|by Jason Steele|
Recently, a reader of mine came to me with a question. How could she find a cheap fare for her son to come home t0 Denver from Fort Polk Louisiana while on leave from the military. The problem was that she wanted to find a ticket for this weekend which is Labor Day. We quickly determined that Alexandria Louisiana was the only airport with commercial service within hours of her son’s location. I then consulted Wikipedia to determine that only three airlines offered services there; Delta, American, and United/Continental. A quick check showed that all three were charging in excess of $1,200 for this flight. Thanks for nothing guys!
As a travel expert, I refused to let this soldier and his family down, even while the airlines were happy to charge more for this flight than many trans-Atlantic trips. My next thought turned to miles, but they didn’t have any. With not nearly enough time to have them get a rewards credit card for a sign up bonus, I had to find some other way. It turns out miles was the key, specifically buying them. Right now, all the airlines (or their partners) serving Alexandria Louisiana have some kind of buy miles promotion going on. US Airways was offering a %100 bonus that would have been good for flights on United/Continental through Houston, but their partner award availability was non-existent. American Airlines had a mere 25% bonus, but their only awards were at the 50,000 mile level. In the end, it would have been over $1,000 to buy and book the miles, hardly much of a savings. Finally, I turned to Delta. They are also offering a %100 bonus off of their ridiculous rate of 3.5 cents per mile. Their only awards were at their “High” level of 60,000 miles, so it was still going to end up over $1,000.
Then it came to me. Delta is also running a promotion to transfer miles at a %100 bonus. Miles can be transferred at a rate of 1 cent per mile. This would also be absurd, but the promotion means that you are earning a mile per penny. My reader has two family members with Delta accounts who were happy to transfer 60,000 miles between their accounts, earn and earn an additional 60,000 miles, enough for the award flight. They then booked the award flight as a gift. The end result was that $600 was spent, plus another $60 in fees (Delta charges a $30 processing fee on each transfer, with a maximum of 30,000 miles per transfer, so we had to do two transfers), plus $10 in taxes, $670 total, about half what the ticket would have cost.
What Is The Point Of Walk Up?
It always disgusts me that the airlines use their monopoly pricing to gouge customers on last minute tickets. What’s even more strange is that travel experts can circumvent these rip-off fares simply by purchasing miles. I know that people will still buy these fares for business travel that is being reimbursed by companies and clients (who would use their miles when someone else is paying). Yes, I understand the complex supply and demand principals at work, but there will always be something nefarious about a business that charges several times their own price when they know they have the customer right where they want them. Every time the airline industry looks at why they are held in such dismally low esteem by the general public (#8 most hated according to this poll), they would be wise to start looking at the “walk up” fare when seeking answers.