What the Humble Pea Can Point Out About Using Miles & Points for Premium Air Travel
January 1, 2017 The FCF Perspective
While working in Newfoundland from 1912 to 1915, inventor Clarence Birdseye was taught how to fish under very thick ice by the Inuit. He saw how in -40 degrees weather, fish froze almost instantly when caught—but still tasted fresh when thawed.
Over time he found that even colder temperatures worked better because ice crystal formation was minimized and cell membranes weren’t damaged. From fish he moved to meat, spinach, and peas.
Snap-frozen peas (particularly the freeze-friendly Dark Skin Perfection and Thomas Laxton varieties) retain their deliciousness. Their goodness is frozen in time—to be enjoyed well after they’re picked.
So what does this have to do with premium air travel?
When Miles Lose Their Freshness
One of the problems with using credit card points for premium air travel is that great award space deals don’t last long. So, after learning about a deal, do you transfer miles from your credit card to your mileage account as fast as you can, hoping the deal will still be there? Or do you keep a huge cache of points ready to use at a moment’s notice?
Or perhaps there’s another way. What if you could snap-freeze that delicious opportunity until you have time to get a plan together?
You can. You just need to know which airlines are “snap-freeze-friendly”.
The Snap-Freeze-Friendly Airlines…
The key is focusing on the carriers that will freeze a mileage award seat, even if you don’t have the necessary miles in the carrier’s loyalty program to book it. In effect, these carriers are lending you the time to either buy or transfer the miles needed.
Presenting the freeze-friendly protagonists: Air Canada, Air France, American, Emirates, KLM, Korean Air, United, and Virgin Atlantic.
Let’s pinpoint their particulars.
Air Canada will not hold award reservations online, but if you call (800-361-5373) the representative will stay on the line while you transfer miles (either online or by phone) for flights on Air Canada. (No partner award hold offered.) For this you must have an Amex Rewards account as the transfer is almost instantaneous. A Starwood transfer would take too long.
Air France holds free award space on its flights if you call (800-375-8723) for 48 hours. I made a New York-Paris reservation on Dec. 12 for travel May 3, 2017, in Business Class, and my ticketing deadline for free award space was Dec. 14. For partner flights hold times vary by airline and route. For example, the hold time for my partner flight with Delta using Air France miles on Boston-London was also 48 hours. Credit card transfer partners include Amex Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood.
American tickets booked 15 or more days in advance and online, AA usually holds free award space for five days. This perk also applies to partners Airberlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian, Qantas, and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Awards on other partner airlines, such as Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, must be booked by phone, with award space held also for five days. Departures booked within 14 days only net a 24 hour hold option. Transfer time from Starwood is about two days.
When a credit card, as it is often the case with Amex Rewards and Chase, transfers points quickly to airlines that are not freeze-friendly, the risk of availability changing decreases significantly. This is especially true if you are looking at flights, dates, or routes with “wide open” availability, in which case the risk with a Point-Transfer Friendly credit card, is very low.
Take British Airways, for example, on my last transfers from Amex Rewards and Chase, my points posted almost instantly, so the change of award space changing was almost none.
Emirates holds free award space on its flights for 72 hours if you call (800-777-3999). I made a New York-Milan reservation on Dec. 12 for travel April 17, 2017, in Business Class, and my ticketing deadline for free award space was Dec. 15. Booking space on Emirates’ partners is more roundabout: the hold time frame varies, as Emirates has to request the award space, and then once the partner airline confirms the space, you’re given the hold time. On my last booking it was 24 hours. (This is all done while you’re on the phone.) Credit card transfer partners include Amex Rewards and Starwood.
KLM is the same as its Flying Blue partner, Air France; holds free award space on its flights and partner flights for up to 48 hours if you call (800-375-8723). Credit card transfer partners include Amex Rewards, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood.
Korean: holds free award space on Korean flights if you call (800-438-5000), but it varies by reservation. I made a Los Angeles-Seoul reservation on Dec. 9 for travel July 18, 2017 in First Class, and my ticketing deadline for free award space was Jan. 8, at 7pm—a month later. No partner award hold offered. Credit card transfer partners include Chase and Starwood.
United offers the “Fare Lock” option, which, for a small fee, gives you a hold-time of three or seven days on United flights only, not partner flights. A three-day hold costs $9.99 and a seven-day hold $14.99—a great deal! Credit card transfer partners include Chase and Starwood.
Virgin Atlantic holds award reservations for 48 hours based on inventory and the agent, but it’s available only by calling the mileage desk (800-365-9500). For partner flights, hold times vary by airline and route. For example, the hold time for a partner flight with Delta was also 48 hours. Credit card transfer partners include Amex Rewards, Chase, Citi ThankYou, and Starwood.
Know Your Point-Transfer Friendly (PTF) Credit Cards
American Express Membership Rewards: The website states that “the average transfer time is 24 to 48 hours with many airlines.” However, in my experience, transfers occurred the same day with many major airlines, among them Air Canada, Air France, All Nippon, British Airways, Delta, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic.
Chase Ultimate Rewards: The website states that “the average transfer time is one business day, but can take up to seven days.” In my experience, however, transfers have been completed the same day (if not hours) with British Airways, Korean Airlines, and United.
Starwood Preferred Guest: Its website indicates that “transfers take an average of two to four weeks to U.S. carriers and four to six weeks to international ones.” In my experience, Starwood gets miles often the same day to Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, All Nippon, Singapore and Thai Airways, and takes two to five days to transfer them to most other carriers. For example, my last transfer to British Airways took five days.
In time trials that we’ve run with Air France, the Starwood transfer took two days to post, while Amex Rewards transferred the miles the same day.
Citi ThankYou: The website states that “the average transfer time can take up to 14 days.” In my experience, however, transfers have been completed the same day (within a few hours) with Air France and KLM.
Putting it all together:
Hold-Friendly Airlines + Transfer Friendly Credit Cards
Simple, actually, when it’s all laid out. Use the chart below to zero in on the airlines you want to fly that hold free award space and carry the Multi-Airline Credit Cards (MACs) that work best for you.
Look. Lock! Transfer or Buy Miles Strategy Details
|Airline||Lock Option Period||Cost||Business Class Lock||First Class Lock||Lock Option with Partners?||Transfer Credit Card Partners||Transfer Time||Buy Credit Card Points Maximum||Buy Miles Maximum From Airline|
|Air Canada||No official hold; but agent will stay on the phone while points transfer||Free||Yes||N/A||No||Amex Rewards||Instant||500,000||Top off up to 50%: only enough to get the miles needed for the ticket.|
|Air France||48 hours||Free||Free||No||Yes; 48 hours||Amex Rewards||Instant||500,000||75,000|
|Citi ThankYou||Few Hours||100,000|
|American||1 or 5 days||Free||Yes||Yes||Yes; major partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines||Starwood||2 days||30,000||100,000|
|Emirates||72 hours||Free||Yes||Yes||Yes; 24 hours||Amex Rewards||1 day||500,000||25,000|
|KLM||48 hours||Free||Yes||No||Yes; 48 hours||Amex Rewards||Instant||500,000||75,000|
|Citi ThankYou||Few Hours||100,000|
|Korean||Varies by reservation||Free||Yes||Yes||No||Chase||Instant||None||No|
|United||3 or 7 days||$9.99 to $14.99||Yes||Yes||No||Chase||1 day||None||150,000|
|Starwood*||Bad exchange; not recommend||30,000|
|Virgin Atlantic||48 hours||Free||Yes||N/A||Yes; up to 48 hours||Amex Rewards||Instant||500,000||100,000|
|Citi ThankYou||1 day||100,000|
Multi-Airline Credit Cards
Long-time FCF members know that one of our 10 Commandments is “Use Multi-Airline Credit Cards (MACs)”. The four major MACs are any American Express Card that includes its Membership Rewards program, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, Citi ThankYou program, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex card. The great advantage of these cards is that they offer points-to-miles transfer options with numerous airline mileage programs, which increases your availability, comfort, and route options immensely. Starwood has the most airline transfer partners at 47, Amex Rewards has 20, Citi 14, and Chase 7. Here is a list of the major airline transfer partners.
Starwood Preferred Guest: Aegean, Aeromexico, Airberlin, Air Canada, Air Berlin, Air China, Air France, Air New Zealand, Alaska, Alitalia, All Nippon, American, Asiana, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Hainan, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, KLM, Korean Air, LATAM, Lifemiles (Avianca), Lufthansa (and other Miles & More affiliated airlines), Qatar Airways, Saudi Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, United, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia.
American Express Membership Rewards: Aeromexcio, Air Canada, Air France, Alitalia, All Nippon, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, EL AL, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Hawaiian, KLM, Iberia, Jet Blue, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic.
Chase Sapphire Preferred: British Airways, Korean Airlines, United, and Virgin Atlantic.
Citi ThankYou: Air France, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, EVA Air, Garuda, JetBlue, KLM, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Qantas, Qatar, Virgin America, and Virgin Atlantic.
Who would have picked the pea to be so purposeful?
Whether you’re Paul the politician in Pittsburgh with points who wants to see the Pirates of Penzance in Paris, or Pastor Pete in Providence who wants to pick a peck of pickled peppers in Prague, your miles just became a lot more practical.
As we like to say at FCF, give peas a chance.
In case you’re interested (probably not), there are 173 Ps in this post. Just another example of FCF’s passionate, and perhaps, pedantic attention to detail.