Frequent Flyer Fanatics: Jamie Larounis
The Forward Cabin travel blogger explains why you should treat your points like cash.
Jamie Larounis is the owner of The Forward Cabin and a self-proclaimed travel obsessive. He travels over 100,000 miles each year and leverages frequent flyer points to do so in luxury. We had a chat with Jamie about his current frequent flyer goal and why he always checks the cash value of his points before redeeming his next Business or First Class flight.
1. Which frequent flyer program(s) do you belong to?
I belong to almost all of the major programs, however only hold elite status with American Airlines (Executive Platinum, earned by actual flying) and United Airlines (Silver earned via Marriott Rewards Platinum status). American Airlines Executive Platinum status has been extremely rewarding to me, with systemwide upgrades each year, consistent complimentary domestic upgrades, terrific irregular-operations protection and more.
2. When did you first become a frequent flyer?
My first true elite status was around 2006 when I actually earned Amtrak Select status by, out of all things, riding Amtrak. From there, I progressed into Delta Silver, Delta Gold, American Gold, American Platinum and then American Executive Platinum.
3. What's your current points goal?
When I earn my points, my goal is to fly on flights where I get the maximum value, in Business or First Class. For me, most of the time that goal is trips to and from Australia, where the cash prices can easily be over $10,000 USD in Business Class. I really enjoy visiting Australia, so the majority of my earned American Airlines miles go towards round-trips in Business or First Class on Qantas.
4. What’s the best points hack you’ve ever used?
Probably the biggest “hacks” come in the form of mistake fares when airlines publish lower than usual fares to certain destinations or a hotel publishes a lower than usual rate on select nights. The best was probably the $400 or so round-trips from Washington DC to Beijing, China, in American Airlines Business Class a few years ago. I generally use three sites – Google Flights, ITA Matrix and then also a paid site called ExpertFlyer, which helps me understand how the pricing works for the particular route I’m interested in and if it’s a good deal (as it shows all fares on the particular flight I am looking at).
The best way to spend your miles is always on long-haul business and first class flights. Always. While economy is cheaper and saves more miles, those cash fares are also cheaper, too. But for comparison, first and business fares are almost disproportionate to the miles used. Take for example Los Angeles to Sydney in Qantas Business Class which can run at around $6,000-$10,000 for a round trip many days. For only 80,000 AAdvantage miles (or less using other programs), you can get what would be a $6,000 seat for just taxes and fees.
Generally, more value comes from the airline and the route you’re flying. So you’d rather fly Cathay Pacific First over American Airlines First, for example. Or you’d rather fly Lufthansa First than United Business or First (while it’s still around). Many awards also include free stopovers or multiple connections, thus increasing the value of the miles with the more segments you add.
5. Which points mistake that amateur frequent flyers make drives you crazy?
Using points without checking the cash rate is one of my biggest pet peeves. Many people don’t see the true value of points and don’t treat them like cash, so they’ll book a hotel night or flight without thinking of the true cost.
Think of it this way: if a flight is 12,500 miles one-way and the price of the flight is only $100, are you getting more value by spending the $100 or using the 12,500 miles, considering those miles can actually be better spent on a flight that, let’s say, is $500? Every point, every mile has value and I know many times novice travellers forget this. Treat your miles and points just like the dollar bills in your pocket.
Check out our guide on how to calculate the value of your points for more ways to get the most from your rewards.
finder's Frequent Flyer Fanatics series features frequent flyer and rewards experts from Australia and around the world. Check back every Wednesday for our freshest Frequent Flyer Fanatic and the latest points tips.