leakage” built in – miles expire before they’re redeemed. You have 8000 Delta Skypesos in your account, but need at least 20,000 (or is it 30,000? 40,000?) miles to fly anywhere. You can’t combine them with anybody else’s miles, so they sit there as “orphan” miles until they turn into pumpkins at midnight. Delta got the money from the bank, but those 8000 miles are removed from their liabilities. Happy accountants.

    Second – and this goes to your situation – the airlines control the supply of seats open for redemption. If their yield/revenue management computers (all programmed by Phi Beta Kappa Hogwarts graduates) indicate that there’s a solid chance a seat will sell for cash money (and a higher price the closer you get to flight time) why on Earth would they let it go for no cash? They won’t prohibit you from using miles for it, they’ll just increase the number of miles needed to the point where the accountants tell them the value of the miles removed from the balance sheet exceeds the revenue they’d get by selling the seat for money.

    But most of the time, they’ll just wait until the computer models (and believe me, we’re talking really, really sophisticated algorithms) tell them the odds are zilch that somebody’s going to walk up at the last minute and pay a gazillion bucks for the last open seat in coach, and THEN they’ll open a seat for miles redemption.

    So ironically, it’s very often the case that waiting until the last minute – literally, the last week or even the last few days before a flight – is a better time to redeem miles than at 330 days out or whatever “rule of thumb” or urban legend says the best time might be.

    Last year I decided on a spur-of-the-moment trip from Seattle to Scotland to see some friends (one of whom was ill and has subsequently passed away.) I had a bunch of US Airways miles I wanted to burn. With literally a week’s notice I got business class flights from Seattle to Edinburgh (Lufthansa outbound, United return.) Had I tried to book those flights months in advance, I would have thrown in the towel long before. But what had happened was that Lufthansa’s and United’s computer models had told them that they weren’t going to sell out the business/first class cabins on those flights for thousands of dollars per seat in the time remaining, so they might as well use that capacity to wipe 100,000 frequent flyer miles off their books, with the only measurable cost to them being a few more gallons of fuel and a few more ounces of cheap champers dispensed (which I didn’t drink) due to my ample butt filling a seat that would otherwise have flown empty.

    That’s how it goes. Put yourself into an airline accountant’s head (I know, a terrifying thought) and ask yourself, “How can I extract the most profit from this seat on this flight? Should I wait for someone to pay big bucks for it? Or should I let NeoPatrick sweat it out and work his tuches off to use miles for it?”

    The answer is, both, sequentially.

    I think the meme needs to change. Stop calling them “awards.” They’re not rewarding you for anything, they’re selling you something that simply uses a different currency. Miles = dollars = Bitcoins = Euros. If you don’t think that you paid real money for those miles, think again. You just didn’t see it at the time.

    Be a smart shopper. You know why those “taxes and fees” were so outrageous on your first booking? It’s because
    British Airways adds a “fuel surcharge” to their “award” flight mileage requirements, along with various taxes including the UK’s outrageous departure tax. A 60,000 mile coach redemption using AA miles during the summer from the US to Europe using BA flights will cost 60K miles plus (probably) around $600 in “taxes and fees,” of which $450 or more will be the fuel surcharge. You could purchase the same ticket for, say, $1200 all in (taxes and fees included) meaning that each mile has a “net” value of one cent.

    Using the same 60,000 miles on flights operated by American will carry a fraction of the “extra” cost, in some cases as low as six bucks, meaning your miles are worth closer to 2c each. A 100K business class ticket worth $3500 – well, you can do the math. Remember, miles = money and be a careful shopper. A plane ticket worth $1000 - $3000 merits as much “skillful shopping” as you’d expend on a 60-inch TV (or three.)

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    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.

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    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.

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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.

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    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.

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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.

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    "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.

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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.

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    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.

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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.

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