Want to go to Hawaii, London, or Tokyo using frequent flyer miles? No sweat. All the alliances fly there, and fly there often. In fact, you’ll most likely have your pick of partners.
But what about trying to get to a more remote destination, like the Maldives?
This is where using frequent flyer miles can take a bit of work and planning.
And while it might be a bit of a pain, I’m guessing it will all be worth it once you see this:
I’ll be using the Maldives, one of the world’s hardest spots to travel to, as an example. However, this step by step process can be used for any destination you wish to travel to.
Step 1: Use Wikipedia to Find Out What Airlines Fly in To The Airport
We all know Wikipedia is an invaluable resource for basically anything, and it doesn’t disappoint here. If I’m not familiar with an airport and what airlines fly there, I always first turn to Wikipedia.
Here is the list for airlines flying in and out of Male International Airport (MLE), the main airport in the Maldives.
Step 2: Figure Out Which Airlines You Can Use
Most of the airlines on the list above aren’t of interest to us because they aren’t part of an airline alliance.
What you’ll need to do is figure out which airlines are part of one of the three major alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance, and Skyteam.
If you’re not a complete frequent flyer nerd (what, you don’t have them memorized?), head back to Wikipedia to see a list of all 3 airline alliance members.
Here are the airlines flying in to Male, broken down by alliance:
OneWorld: British Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar (joining late 2013), SriLankan Airlines (joining late 2013)
Star Alliance: Austrian, Singapore Airlines, Turkish
Skyteam: Aeroflot, China Eastern Air, China Southern, KoreanAir
Step 3: Determine How Many Frequent Flyer Miles it Will Cost
This step is easy. Simply head to milez.biz and plug in your starting point and your destination.
Check to see if any of the carriers happen to be cheaper than the others.
For Philadelphia (PHL) to Male (MLE), United, USAirways and Delta costs 80k roundtrip in economy or 120k in business, whereas American Airlines costs 90k and 135k.
Step 4: Take Inventory of Your Points and Consider Transfer Partners
Now that you know how much it costs for each airline to fly to your destination, you’ve got to figure out if you have enough points to get there.
Don’t forget to consider points, such as Chase, American Express, or Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG), that you can transfer to airlines.
Here’s a sweet infographic about what points transfer to what airlines:
Since I’m looking at flying using United, USAirways, AA, or Delta miles, I have the following transfer options:
Chase points –> United.
American Express points —> Delta or USAirways (if you use a work-around).
SPG points —> AA, Delta, USAirways
After considering transfers, determine which airlines you’ll have enough miles in.
Step 5: Check for Flight Availability
Now, for the (sometimes) hard part. Luckily, there are some good tools out there to make it easier.
The first place to start is AwardTravelr. This site is great because it allows you to search across all three alliances with little hassle.
Sometimes you get lucky and you find availability right away. Here is a search I did for Star Alliance (United or USAirways miles) from PHL-MLE.
You’ll notice I have options to go either business class (top option) or economy class.
Also, I could route through Venice and Istanbul (top option) or London and Singapore. Either way, I could get two vacations for the price of one and break up the flights by adding a free stopover.
Of course, there will be plenty of times where you won’t find availability right away.
If you are not finding availability with AwardTravelr, here are a few tricks to try:
2. For more complicated itineraries, such as PHL to MLE, you may need to search in segments. The computer systems may not be able to handle a request with so many layovers.
In this case, if I was looking for OneWorld flights, I’d search from PHL to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), since I know Malaysia Airlines flies from KUL to MLE. Then, I’d search separately for the KUL to MLE route.
3. Look for routes from other close airports. For example, I may choose to look for flights from New York (JFK, EWR, LGA) since there are many more international flights from those airports than PHL.
Check the bigger airports in your area, as they will often have a lot more availability, especially for long international flights.
Step 6: Book Your Tickets
After finding the flights you want, write down all the information, including times, flights numbers, and the airports you are flying from and going to.
Most likely, you won’t be able to recreate the tickets on the airline’s website whose miles you are using, so you’ll have to call the airline directly and spoonfeed them the information you’ve found.
For example, the two flights I found on AwardTravelr above from PHL-MLE would not show up when I searched for them on USAirways or United’s websites. Depending on what miles I decided to use, I’d have to call up that airline and book the tickets over the phone.
While I usually fly economy class, I would consider splurging and flying business for this trip. With 28+ hours of total flying plus numerous layovers, the extra comfort and lounge access during the layovers would probably be worth it.
Using frequent flyer miles to get to some destinations, especially remote places like the Maldives, can sometimes be difficult.
However, if you follow the six steps above, you should be able to use your frequent flyer miles for any dream destination you have, no matter how far away it is.
What are some of the tricks you have for using frequent flyer miles to get to remote destinations? What are some of the more obscure places you have traveled to? Inspire us in the comments below!