Million Miles redux

Last month I posted an article on the fact that I had over one Million miles accumulated across all my airline mile accounts. Now, if I had to do it all over again, I would change quite a few things when earning the miles to make them more valuable. Here a some of them:

One Airline per Alliance:

I did not understand the value of alliances and how they operate at all. I would earn miles on whatever airline I flew. I got lucky with OneWorld and SkyTeam. I ended up with only one airline with miles on each. British Airways for OneWorld and NorthWest (now Delta) for SkyTeam. I never flew any other airline on either of these alliances. On Star Alliance, things did not go in my favor. I ended up flying a lot on United, US Airways and Lufthansa. The only smart thing I did was collect all the miles form my international trips on Lufthansa on United. I got smart(er) a few years ago and started accumulating on United alone. Today I have over 160,000 miles stuck on US Airways. I was keeping them alive with the US Airways credit card (1 change a year would do it), but I dropped that card when they started charging me a very high fee. I would have rather had these miles in my United account where I already have over 600,000 miles.

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There are some exceptions to this guidance of one airline per alliance. One reason would be to get Star Gold status on a non-US based airline. This gives free lounge access on all domestic Star Alliance flights. I did so using BMI. Another advantage of BMI was the fact that they give a minimum of 600 miles per trip. This became useful when United stopped awarding the minimum 500 miles for short US Airways trips. I started crediting my US airways trips to BMI. I got more miles and lounge access. The recent addition of Aegean Airlines to Star Alliance and their low 20,000 mile mark to get Star Gold status makes them very attractive for such a tactic. Of course, you should never go for Gold on another airline that you may never fly by sacrificing status on your primary airline that you do fly.

Another exception would be in case of an impending merger. I started a Continental OnePass account and got their credit card once the United merger was announced. Any miles I earn there will wind up in my United account eventually, unless something goes really wrong and the merger is terminated.

Pick one Primary Airline, in an Alliance:

The actual goal is really to pick one good airline as your primary airline. Pick one that is in an Alliance and has a vast set of other partners. That way you can go to it’s Alliance partners if you need to fly somewhere your primary airline does not and go to non-alliance partners, where the alliance does not. Which airline or alliance you pick is a factor of where you live and where you fly to. My primary airline is United and hence, alliance is Star Alliance. So, whether I am looking for cheap flights to Alicante (ALC) for an exotic vacation to Spain or to Charlotte, NC (CLT) for a day trip for work, my first preference is to fly on United and if they do not fly there (like to Alicante), pick another Star Alliance carrier (Spanair flies to ALC) or if no Star Alliance carrier goes there, pick another United partner.

Going to another alliance should be a last resort in case your primary alliance does not fly to your destination or on route at all. For example, No Star Alliance airline flies non-stop from UK to India. The only option is to fly British Airways (in OneWorld) or have a stopover in continental Europe.

Credit Cards:

I would never again miss a credit card promo that awards tremendous number of miles. The recent 100,000 miles on British Airways and 50,000 miles on United are good examples. If you can, wait for such deals to show up before you apply for a credit card. I personally could not apply for any of these deals as I have a United MileagePlus card currently and have had a British Airways card in the past.

Never let Miles Expire:

That is a crime in my mind. I have let miles expire on two airlines, but neither in large quantities. The price to pay to transfer the miles had seemed too high to justify that process. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I would have done it.

Transferring Miles:

Continuing on the topic of transferring miles, I transferred my American Express Membership Rewards points to ANA (oh yes, another Star Alliance airline). I did this because I was closing my AmEx and needed a home for the points. I chose ANA as there was no tax to transfer miles to them, as there is to all US based airlines. In hindsight, I would have paid the tax transferred the miles to an airline where I already had some miles.

The net-net of what I would have done different is:

  • Minimize the number of accounts I am accumulating miles on. Have one Primary airline, which is a part of a Global Airline
  • If I had to pay a nominal fee or tax to consolidate accounts, I would do it (or pray for a merger. ANA and US Airways anyone? Yeah, right.)
  • I would never let any miles expire!

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