I just got an email from a reader from Malaysia who wants to more know about our travel planning, mileage earning and redemption strategy. I specifically mention Malaysia since we don’t have as many mileage earning opportunities like the folks in the US have with the easier availability to credit card churning and mileage runs. This can be and has been somewhat frustrating when you hear of folks earning hundreds of thousands of miles by just getting a credit card. However, I still try to make the best of the situation and based on my travel patterns of 2011, it was still a pretty good travel year for me personally.
Lydia & my travel strategy can be summarized as follows:
- Allocating and prioritizing a travel budget
- Being as flexible as possible
- Buying miles when it makes sense
- Spending the miles smartly and
- Most importantly, put as much daily spending on a mileage earning credit card
Lydia and I earn an “OK” salary from our day jobs. We’re not that rich and we prioritize travel on top of other luxuries. Instead of spending on a nice car or other toys, we set aside money that we spend on travel when good deals happen. We feel that enjoying flights and seeing the world much more fulfilling than sitting in an expensive car or stay at home and watch a movie on a huge TV. We’ll watch that movie on a plane any day of the year.
We also try to be as flexible as possible. We’ve learned now to not overly plan our travels for the whole year but instead look out for good deals and being able to travel at a moment’s notice if needed. We must say that not everyone can do this and we’re lucky that we have jobs that are quite supportive of this. We used to even book flights on Air Asia a year in advance when they do their yearly sale but we’ve stopped doing that. Instead, we just book our yearly “epic adventure” on miles and leave the rest of the year pretty open.
Part of being flexible also means looking for deals or mistakes in neighboring countries. Sure the US or Europe may get the bulk of attention on good deals on flyertalk but in 2011, there were a bunch of good deals from Asia. Some examples are the Qatar Oslo launch sale fare, Turkish HKG-IST-LAX fare and Turkish BKK-GRU mistake fare. I didn’t even have time to fly on some of those! The other good thing about being in Asia is the availability of cheap positioning flights thanks to Air Asia and other low cost airlines.
Even if you don’t fly, does not mean you can’t earn the miles. One of the best mileage opportunities for those of us in Asia is buying US Airways Dividend Miles or BMI Miles when there is a sale on-going, which is pretty often. On US Airways, you can fly to Europe from Malaysia in Business for ~2k USD. Similarly, on BMI a good deal is the availability to fly to Northern Asia from Malaysia in Business for ~~1K USD. It is important to note that BMI just bought up by British Airway’s parent company and folks expect BMI to stop existing in March 2012 so that opportunity is going to be gone pretty soon.
Another thing we do is to add interesting layovers or stops whenever possible on mileage redemption. BMI allows one stopover per one way booking so we usually try to stop somewhere we’ve never been before. For example on our China trip, instead of routing the trip back to Penang, we put in a “stopover” in Singapore before flying to Bali a couple of months later. To get back to Penang from the China trip, we just bought a cheap Air Asia flight from Singapore.
Mileage earning from credit cards isn’t as exciting in Malaysia as in the US but we still try to make the best of the situation. We primarily put spending on two credit cards namely the Krisflyer AmericanExpress and Citibank PremierMiles Card. The Krisflyer card earns 1 Krisflyer mile for each RM2 spent where as the PremierMiles card earns “1 PremierMile” for each RM3 spent. The PremierMile and be converted into Krisflyer, Cathay and Thai miles at a one to one rate and also Malaysia Enrich miles for a more than that. I would recommend the Krisflyer card as a way to top up miles for those who primarily credit to Krisflyer or the PremierMiles for those who want to flexibility on where to credit the earned miles to. In addition, both credit cards provide access to Plaza Premium Lounges in Kuala Lumpur main and low cost terminal but the PremierMiles card provides complimentary Priority Pass membership which provides lounge access in most airports around the world.
I hope that long rant was helpful especially those in Malaysia. As usual, feel free to send an email if you guys have more specific questions.