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Continuing the fun at the Family Travel for Real Life (#FT4RL) conference, and continuing the live blogging!  I hope that you will follow along with me as we learn about family travel, and how those of us with families can take part in it with their families.  See below for the lineup of speakers and follow us throughout the day with #FT4RL

In the “dreaded” right after lunch spot we have Jason Steele, talking about the current state of the miles and points world and where the award sweet spots are right now.  Jason is a frequent contributor to the Points Guy, Yahoo Travel, and a few other travel sites.  Jason is our first “repeat” speaker, and I definitely enjoyed his talk last year about tricks to find multiple award seats for families.

Some of the new changes in the miles and points world

delta-award-chart-2015-delta-iconOne of the new changes in miles and points is the disappearing award charts – first we had Delta’s award chart go missing (but we found it!), and now Southwest is changing the value of their points without really telling us how they’re changing.

Jason mentioned that he had talked to someone in Delta PR told him that they didn’t think that most people cared about seeing their award chart, except for the 25,000 miles for a roundtrip domestic ticket.

There’s a lot of rapidly fluctuating award availability on American, US Airways and Delta, the increasing strength of cash back cards and another devaluation on British Airways.

Jason’s Rule #1

“How you spend your points and miles is at least as imortant as how you earned them”

He gave a great example of a flight between CLT (where we’re at now) and FLL (Ft. Lauderdale).  You can use 111,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards to book through the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall, or 100,000 United / American miles, or use 36,000 British Airways Avios.

(SEE ALSO: British Airways – good for domestic US travel too!)

(SEE ALSO: Why it pays to check the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall before transferring points)

There is a distinct difference between the traditional airline award programs (United, Delta, American, etc.) and some of the revenue based programs, like we talked about earlier this morning at #FT4RL with Bonnie from the Frugal Travel Lawyer.

Booking Traditional Airline Awards for families

First thing is to leverage your inflexibility.  Like we talk about with the Traveler’s Triangle – those of us with kids in school KNOW when they are in and out of school, and can make sure to book at the right dates 330 days in advance

(SEE ALSO: The truth of the traveler’s triangle: The relationship between Time, Price and Location)

Another good point is that the websites for the main sites (United.com, AA.com, Delta.com) often do NOT show all their partners.  Use the websites of some of their partners (ANA for Star Alliance or British Airways site for oneworld) to find the award space, and then call in to American or United to book the award.

(SEE ALSO: Simple trick to search ANA for Star Alliance flights)

Vary the number of passengers

british airwaysAnother great trick is that all of the major airline’s website will only show the availability for the number of passengers that you ask for.  So if you are doing a search for 4 passengers, and the airline only has 3 available seats at the saver level, it will only show 4 tickets at the (higher) standard price.

Same thing happens with Southwest Airlines

(SEE ALSO: Southwest Multiple Passengers trick)

There was another great suggestion that if American’s website is showing 2 seats availability, you can open separate browsers and book those award tickets on both American AND US Airways site (and possibly British Airways site also), due to the latency in how the websites talk to each other.

Jason’s Rule #2

“Award availability increases with distance from the United States”

Since Americans earn the most miles through credit cards and other promotions, the domestic US carriers are stingier with award space and often stay close to home.  So if you’re looking for flights outside the US (He gave examples of Frankfurt-Rome or Singapore-Tokyo), you’ll often see a TON of award availability.

Also look for non-alliance spokes.  Cities served by airlines that are not pat of the dominant alliance.  Lufthansa Charlotte-Munich or Miami-Frankfurt as one example, since Miami and Charlotte are oneworld hubs.

Other creative ways to get multiple award tickets

  • Split up the team – book 2 folks on an earlier flight of the day, and 2 on a later flight
  • Joint revenue / award bookings.
  • Book imperfect awards – book a 2 or 3 stop flight several months out, and then wait for some change in the flight schedule (weather, IRROPS, schedule changes) – you can then often change to the “better” ticket for free.  American is also the only US legacy carrier.  NEVER EVER EVER ACCEPT SCHEDULE CHANGES!
  • Double mileage awards – I’ve written about this before: Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and book a “Standard” award
  • Travel on holidays – July 4, Christmas, and other “Day of” awards often have a lot of space.

More ways to save money with family travel

Jason’s 3rd rule – kids love trains!

The end of Jason’s presentation talked about other ways to save – first one was by using trains to travel.  Our family is also taking an Amtrak trip this summer and are definitely looking forward to it.  Look for a few more posts about Amtrak travel next week.

Also with many rental car companies, you can get their “top” status for free by having the right credit cards, and that will let you pick any car on the lot – including minivans, which can be a huge money saver for those of us who need 5 or 6.  Look for a post on this too next week!  (He must be reading my post schedule :-D)

Great talk!

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