When People DON’T Need My Award Booking Service

I don’t write often here about my award booking service, except in passing to explain why I redeem so many darned miles and deal with airline call centers so frequently. For instance, I’ve completed 4 award trips in the past 12 hours for 7 passengers, making 5 separate reservations with Continental (2), United (2), and US Airways.

But just as often as someone comes to me for an award that I book, I explain to them that they don’t need to.

I do get the occasional ‘one passenger, domestic coach’ request and by the time they’d pay my fee I suggest it isn’t worth it any longer… just buy the ticket. My service really is designed for securing premium cabin international travel, the value proposition is just much stronger, than searching for domestic coach awards.

I’m also fortunate that this isn’t my primary occupation, I don’t necessarily take all comers, when someone tells me that they’ve got awards on hold using American AAdvantage but traveling on British Airways and the fuel surcharges and London taxes are high and would like me to find them alternate flights on another carrier that would save them some cash outlay, that it would be worth paying me $250 to do so.. I admit, I’m not really interested. I can’t take on every request, and I work with folks who just aren’t able to get the awards they want on their own, where the value of my service is huge and not just marginally worthwhile. I get real excitement out of making honeymoons and 50th anniversary trips possible, about showing folks that their miles can help them travel in a style they’ve never imagined. While I’m all in favor of saving fuel surcharges that airlines sometimes charge, it’s not what I’m here for.

But mostly turning down business falls into one of two categories:

  1. When clients should just make a phone call to the airline. When the award is so easy that I feel guilty. Sure, I can do it for them. But I tell them give it one shot to the airline first, and if they don’t get what they want immediately to come back to me. I’ll tell them which airline to call, with which miles, and what to request because it’s widely available across their potential dates. So hopefully I provide them a bit of useful free advice. But why pay me for a simple non-stop that’s available every day and all but the least competent agents will be able to manage (and is usually even bookable online!).

  2. US to Hawaii in first class for two passengers, from many major cities. And this is what inspired the post this morning. I’ve had folks in Los Angeles, in Seattle, in New York and this morning in Atlanta ask about two first class tickets to Hawaii. They didn’t think their 140,000 Delta miles plus their 80,000 Amex points (in addition to what Amex would let them borrow) would be enough points, based on their call to Delta.

    My suggestion to these folks, or really to most folks looking at Hawaii for two?

    Get an Alaska Airlines Visa from Bank of America. It comes with a $75 annual fee, and you get an annual $99 companion ticket. It’s the only true free companion ticket I’ve ever seen, I think.. it’s valid from any fare, and valid for any seat on any Alaska aircraft. Buy one first class ticket on Alaska, and the second one is $99 plus tax. That’s a huge value.

    The folks this morning were already talking about buying separate tickets for two passengers to Los Angeles, and hoping to get first class awards to Hawaii from there. This would put everything on one ticket, save them all of their miles for a better use later, and even save my fee of course.

    There’s a reason that the Alaska Airlines Visa won Best Loyalty Credit Card in the frequent Traveler Awards last month, I think. And it’s not just because you earn Alaska miles, if that’s your interest the Starwood Amex is actually better (because by transferring 20,000 point increments you earn 1.25 Alaska miles per dollar with the Starwood Amex, not just 1). That companion ticket is a benefit worth its weight in electronic gold.

See, sometimes expertise means not charging people. And sometimes coming to me means getting my own idiosyncratic brand of advice. Which is why I always tell folks that I’m happy to do anything I can, if my suggestion doesn’t appeal I’ll work on their request as-is. But I might do things a little differently than they had considered. I make less money because of it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Great Advice Gary: I was thrilled to have you work on my latest adventure and can assure others Gary will bring your trip to reality with his expertise. In our situation, we actually decided after listening to Gary’s advice on a somewhat complicated RTW, to split the trip into two vacations. It all made sense after Gary’s explanation. Thanks Again Gary

    Rick the Frugal Travel Guy

  2. Bravo! Integrity at its finest.
    Met you at ORD ‘DO’ and was impressed with your abilities. Though I haven’t had need of your services as yet, I know there will come a time when I will turn to your expertise. Thanks for making it available.

  3. In offering your services, you clearly lean heavily toward the Star Alliance airlines. What is your quesstimate of how it breaks down, with actual bookings that you make, between the three different alliances?
    I think one of the true values of your blog to me, has been opening my eyes to the riches to be found in the Star program. I had been traveling almost exclusively with One World’s airlines until I became a regular reader of your blog. Next month I will be traveling on five different Star airlines in F, from the US to BKK and HKG, and I think you more than anyone, inspired me to plan the itinerary I did.
    I still have a chunk of miles with AA and BA, and the only airline I have any status with is AA (lifetime Gold). So, I know that I will continue to also fly the OW alliance. When you do book OW trips what do you typically book? I would be especially interested in hearing of any recent distance based OW awards that you might have booked.

  4. @Brian been meaning to blog that. US-Europe now matches award price of UA/CO. But other (3-continent) awards are much more expensive. Miles & More is a pricey award chart in many cases to begin with, earning is more generous in premium cabins, and availability is VASTLY better. Miles & More members have even more availability on Lufthansa and Swiss than Star partner programs do.

  5. Gary,

    Thanks for the post. I had no idea that AS’s companion certificate is good on first class fares. That’s going to be my go-to for HNL trips from DC.

  6. I just wanted to add to the comments regarding Gary’s tremendous goodwill. I asked him to review an award that I spent a lot of time researching and booking, and he could have easily suggested a few minor changes just to ‘earn’ his fee. But he didn’t. And I’m appreciative and grateful for his advice.

  7. I opened an AS card for my wife about 6 months ago. She got her 25k bonus miles, but I don’t recall a companion cert. Is that something that is included with all new accounts? Anyone know if it’s possible to get a replacement sent if we didn’t get one?

  8. Gary is a great guy – he helped us through a rough booking for 3 pax to SE Asia from the US..trying to use Sky Pesos for premium cabin. Actually refused payment.

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