Despite my best attempt, I was unable to fully explain the strategies involved in flying in business class in my last column. I hope this additional information will help clarify exactly how flying in the almost very front of the plane really works.
One of the first things you need to do if you are going to try to fly business class is to connect with the nerd mileage underground. There are a number of really great websites, such as ViewFromTheWing.com and one actually called MileNerd.com.
When you connect to these sites, you will have insider information that will help you figure out exactly which strategy to use to maximize miles so you can get that plush seat next time you fly.
The people who write these sites are obsessed with doing the mental arithmetic necessary to develop the best strategy.
For example, British Airways had a recent deal that placed 100,000 free miles in your account if you took out a special credit card. Usually, credit cards let you earn from 30,000 to 50,000 in free miles when you sign up.
Because you can get lots of free miles just for getting a certain type of credit card, some people sign up for several credit cards with different airlines. This can get confusing, and it will probably mean that you have to quit your full-time job so you can devote the necessary hours to keeping all of your miles straight.
Actually, if you are trying to earn miles to get into business class, and you want to use miles -- which is actually easier than saving milk cartons, particularly the glass milk bottles -- you have to know the different types.
There are credit cards issued by specific airlines. They earn you miles that can be applied to any partner in their group. Needless to say, Delta, American and United each has its own group, so you have to take sides. Or have several cards (of course, to carry several cards you will need a reference from Warren Buffett these days, but that's another issue).
The second thing you can do is use a credit card that earns you miles that have to be cashed in using the credit card company's travel agency. This can work well, providing they can secure tickets on the airline you want to fly.
The third thing you can do is use a credit card that allows you to place points in any major airline frequent flyer account. These cards actually pay you a miles bonus. But they might not be able to provide all the benefits of other cards, which give you airline points for dining out, using the card for your colonoscopy or charging more than $10,000 a week.
The Chase Preferred Sapphire Card, for example, will give you 40,000 points if you spend $3,000 within 90 days of getting the card.
Some really nifty apps have come along to help you manage your miles and keep track of all you have coming. Two of the best are AwardWallet and MileWise. This is a good thing for the consumer, and these sites will really help you know how your mileage "bank account" looks at any given time.
But there's one small problem. The airlines do not care for these sites. Both American and Southwest have had their lawyers issue cease-and-desist orders because, Southwest claims, it is wrong for third parties to monitor the carriers' flight information -- even, it would appear, if those third parties are acting at the request of the airlines' passengers. American takes umbrage with apps "scrapping" their online booking information.
To collect enough miles to live the mileage dream, getting free tickets in business class to fly anywhere you go, you will likely need about 30 airline accounts. And you will need to keep track of them.
And, do be careful, because the miles you earn to sit in business almost always have an expiration date.
Most people who get into business class have devoted their lives to the process. You have to know, for example, which airline cards enable you to get miles at the supermarket or the liquor store.
The mark of a true mileage junkie is that he or she never has a meal, either inside or outside the home, without first verifying that the food in question can earn miles.
In order to get into business class successfully, you have to use the alliance that has the one member you really want to fly.
For example, if you have United miles, you might want to use them on Singapore Airlines. So this will require a commitment to a bit of bookkeeping each and every day of your life.
For example, you will need to know when to take out a new credit card to acquire the introductory deal that puts lots of miles in your new account. But you also will need to know when you have maxed out the miles and when you can cancel that credit card without paying a penalty.
Most of the people who actually get into business class without paying for it work with spreadsheets at home on their laptop, usually in bed.
Earning miles is constantly rewarding, even if you never use them. You can scroll through the pages of Afar, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure with the knowledge that you might actually have enough miles to go to some of the exotic destinations they have described.
Once you have all of this figured out, you have to decide if you want to become an "elite status" mileage earner. This will mean that you get a bank statement from the credit card company from time to time that says you are a gold, silver or platinum member. Each of these cards has different business-class benefits and requirements, and they are different for every airline. Learning what each status means at every major airline was too easy, so new cards have been invented at levels called titanium or simply black.
If you are going to be earning a free upgrade to business class using miles, you have to do some calculations first to weigh the return on your spending investments. Should you, for example, use the points from renting a car for complimentary hotel nights or for a nice seat in business class? (The folks at Cal Tech have worked out these calculations, and they tell me it isn't all that difficult.)
The average flight from the USA to Europe is about eight-and-a-half hours. Before you commit to a strategy to get a "free" business-class seat, make certain you have worked on a time/study calculation that equates the number of hours you devote to strategizing vs. the time and money you might save by actually paying for your ticket.
But there's a downside to that. You would be among the few who actually paid for a business-class seat, and you would be an outcast as you lay back to sleep away the hours to Rome, only to discover that your "flatbed" is not a true 180-degree flatbed.
Contributing Editor Richard Bruce Turen owns Churchill & Turen Ltd., a luxury vacation firm based in Naples, Fla. He is also managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales training and marketing consultancy. Contact him at [email protected].