I’ve been procrastinating. Someone asked me for some help on an award from SLC – FCO, they aren’t really an active reader here so I use that excuse, combined with my preliminary search telling me that Salt Lake City is a really crappy place to be flying out of unless you have a wealth of Delta miles to procrastinate. I never got around to answering them, I will soon I promise. I mentioned recently that I wasn’t going to get my jollies by spilling secrets, but I think general principles and concepts that can be revisited are fair game, as they can help the reader reframe award bookings, and hopefully won’t kill the Diamond Encrusted Duck.
Strategic Loyalty Program Selection
I always advise people (even complete strangers who simply stop to ask me directions in Manhattan) that the ‘best’ loyalty program is subjective. If you live in a city that is a major hub for Delta, but doesn’t have a lot of American Airlines routes, it could well be that selecting an inferior program is the smarter move. Sure, Delta may demand 1.5M miles for a roundtrip from SLC-BOS (or whatever their current low tier rate actually is) but if you need to get to Boston and you have no other options it is probably the best thing for you.
Reframing the Equation with Re-positioning flights
What if you live ‘near’ a place that has great access to the types of award flights you really want? For example, what if you live near Boston. Boston Logan airport is a serious international airport, but as everyone knows, Boston isn’t anything near as cool a city as NYC, and neither are their international flight options.
Not too shabby, in fact there are so many routes going out of BOS that it isn’t the easiest map graphic to read, but still not a patch on NYC, if we ignored the surrounding area of LGA and Newark and just look at JFK there are a ton more routes, as the squiggly lines clearly show:
Generally speaking, all of the major loyalty programs will get a Bostonian to any of the New Yorkers destinations, because while not all routes are offered from BOS compared to JFK, they are considered to be in the same Award Region of North America. So in this example, a Boston resident wouldn’t necessarily have do much special to end up accessing the same routes as a New Yorker.
However, there will be many times when you search from an award and a specific leg of it isn’t available. For example, even for the Bostonian here, if there was award space on JFK-Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, if there was no award space from BOS-JFK, the entire booking would crap out, and the Bostonian wouldn’t necessarily know why, in fact a route that is a bus ride (ok a long and horrible bus ride) away being unavailable has ruined all their plans to visit Hong Kong.
Selecting Sister Airports
As a New Yorker, I typically fly out of wherever I have to, ideally it is JFK or LGA, but I will go to Newark and brave the New Jerseyites if that is what I have to do. In fact, if I want to use my United miles that is my primary choice of airport. Certainly, they have Star Alliance partners that fly from JFK, but due to their award chart if I want to fly Business/First Newark on United Metal is the choice for me. So I technically ‘reposition’ by commuting through that land. I could say that my primary airport has been JFK, and the sister airports are LGA and EWR. Again, I am lucky because those three offer about as much coverage in terms of destination as anything I could hope for.
But what about my friend from SLC?
As you can see their only options for international non-stop routes are the beautiful islands of Hawaii and those Parisians that everybody loves to hate. Of course, you could still get to most global destinations providing there was space on all of the legs. But also, if you added a few sister airports into your mix, you could gain a lot more.
I feel like I am wasting my time reading this post
OK I get it – it’s simple and obvious that if you are willing to drive to other airports you get more options, but what about this… what about flying to other airports to pick up more options? Again, SLC is a pain in the butt to live in as an award traveler. And almost all of the flights that leave there are on Delta, and Delta SUCKS (unless you are printing out billions of points using a certain card that I won’t get into).
Instead of waiting for the mountain to come to Muhammad, why not go to the Mountain? There clearly aren’t a lot of options from SLC, unless you have an abundance of Delta miles, but there are two options available that open up worlds of opportunities:
Use British Airways Avios to Connect to Star Alliance Flights
This doesn’t always work, but if you are able to connect to a major hub using an American Airlines flight, you could find yourself being able to access a slew of new opportunities. Airports like JFK or LAX are great examples of this, going back to our Bostonian, if they jumped on an American Airlines repositioning flight from BOS-JFK they could then make a separate booking on Star Alliance to get to their desired destination.
Use a revenue ticket to connect to OneWorld or Star Alliance
I know, its a dirty word, but you could pay for a short connecting flight that opened up opportunities from other airlines. It might be that American Airlines wouldn’t offer an award seat for a short hop, say from SLC-DFW but would allow you to buy the ticket. You could consider that an extra ‘tax’ on your itinerary, and get to your destination. Sure, you would be paying over the price for a regular North America-Europe ticket if you look at it as just what you could be paying on American, but if you instead compare it to being locked into earning Delta you could well still be at a great advantage in terms of strategy.
The real value of what we are doing here is looking at the non-stop routes, allowing us to cherry pick the best way to get from A-B, rather than being forced to accept the limited routes offered by the airline, we can craft new itineraries that suit our needs. This is very useful for asipirational travel, such as flying JFK-HKG on Cathay Pacific First Class, and can offer some rather interesting connotations that I will get to in Part 3 of this short series.
I have been told that my posts are long, and for people with the attention span of a gnat they struggle to remain focused As such I have split this one into a three parter, starting out with the basic notion of broadening your award travel options by considering ‘sister’ airports. I think this is a good post for people new to the game, and also offers some value to more experienced people who might have narrowed their vision as to the options available.