Finding a Seat With Frequent Flyer Miles

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I try to rack up as many frequent flyer miles as we can. We take a few trips each year and use our United Airlines frequent flyer credit card as often as possible. As I’m sure most of you know, it can take a long time to accumulate enough miles to actually use. Recently though, we’ve come to the realization that accruing the miles is the easy part; what’s gotten harder and harder is using the miles when we want to travel, to the destinations to which we are interested in traveling.

Here’s a fine example. We’re in the planning stages of a trip to Italy next summer. Our experience has always been to look for tickets as soon as possible, because if your destination is a popular one, frequent flyer seats can be few and far between. United opens up frequent flyer space 11 months prior to any proposed departure date. So if one wants to travel on July 1st of 2012 (when we hope to go), one can begin looking for frequent flyer tickets on August 1st of 2011.

Per United Airlines frequent flier program, a round-trip between the United States and Europe, flying economy in the saver category, “costs” 60,000 miles. Over time we accrued enough miles for four such round trips and waited until this past August 1st to begin looking and, hopefully, book.

But lo and behold, it turns out that the only frequent flyer seats available will cost us 110,000 miles each. Perhaps “cheaper” frequent flyer tickets will open up later. However, it is also possible that United has decided that there are no “saver” category tickets to fly on frequent flyer miles in the summer between the U.S. and Europe.

We’ve postponed our decision for the time being, and plan to research this topic in depth (using, an excellent blog dedicated to frequent flyer programs).

We know we didn’t “pay” for the miles, although we do pay $90 a year for the credit card, but it still galls us that we might have to use almost twice the number of miles quoted by United on its website. Sounds a bit like bait and switch. Yet another reason for United’s poor customer satisfaction rating!