Note: this post is primarily for #101-#301 level Milenomics.
A Milenomics travel strategy should be complex. Your strategy will be different based on your travel needs. Can all your travel be booked with Miles? If so you’ll never reach status with an airline. Do you travel by yourself or with 2, 3 or 4 other people? Do you take long flights, or short hops?
It is important to know your own needs. They will dictate what works and what doesn’t for you with Milenomics. If you’re a solo traveler things are easier. If you have a Spouse, things get twice as hard. If you have kids, even more difficult.
Yesterday I wrote about Buying and Trading for Elite Status. Somewhere in that post was also a discussion of the value of Elite status. I asked you to think about why you value Elite status, and what “Killer app” you use.
Today we introduce the Milenomics BYOE Program.
To be a Milenomics BYOE passenger means you’ve taken the elite program of one or more airlines and turned it on its head. The benefits are huge: Flexibility in booking (not tied to one carrier), lounge access (no US elite gets you this), Shorter/no security lines. Free Checked luggage, free or very cheap Economy plus seats. The Biggest benefit however is cheaper flights, and spending less money. How elite would it be if your yearly travel budget was cut in half?
The trade off is that Milenomics Elite Program requires some leg work on your part. You’ll need to hold a few credit cards, and you’ll also never totally match the benefits of Top Tier Elite programs.
The Milenomics BYOE program is created with the following:
- 1. Lounges– How many times a year do you want to visit a lounge/club? If my connections are under an hour I don’t even want to be bothered with the club. Also, US Domestic lounges are really awful. Yes they’re quiet, and if you’re looking for a place to sit peacefully they are good for that. But the food and drink offerings are being cut more and more each day. Be sure to read Food, Wine & Mile’s review of the new downgrades at United Clubs. Jason’s final advice was to skip the club, and drink in the concourse. I agree, but some of you might want Lounge access. Delta has made similar cuts to their free offerings.
- If you’d like lounge access you have two ways of incorporating it into your Elite program. The first is to just buy Lounge passes on the resale market. One lounge pass runs around $20-$25. If you’re not going to be visiting more than 10 lounges in a year this might be the way to go.
- Alternative: Apply for the Amex Platinum Card for the lounges it allows you to access. It has a hefty $450 a year Annual fee, but it includes $200 in reimbursed airline expenses a year, so net cost is $250/year. Also helps if you travel a lot with a spouse, as you wouldn’t need to buy lounge passes for each of you.
- 2. Security Lines-Two words: Global Entry. Global Entry allows you faster clearing of customs for international trips. It also includes the TSA Pre-Check program. If you’re flying frequently this will be worth it. It shadows an elite benefit of shorter security lines, and costs $100 for 5 years. The good news is the above Amex Platinum pays for your Global Entry fee. The bad news is the Amex Platinum has a $450 Annual fee. We’ll count this as $0 since we accounted for the $250 net annual fee in section #1. If you pass on the Amex Platinum and instead buy lounge passes, add the $20/year into your BYOE Calculations.
- 3. Mid-Tier Status- Seeking out the gift of status isn’t easy. It might take you a few hours of your time. Include that in your calculations using your T-Rate. I’ll estimate that I could make it happen in 3 hours. Then There is the cost to trade–$300 or so for Delta Gold.
- 4. Upgrades – If you go with the Delta Gold above and use it for your domestic flights you’d have a chance at upgrades. In addition we’ll buy AA SWU’s or UA GPU/RPU’s. I’d personall only use these on longer international flights. When I want to make sure I fly First, I’ll burn my super cheap DL miles for a low level award in first. You’ll want to figure out how often you require seating in the front of the plane on domestic flights. Domestic First class is really pretty disappointing. Try it out, and see if it is something you’ll even care to experience.
- If a ticket is cheaper with a certain carrier, upgrade the fare to their Economy+, Main Cabin Extra, or Economy Comfort. Is the price still below your preferred carrier? If so you just “upgraded” to Economy+ for less by having no loyalty to your mainline carrier.
- Alternative: United Same day Buy Up to First: United sometimes offers crazy low buy-ups to first class. These are called “Tens of Dollar” upgrades, and are outlined here. This is the exact reason we don’t want to be tied to any one program. United is basically saying “we don’t want to upgrade our elites for free, let’s try to sell the upgrade to a non-elite for at least our MC.” They’re pulling the upgrades out from under the noses of their elites. As a BYOE you can steal the upgrade back for sometimes well less than the price of an upgrade coupon. You can also book united When they are cheaper and use the price difference to buy up if offered.
- 5. Luggage Most elites will tell you to skip checking a bag entirely, and just Carry on. If you must check bags the United MP Explorer card and an AA Visa/Amex/MC would be great to hold for luggage allowance on both carriers. If you followed our applications for September’s CCC you already hold 2 of these. Use Milenomics tips to avoid annual fees could reduce the cost of both of these cards to $0. I’ve held both for 3 years at a cost of $-55+lots of bonus miles to keep me as a customer.
A Note about the “Value” of upgrade coupons/SWU: These instruments expire. What that means is that they have a time decay built into them. As we get closer and closer to their expiration date we’ll see SWU’s prices go down and quantity available for trade go up. When a RPU/GPU/SWU is about to expire it is worth the least to its owner, and the most to us. Look for those close expiring upgrade instruments.
Adding it All Up:
- Amex Platinum Lounge Access- $250
- Global Entry and Pre-Check security lines-$0 (Included in Above $250)
- Delta Gold Medallion $300 + 3 hours x T-Rate– $375
- SWU/RPU/GPU’s: Hard to say, how many flights do you need an upgrade on? Are you even paying cash for long haul flights? or just booking straight into J with miles? I can’t put a value on this, only you can. I’d rather book my preferred alliance carriers with miles instead of sitting on an American carrier (even in J).
- Luggage: For now $0.
Somewhere around $550 (less if you pay for Global Entry and skip the lounges) would get you access to lounges, upgrade opportunities on Delta flights, Economy Comfort. RPU/GPU/SWU trading could get you upgraded on longer flights with United/AA. The two co-branded cards, plus Delta GM would get you free luggage on 3 mainline carriers.
Gone are the Mileage Runs, gone the crazy routings to get extra segments or paying more for a ticket on a carrier you need miles on. Total cost of tickets can now be calculated as (T x T-Rate) + Ticket cost.
General BYOE Tips:
If you’re traveling in pairs, the number one way to cut your costs (literally in half) is going to be the southwest Companion pass. We’ll cover more of it in future posts, but it should be seriously considered along with the above BYOE Program.
As a Milenomics BYOE member you will book based on Price and guaranteed comfort. You’ll no longer be tied to one program, hoping for the best. You can book with miles, and rest assured that your own elite status is safe. Or you could buy a ticket with a carrier outside of your normal alliance, knowing that the Qualifying miles don’t matter. You’re insulated from future program downgrades, and also from change in how status is earned (MQD/PQD).
The above Membership card can be customized for you. Follw me on Twitter and ask for one by tweeting @Milenomics or post here and I’ll send you a high quality PDF of the card with your own name and Chairman/Chairwoman on it.
– Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I’ll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.