Some of you may know that airlines often open up their frequent flier seats 327 days or 340 days or 330 days prior to the flight -- this is a moving target. And if you call at 12:01 a.m. on that designated day, you're supposed to get your first choice of seats. I remember once getting through to an airline at 12:10 a.m. to find that the business-class seats available on miles from New York to South Africa were gone. How could that be? I had visions of obsessed mileage owners sitting at their desks, waiting for the big mileage race!
What I was able to learn was that the airline only designated two seats for this particular flight and, yes, the first one to reach the airline got them!
Now that was exasperating, for sure. But 40 minutes later I'd booked a flight through Paris to Johannesburg, and while it would take longer than the non-stop, they were still free tickets.
Here are my favorite tricks for scoring frequent flier seats.
Work the partner airline. Flying LAN Chile to Santiago on American Airlines miles is like a dream, and it seems that flights are always available. Many partner airlines are as good if not better than your main airline of choice. (Think Emirates and Singapore to name two).
Whether you're flying domestic or international, always ask, "What is the cheapest coach ticket that I can buy in order to use upgrades to business class?" Often times it's better to buy a ticket and upgrade (with fewer miles by the way) than to use all of the miles for business-class seats.
It may be a little inconvenient, but travel through stopover cities. I once flew from New York City to Amsterdam to get to Edinburgh. A few hours at the Schiphol airport can be a lot of fun, and I was happy because I was traveling on free tickets.
Think about flying to international destinations on American holidays. Most people stay in the U.S. for Thanksgiving, Christmas or the Fourth of July. Generally, these are the best times to get the flights that you want. The same with off-season destinations. I had some friends who took themselves and their two kids to St. Bart's in August, all on frequent flier miles. And St. Petersburg in Russia can be magical in February.
To me, flying still has a bit of romance. I once had breakfast in Paris, flew to London for lunch and a few meetings, and then took the Concorde home and had dinner in New York. Flying from New York to Dubai transports you to a place that is so different from what we know. And in the future, we'll probably fly from New York to Beijing in four hours, as aircraft design and engineering improves.
The challenges will still be there: cancelled flights, maintenance issues, lost luggage, obstacles that may seem insurmountable. But for me, it's all worth it. I'll be figuring out alternatives and best prices and ways to use my frequent flier miles to get to the experiences that I crave. There's no better feeling than lifting off the runway to a destination that you've dreamed about or are returning to that brings you joy and fulfillment.
Settling back into my business-class seat with free tickets taking me to my next adventure makes me realize that I'm still that 10-year-old with dreams. And I hope my dreams will always be with me and with you too.
From The Globetrotter Diaries by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2013, published by Glitterati Incorporated. www.Glitteratiincorporated.com.