A Tale of Two European Award Charts — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Chris, who spent more miles than he needed to on a short flight within Europe. Here’s what he had to say:
My girlfriend and I were planning a trip to Rome, with me departing from New York and her flying from Belgrade. Since I had the longer route, I spent a lot of time trying to optimize my flight using United miles. On the other hand, my girlfriend just had a 90-minute hop over the Adriatic, so I didn't put too much thought into it as I booked her flight on Alitalia using my Flying Blue miles.
I figured her short intra-Europe flight would be priced at the lowest award tier, but I was wrong! It turns out the Flying Blue has multiple award zones within Europe, and Italy and Serbia are in different ones. Interestingly, Helsinki is more than three times as far as Belgrade from Rome, but HEL and FCO are in the same zone.
I unknowingly shelled out an extra 5,000 miles for an award ticket that I should have just paid for in cash. It wasn't a big loss in absolute terms, but certainly not a good value per mile. Lesson learned: study the award chart carefully, and don't be hasty when booking!
Each award chart has its idiosyncrasies, and while they can sometimes be unfavorable, they can also offer exceptional value. The Flying Blue award zones that tripped up Chris are a perfect example: Belgrade to Rome covers a flight distance of just 450 miles, but that award costs the same as a 2,300-mile flight from Belgrade to Tenerife. Similarly, Flying Blue also places Hawaii in the same zone as much of the Caribbean and Central America, so you could fly from Honolulu to Puerto Rico (and many other destinations) for just 12,500 miles. Learning the ins and outs of various frequent flyer programs will help you put sweet spots like these to good use.
Of course, frequent flyer programs and award charts sometimes change, and the sweet spots change with them. Flying Blue recently announced that it will shift to a revenue-based system for earning and redeeming miles in 2018. The updated award chart hasn't been released yet, but it's a safe bet that some of the program's best offerings will disappear. Hopefully any negative changes will be offset by new opportunities, but if you have an eye on any advantageous Flying Blue awards, I recommend booking soon.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Chris for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!