People often complain that they can’t use their frequent flier miles. When it comes to finding free flights, I’m usually successful — but it
takes some serious work and creative approaches.
Just this week I snagged two tickets for travel in May to Asia. What I quickly found is that booking the legs separately — instead of as a round trip — secured a ticket that “didn’t exist” when I tried to book it as a single itinerary.
Airlines steer you to their websites for booking by imposing a whopping fee if you book frequent flier tickets with a live person. If I’m saving $5,000 — as in this case — it’s still a good deal to pay $40 per ticket to use an agent. But not every agent is patient and savvy, and so I look up the options online before I make the call.
In this case, I wasn’t able to find tickets from Miami to Darwin, Australia — but I was able to find them from L.A. to Darwin. The Miami-to-LA leg was also available, but not as a “through” ticket from Miami to Darwin.
My return, from the relatively obscure port of Kota Kinabalu on Borneo, took a bit more digging. I’m buying inexpensive tickets ($50 each) from KK to the nearest major airport, Kuala Lumpur. I’m buying another cheap ticket ($100 each) from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, where I pick up my frequent flier tickets back to Miami.
True, getting free seats on the most convenient, direct flights is nigh impossible. Every other flier is competing for those same seats, and even trying to book them the minute an airline releases its first batch of free seats doesn’t necessarily work. (Airlines release seats at varying schedules, about a year out, but most add seats throughout the yearbased on the volume of paid bookings they get.)
But if the savings are significant enough — for an expensive ticket to Asia, Africa or Europe — the inconvenience of oddball routings and overnight hotel stays can be worth it.