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The secrets of flying like the pros

How to fly for free (or close to it) with airline points

5 ways to master the art of luxe travel with rewards flights.

Bruce T. Martin

I faced a difficult choice one evening last summer: whether to pick Dom Perignon or Krug Champagne on my vacation flight to Frankfurt. With leather seats that can be converted into a double bed and sliding privacy doors, the Singapore Airlines suite is one of the most exclusive tickets in the sky (turns out I didn’t even have to choose — the flight attendants were all too happy to let me try both).

How did I end up in such luxury? Certainly not by paying the roughly $5,000 fare. Instead, I used rewards points — accruing them for trips beyond my regular means is my obsession — and paid about $200 in taxes and fees. You can score a deal for traveling in style, too.


> Be Flexible

Have a specific date and destination in mind? You’re likely to be disappointed. Airlines generally release reward seats on flights they think are likely to have empty seats. If your date or destination is flexible, you greatly increase the chances of success. Most airline sites have calendars that show when seats are available. And if you want to go to Italy, for example, focus on getting to Europe first, then make a plan for getting the rest of the way.

> Go for Transferrable Points

If you are earning points with credit card spending (as I do), you are usually better off participating in a program that allows you to transfer them to several different airlines. The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express lets you do that with more than 30 airlines, usually on a 1:1 basis. Other programs include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points. I used a combination of Membership Rewards and ThankYou points for my Singapore Airlines flight, which would never have been possible if I was only earning points in one airline program.


> Be Patient, Then Act Fast

Many of the best seats are not available until just a few weeks before departure. For example, German carrier Lufthansa doesn’t allow booking in first class through partner airlines like United until around two weeks out or more. When you spot one, book it right away.

> Comb the Internet

Websites like The Points Guy, View From the Wing, and One Mile at a Time are full of great tips for earning and using points. Another good resource is, a subscription service that lets you set alerts so you’ll know when a seat opens up on your preferred flight.

> Earn and Burn

One of the axioms of the points game is that your miles will never be worth more than they are today. In fact, they are sure to be worth less, because airlines have the right to devalue miles whenever they want. For example, American Airlines has announced a devaluation starting in March that will increase the price of a first-class seat to some destinations in Asia by more than 80,000 miles round trip. If you want to get maximum value, don’t sit on your miles. Use them!

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