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Smart Traveler's Corner
Airlines
 


Choosing Your Airline
 


While this may seem like a strange place to start saving money, it can be the most important part of traveling more cheaply. In order to be successful in attaining reduced fares through discount coupons and special offers available only to members of the airlines frequent flyer program, and free tickets using frequent flyer miles; you must give airline selection your highest consideration. There are several factors in determining which airline/alliance you choose.

  • First, look at who services your local airport. Next, where do you travel most often? Then, where you want to travel for fun and adventure. And finally, who are the local carriers aligned with in terms of other airlines, hotels, rental cars and so forth. And finally, are you a member of their frequent flyer plan already. 

    

  • Armed with this information, take a lined note pad and put each airline who serves your airport at the top of a column, dividing the pad into as many airlines as serve your city, leaving the left hand column blank (See the example below). At this point, use only national carriers unless of course you fly only, for example, along the west coast in which case you would probably want to include Alaska and Reno Air both of whom have an extensive partner network. Now, on the lines down the left-hand side, list each city you travel to regularly, one per line. Next, list your leisure destinations and other "wanna visits" one per line as in the case of regular travel. You can now list the hotels and rental cars you like to use on the next lines with the final line entry being "program member." At the very bottom of the column, list the alliance partners with full reciprocity. By that, I mean earning and spending airline miles at the same rate. Clubs and upgrades are a plus in reciprocity but not all that important unless you are a very frequent leisure traveler. 

    

  • Check the airlines that serve your regular destinations and leisure wanna visits. (Note: It is much easier as it builds the connections for you while the OAG will have you pulling your hair after the first connection which you achieve by working backward from your destination to your point of origin.) Under each carrier, place an X for each city they serve and note how many connections are needed to reach your destinations. This is important because if you have time and want extra miles, more connections mean more miles and more connections give you a greater chance of being bumped. Under hotels and rental cars, note if you will receive frequent flyer miles during your stay or rental. These bonuses now vary greatly depending on the type of rate, number of days and whether or not you can get both hotel points and airline miles. Next note whether or not you are a member of the airlines frequent flyer program. And while we will cover this in great gory detail later, note if the carrier offers reduced awards for off-season or distance traveled. A quick visit to their web page will give you a good feel for this. 

    

  • Lastly, look at the travel partners and how they can be used to augment your points and miles.
     

Weigh all this information carefully then, make a gut call based on your experience and what you see before you on the page. Your carrier of choice may just jump out at you or, you may have to choose between two or more. That is where the gut comes in. I honestly do not believe there are any "Bad" national carriers and certainly all are working hard to gain passengers. All have labor problems from time to time and all have management problems also. But once again, slow downs and strikes can really earn you the miles if you follow some simple rules.

Little Rock National Airport

Fine print:  This data is for informational purposes only and may or may not reflect actual routes, partnerships, points and alliances.  Any Accuracy is purely accidental!

Destination/Partner

American

Delta

Northwest

TWA

Seattle

X 1

X 2

X 2 or 3

X 1

Portland

X 1

X 2

X 2 or 3

X 1

Vancouver, BC

X 1

X 2

X 2

X 1

Sacramento

X 1 or 2

X 2 or 3

X 3

X 1

Traverse City, MI

X 2

No

X 2

No

State College, PA

No

No

X 2

No

Tampa

X 1

X 1

X 1 or 2

X 1

Guam, MI

No

No

X 3

No

Wanna Visits
Amsterdam

X 2

X 2

X 1

No

London

X 1

X 1 or 2

X 2 or 3

X 1

Hotels
Hilton

X Miles and Points 
500 plus flight bonus

X Miles and Points

X Miles and Points 
500 plus flight bonus

X Miles and Points

Sheraton

Miles or Points

Same

Same

Same

Rental cars
Alamo

No

No

500

500

National

No

No

250

250

Hertz

Points awarded per $

No

No

No

Program member

Yes - First elite level

Yes - member

Yes - Top elite level

Yes - First elite level

Airline partners

AC, BA (Oneworld)

UA, AF (Star)

AS, CO, KLM

AS

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY CHOICE: Based on the information above, and after great machination, my gut has told me to pick Northwest as my primary carrier. I chose them because they fly to all the destinations I normally visit and they have an alliance that meets my needs for foreign and domestic award travel. Since Iím "in it for the miles," the extra legs mean extra miles. Therefore, I earn award travel and more importantly re-qualify for elite status much more quickly. They have 20,000 mile domestic awards for most of the year and their foreign awards are better than most. 

My choice when I get bumped from NWA would be Continental and TWA. Continental is obvious since they are a full partner with NWA, but why TWA? Well, a couple of reasons. They have an agreement with Hilton HHonors where you can transfer 5,000 miles into 10,000 HHonors points and they, like Northwest, are aligned with Alaska. So, if I choose, I can earn Alaska miles on TWA and redeem them on American, Air Canada, Qantas, TWA, BA, Continental, Northwest and probably some I can't recall right now. In terms of partners, no one holds a candle to Alaska! 

Your choice will very probably be different even if you live in Little Rock because you may not want all the connections or go to the same places. When I lived in Washington State and worked in Tulsa, my airline of choice was American. In San Francisco, it was United. In San Diego it was PSA (now part of US Airways). 

Congratulations! You have completed the first step and listened to the Westin commercial very well when they said, "Choose your travel partners wisely!" Once you have made the choice, stick with it. There will be times you will wish you hadn't but we will see how to handle those situations and turn them to our advantage as we go along. You will receive special offers like, "Fly one more segment in the first quarter of 1999 than you did last year and we will give you a 5,000 mile bonus," or "Fly 10 segments in one month and receive one free coach ticket." 

 

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