If you’ve been following along in the series, we’ve covered off how to get started by setting the right goals and expectations as well as the type of points you should collect depending on your specific situation.
Today our focus will be the most difficult part of Travel Hacking; how to find availability and how to extract the most value out of your points possible. I’ll warn you. This part is the part where most people throw up their hands and say “hey … that toaster looks like a pretty good use of my points”. Don’t do that. Stick with it because once you learn this skill, the world is your oyster.
The Value of Points
The first thing we need to establish is what is a good redemption. As a newbie, you may think that any redemption is a good redemption and depending on your particular situation you may be right but for the most part, there is a monetary value you are trying to achieve when you redeem.
What you need to consider is your Cost Per Mile (CPM) to determine the value of your points. I’m not going to delve into every subject here because I have linked to more in-depth posts I have written about the subject but what we are aiming for are the following metrics:
- 1 CPM as your earn rate
- 2-4 CPM as your burn rate for Economy Class flights
- 8+ CPM as your burn rate for Business Class flights
- 10+ CPM as your burn rate for First Class flights
As long as your earn rate (the cost to earn miles) is lower than your burn rate (the value you get out of your points), you win. The difference between the two numbers is the free value you get out of your points. This is why almost all seasoned veterans of Travel Hacking redeem for Premium Cabin (Business or First) flights.
Now, these are general rules of thumb but every person’s situation is different. I have been known to redeem an economy flight for less than 2 CPM but my situation is such that I would rather use miles than cash to pay for flights. You may find that the numbers I have above are overly aggressive or overly conservative and that’s okay. As long as you set criteria and to stick t0 it, you’ll be fine.
By having a measuring stick, you’ll start to understand how well you are doing in this game.
How To Redeem
Welcome to the rabbit hole.
There are so many different ways to use your miles and it really depends on what you are trying to accomplish but what you really need to learn are the ins and outs of routing and finding award space. My first suggestion is to jump the following subjects:
- How to Find Award Availability – In this series, I go very much in depth into how to find award space, including a video at the end where I walk through my process. A must watch.
- Reward Flights and Close-In Availability – Here we explore a more advanced topic focused on close-in availability. Read this to understand how airlines release award availability and for some reassurance that you can find great awards if you are willing to book last minute.
- Booking Alaska Partner Awards – This series is geared towards people in the Provinces of Alberta and BC but if you are able to position to a city in which a partner airline flies, Alaska provides tremendous value – probably the best value redemptions overall.
- Booking Aeroplan’s Mini-Round-The-World Trips – The Mini-RTW is the crown jewel of Aeroplan redemptions and derives some of the best value in the world for redemptions. Learning that you can have 3 destinations for the price of 1 … gamechanger.
If you read and understand the four series’ listed above, you will be well on your way to booking your own flights.
Remember, even when you understand everything, you are likely to be crestfallen at some point because something will just not work out. As an example, you might be able to find availability on TransAltantic or TransPacific flights but you may not be able to find availability for your domestic positioning flight. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board but I don’t view that as a negative. I view it as an opportunity to learn more about patterns and tricks on booking award flights in the future.
Every failure is a learning experience.
What To Do If You Can’t Find Availability
Everyone will run into this at some point. You need to get somewhere and you can’t find award availability.
It was already hard enough to convince your boss to give you the vacation time. What do you do?
Well, you have some options available to you for paid fare travel. While it isn’t as lucrative as award travel, there’s a place for paid travel, especially if you can use some resources and know-how to still book the travel cheaper than others that aren’t in the know.
Here are some suggestions on how you can book paid travel on the cheap:
- What To Do If You Can’t Find Award Availability – A post on how you can leverage American Express’ Fixed Travel Points Program and the value in purchasing gift cards using points.
- How To Get A Discount on Air Canada Flights – A look at some of the ways you can further discount your Air Canada flights.
- Understanding and Finding Hidden City Ticketing – Hidden City Ticketing can save you an incredible amount of money but there are risks associated with it. I have successfully used it multiple times to save quite a bit on paid fares so I’m a fan of having it as a tool in your belt.
As you can see, finding award flights is easily the most difficult and labour intensive part of this hobby but I liken it to coding.
Like coding, if you learn one language, call it C++, you have a very good basis to pick up additional programming languages quite easily because you now understand the general structure of code, tricks on how to write the code, etc, etc. Sure, there’s going to be nuances you have to learn but your foundation is already set.
If you are willing to put in the time at the head end, I can promise you that this is a tool that you will use over and over again for the rest of your life.
Also published on Medium.