Since the age of 16, I’ve held a frequent flier card for Northwest Airlines, now Delta. Finding ways to add more miles to my account has held an interest since the beginning. Through the years I’ve been fortunate to have owned businesses that allowed me to rack up a sizable amount of miles using my NWA branded credit card. With the Detla/NWA merger, my card is now the Skymiles AMEX. These miles paid for 5 of my trips to India including travel partners. But, finding seats has become trickier with the recent reduction in available seating and increased amount of other traveler’s cashing in their rewards.
In the past I relied on the airline’s website to purchase my tickets to India. With the push to move customers online, airlines were charging $15 or more to speak with a representative. As my plans for my 2009 trip were coming together, I decided to call for help finding tickets regardless of the extra fee. The merger of NWA and DAL was creating roadblocks with their online booking when flying on alliance partners. Unless I was to fly into BOM (Mumbai), an alliance partner was required to Delhi or Bangalore.
What I found by calling in, was a hassle, and, a really great deal. For just 120,000 miles, round trip, I found myself flying in First Class within the US and Business Class Internationally on Continental & Air France. This was half what I had been “paying” when booking online. For my recent 2010 South India trip, I called in again for help finding the best deal. This time, 100,000 to fly outbound to Bangalore in Coach, return in Business Class all on Air France. Amazing!
How do you find these deals?
- Don’t have your itinerary set in stone yet. Wait until you have your flights locked up before confirming with a travel agency as your arrival and departure dates may vary. Agencies love to charge cancellation or change fees.
- Arm yourself with your available travel dates. Be flexible within a few days on both ends.
- Call initially to gather background information, such as dates outbound and return flights available. Ask for the best options up front explaining you are flexible with your travel times.
- Be open to flying into a different major city. Sometimes it’s worth flying into a neighboring airport and jumping on an internal connecting flight at $100/ticket.
- Open Jaws: Fly into one airport where you could start your journey ending in another major city where you could depart from. Example: Fly into Mumbai for a 2 week itinerary, end in Delhi and fly home from there.
- Don’t take the first choices offered by the airline representative unless it fits within your travel dates. You can generally get a feeling up-front if the agent is working for you, or for themselves.
- Be prepared to call over several days at different times. As you gather more information on available flights, destinations and dates, you’ll be in a better position to receive the great deals.
- Play dumb, ask nicely. When I have a good “feeling” of an agent based on their greeting, using a kind, humble tone of voice always gets the agent on my side. Give your dates of desired travel, explain you are very flexible and would like to spend as few miles as possible.
If you still don’t find the deals or flights you’re hoping for, Expert Flyer might be worth trying. An article in WSJ last month gave this service a nice mention which I checked out. For a small fee, either one time or recurring, you can use their website to help snag the available seats and deals. It appears to work on most major airlines and alliances.
I’ve sometimes had to work for several days before booking the perfect ticket. Be patient and you might just be rewarded.
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