Mileage Rewards Flights | How to Develop Realistic Expectations

Over the last few weeks I’ve had several discussions with newbies about frequent flyer miles.  While I do have a free introductory eBook on the topic of frequent flyer miles, one thing I think I need to emphasize more is how to develop realistic expectations for rewards flights.

As I recommend mileage related products, I want to be sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Back when I was in high school, each winter and spring we would have a formal banquet.  It was one of those events where boys wore suits and girls were given flowers.  And, of course, boys were expected to enter the gymnasium with a date.  Anyway, year after year either myself or one of my friends were terribly disappointed.  Those type of formal events give me the willies because they build expectations up so high that it is nearly impossible for the actual event to be anything near what people are expecting.

I’m afraid some of us might be doing the same thing with frequent flyer mileage rewards. 

I want to be sure you’re doing this with eyes wide open.  Earning points may be the easiest part of this game.  A recent USA Today article asks, Are frequent-flier programs losing their luster?  As part of the article, they quote those who are disenfranchised with the current state of frequent flyer mileage programs. 

Again, I think the article really highlights the danger of false expectations of regarding frequent flyer programs.

How to Develop Realistic Expectations for Mileage Reward Flights

1. Expect to spend time – possibly hours – researching and booking an award flight. 

Once you’ve determined where you want to go, you’ll need to figure out the best airline to get you there.  From there, you’ll need to find out the seat availability.  It may take some tweaking and adjustments to find an available flight.

See #10 for an alternative to to spending hours planning your trip.

2.  Expect to be have a travel window instead of specific travel dates.

If you are a person who takes off a week in June every year and can only leave on Saturday and return on a Thursday, then you’ll probably find that your schedule and frequent flyer miles don’t match.  You’ll be better off saying that you want to go there in October.  From there, you can plan your vacation around available dates instead of trying to plan your vacation around an inflexible schedule. 

3.  Expect only to find a couple of reward seats. 

Depending on how early you are willing to book, this may not be the case, but you need to remember that airlines limit the number of reward seats they release for each class or type of flights.  As an example, in the next few weeks I’ll be trying to get my family of five on a flight.  I know there are only seven award seats offered in that class, so we might not be able to do it.  If you can find more than two seats, consider it a blessing – not a regular occurrence.

4.  Expect to book early.

Once again, depending on the competition, you may only be able to book tickets to some routes 11 or 12 months in advance.

5.  Expect to use more than the minimum allowance.

When people go to book their first flight, they’ll often complain that the posted rate for a flight is 25,000 points, but they had to use 50,000.  Remember, if you’ve received those miles from an easy credit card sign up with a generous promotion, that’s still a great deal.

6.  Expect to look into booking in a higher class than you planned.

At least if you are required to use more miles than you plan, you can comfort yourself in knowing that you’ll likely be flying a portion of your trip in a higher class of service.

7.  Expect that some trips may not be possible with miles. 

There will be times when you simply need to admit to yourself that you can’t book that flight with points.  It’s OK.  Just recognize why you weren’t able to and plan to use your points on your next vacation. 

8.  Expect to pay last minute booking fees.

While this isn’t the case with every airline, you should just assume that if you are booking less than 21 days in advance you’ll need to pay some type of a fee for using your flight for a ‘last minute flight’.

9.  Expect to pay taxes, fees, and other surcharges.

A free flight is not a free flight unless you’ve got alternative points (Capital One) to cover the taxes and fees.  Often times, flights in the US will cost around $10.  Flights overseas can be as much as a few hundred (or even a few thousand) dollars. 

10.  Expect to need some help and/or guidance

For this reason, I’m working on finalizing arrangements for my frequent flyer booking service.  If you’re having trouble booking your flights, just let me know and I’ll be able to help you make your bookings.  If you’re interested in this service before I formally post about it and introduce it as a Travel Free Coaching service, just sent me an email – htcheap at 

With all your expectations properly in place, I think you can successfully proceed to play the miles game.  One thing that helps is to only jump on the most lucrative deals (like the current BA 100,000 miles offer).  This way if your plans don’t work out, you haven’t lost much.  I think frequent flyer miles can offer amazing values, but only if you have appropriate expectations.

Can you think of any other commonly misunderstood facts about frequent flyer miles rewards bookings?

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