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Old Dec 27, 12, 5:47 pm   #1
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for emergencies, it's good to always have "extra" miles/points in multiple programs

I was staying with family in the HSV (Huntsville AL) area over Christmas. I had flown there on AA, with whom I have zillions of miles (it's my primary program), and in fact, because cash fares at Christmas (at least to HSV) were so high, I'd booked it with miles. (Separate one-way bookings for each direction, rather than a single round-trip booking, "just in case".) I'd booked BusinessFirst "saver" instead of Coach "anytime", since they're the same number of miles (and Coach 'saver" was never available).

I was due to fly back from HSV (through DFW) Wednesday the 26th in the late afternoon. But Wednesday morning I get the following emails from AA (minutes apart):

1. your flight HSV-DFW is cancelled
2. unable to rebook
3. your rebooked flight

(It turned out it was weather at DFW, on Tuesday, which produced a de-icing crisis on Wednesday, which led to hundreds of flights being cancelled on Wednesday, including mine.)

However, they had rebooked me for the following day, getting me into LAX (by a roundabout routing) mid-afternoon. So I would basically miss the day of work, which I had committed to doing. So was there a way I could not miss that day of work (at least as completely)?

AA customer service had half-hour waits (then and still today), because of how many of their flights got cancelled no doubt. So even though I found a better flight (getting me to LAX in mid-morning) with seats available (I was looking on ExpertFlyer, a paid site, but there are free sites that can show this information, at least for paid fares), by the time I got off of hold it was gone. I even tried for a downgrade to coach (since there was Y1 showing on the same flight that had shown F1 earlier), but the phone agent was unable to actually book me on that. So I gave up on that.

Then I decided to check BNA (Nashville), which is only about two hours from Huntsville. The same site showed now avialable flights from there back to LAX on any of the majors, but it couldn't show me Southwest availability at all.

So I went to the Southwest site (where I had a bit over 50k points at the moment, plus an expired award waiting to be revived), and found three flights that day that not only had seats available, but at the WannaGetAway price of 22,000 points. Now, that's not the greatest points rate in "normal times", but day-of-travel on the day after Christmas, I thought it was great! So I booked the evening flight (so I would have plenty of time to get there).

I then called up Avis to change my HSV-HSV rental to HSV-BNA. At first they said they couldn't do it, but I said I'd just test booked a 6-hour HSV-BNA rental on the Avis website and it had shown cars available for that. So they went off for a while and found it was just a flight and were able to change my booking for a return to BNA for just $75+tax extra.

(My only other increased expenses were the cost of a few extra gallons of gas -- driving HSV-BNA -- and the cost of eating dinner at a BNA airport restuarant instead of getting a free meal on my first-class midcon leg on AA. And thus perhaps a total of $100ish. But I would have lost much more money -- in lost pay -- had I lost a day of work, which I would have done had I used the AA rebooking.)

Once they started boarding the Southwest flight BNA-LAX (I only had boarding card B60 since I had only booked the flight earlier that day!), I logged onto the airport internet and cancelled my (next day) HSV-DFW-LAX rebooked flight. (I had to call this morning to actually get the miles reinstated and the security fee refunded.)

I did look at the price of the Southwest flight in dollars. It was somewhere around $350. So had I not had Southwest points aplenty, I would either have to pay that or put up with getting home 3/4 of a day late.

I had no idea if/whether I might need those Southwest points when I collected them (mainly by choosing the MegaMiles promo over the MegaBonus promo on many one-night Marriott stays earlier this year). I just thought I might need them sometime, who knows.

(Even though AA is my primary airline, I also maintain BA, DL, and UA miles, plus Southwest points, such that if one airline isn't able to meet my needs, I've got several others to try if it's that important.)

... Along a similar vein, I maintiain enough points for several nights in a bunch of different hotel programs, since I never know where I might be where there's only going to be one hotel that's in a points program.


... So I'm putting this anecdote out as a rebuttal to those people who say:

1. Burn all your miles now, they'll only devalue later.

2. Focus all your miles on one airline.

3. If you like flying up front, don't bother with Southwest at all. (I don't tend to ever fly Southwest paid myself, I just earn RR 2.0 points through partner activities, and mostly only when there's a good promo.)

4. Don't ever earn miles at hotels (and in particular at Marriott).
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Old Dec 27, 12, 6:05 pm   #2
 
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Thanks for the detailed report.

I've seen your other posts on flyertalk, and they tend to be very comprehensive, and informative, without getting into the inflammatory discussions...kudos!

I agree, having a reservoir of points/miles in multiple programs is an insurance of sorts...the old adage - never put all your eggs in one basket!

Flying from BNA was a great idea...reminds me several yrs back when I used to fly SW extensively from SJC-BNA, only due to the SW factor, and then drive to Chattanooga.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 6:31 pm   #3
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I appreciate the OP's post, but in this case hoarding Southwest points isn't a good application of his strategy, since RR points are the same as cash fares, and are worth less on full fare and biz select tickets.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 6:48 pm   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travelergcp View Post
I appreciate the OP's post, but in this case hoarding Southwest points isn't a good application of his strategy, since RR points are the same as cash fares, and are worth less on full fare and biz select tickets.
My point there is that I only earn Southwest points at 600 points (or mulitples thereof) in partner applications, where they are earned at far more than the cash-equilvalent rate (compared to anything else I could earn in those partner transactions): 2600 (one promo) or 1800 (another promo) RR points for a one-night $50 (LNFed) Fairfield Inn stay, or the RR points I earned last month for buying Marriott gift cards through a Southwest promo.(And, to clarify, these were nights I needed hotel stays anyway. There was no mattress running involved.)

I might agree if the Southwest points were earned in a "linear" way or if I had a way to get $10 cashback instead of every 600 RR points I earn in such bonuses. But I don't, do I? (If I do, please tell me how!)

So I only earn Southwest points where they can be earned at way better than the $10 per 600 RR points value they have. Then it's not so bad to redeem them at that value.

(And I only redeem for Wanna Get Away fares, which, amazingly, were avialable just hours before the flight in the case!)

Btw, they're not exactly like cash fares. As has been pointed out in the Southwest forum, certain taxes that would be assesed on cash fares are not assessed on RR point redemptions.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 6:50 pm   #5
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travelergcp View Post
I appreciate the OP's post, but in this case hoarding Southwest points isn't a good application of his strategy, since RR points are the same as cash fares, and are worth less on full fare and biz select tickets.
Totally disagree here.

I do agree with the OP though. I have buckets of points in multiple programs and it has benefitted me many, many times. I see WN points as very important in this scenario. Would they always be a good use of capital? No. But you can always get a flight if you have enough points and many times if just a little flexible you can get a Wannagetaway fare (points).

I personally recommend keeping WN points if possible.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 6:55 pm   #6
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Originally Posted by raj_cl View Post
I've seen your other posts on flyertalk, and they tend to be very comprehensive, and informative, without getting into the inflammatory discussions...kudos!
Yeah.

Never ask sdsearch, "How ya doin'?" unless you've got some time to spare.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 7:05 pm   #7
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My point is that holding Southwest points doesn't give you an end-run around yield management in the same way that redeeming 25k miles does for a ticket on a legacy carrier when prevailing fares are high. I keep miles in various programs for this very reason. But 100 Southwest points are no different than having $1.67 in your bank account, assuming spend on WGA fares.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 7:28 pm   #8
 
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sdsearch, your point is well taken. I maintain miles in four airline programs and points in five hotel programs, because you never know what's going to happen tomorrow. Also, I never know which program is going to have the best flights for a particular itinerary or the best rooms available at a particular location. For me, it's always good to have flexibility.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 7:33 pm   #9
 
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A caveat -- important to have miles in programs that don't charge you late-ticketing fees. The problem here is that Delta has poor availability and BA Avios depends on AA and AS for domestic flights.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 8:35 pm   #10
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travelergcp View Post
My point is that holding Southwest points doesn't give you an end-run around yield management in the same way that redeeming 25k miles does for a ticket on a legacy carrier when prevailing fares are high. I keep miles in various programs for this very reason. But 100 Southwest points are no different than having $1.67 in your bank account, assuming spend on WGA fares.
While there is indeed almost a dollar-for-point redemption cost with Southwest (excluding the taxes sdsearch mentions) with redemption rates tied directly to the current dollar cost of a fare, I think the bigger point here is that there can be value in accumulating points in a program you rarely, or never fly. A credit card app or two (often with Southwest, 50K for one or 100K if you go business and personal), strategic bonus options (such as the Marriott options), and even the occasional flight (hey, it turns out that Southwest is most convenient for me with nonstops to get from ORF to BWI and MCO, two places that work will reimburse me for travel) may very well pay dividends in the future.

For anyone just getting started, a person who has a strong preference for flying on one airline, or one whose home airport has limited airline options, then concentrating on one airline miles (or hotel points) program makes sense. But, keeping in mind that sdsearch both had program options and a personality option, his own flexibility, he was able to benefit from his long-term strategy to accomplish something at very little cost (but some inconvenience) that very few others would have considered possible, given the circumstances.

I've flown exactly one United flight in the last 10 years, an award flight from ORF to SJC last summer, but I've racked up 120K UA miles. Without going into great detail, I can tell you that having those UA miles available to me allowed me to do a one-way award when AA, my preferred domestic program, was unable to give me any seats at all. I've accumulated a bunch of HHonors points in the past year--a program that I'd hardly considered before and with which, even now, I've hardly earned any points through stays--because the plentiful points earning opportunities in 2012 made me realize that I could easily secure more than enough points for one extended stay when I'm in Dublin in 2013, and if there isn't a massive points devaluation (which you always must anticipate), a similar stay in Edinburgh in 2014.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 9:06 pm   #11
 
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Great report - very interesting and informative. I agree that the WN points are an easy to acquire back-up plan.

I am fascinated that you value your time so highly. That is awesome. As a stay at home mom, I can't imagine hustling so much for 3/4 of a day. Then again, as an unsalaried person, my days aren't financially crucial.
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Old Dec 27, 12, 9:10 pm   #12
 
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Next time in HSV let us HSVians know!
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Old Dec 28, 12, 5:18 am   #13
 
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I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for just this reason. I have a buffer of points that I can transfer to several airline or hotel programs more or less immediately in a case where I have a need to do something last minute, or something in a region I don't frequent. Agree that the BA/Avios option for use domestically in the US is sketchy for last minute purposes.
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Old Dec 28, 12, 7:03 am   #14
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Travelergcp View Post
But 100 Southwest points are no different than having $1.67 in your bank account, assuming spend on WGA fares.
For a variety of reasons, most having to do with potential cancellations, this is not exactly true. More details in numerous posts in the WN forum.
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Old Dec 28, 12, 7:51 am   #15
 
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Originally Posted by toomanybooks View Post
For a variety of reasons, most having to do with potential cancellations, this is not exactly true. More details in numerous posts in the WN forum.
+1
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