Subject: Re: Best use of frequent flyer points
Dear Cynthia and Ziners,

You're absolutely correct. Things have definitely changed regarding using your Continental OnePass Miles.

Allow me to try to explain what is going on with the change that you (and others) have noticed. As a supervisor for Continental reservations (including reward reservations), not only have I dealt with this on a daily basis but I've also spoken personally with our Revenue Management department. That is the department that decides when and how many reward seats are made available.

With any discussion about airline seats it's important for anyone to first understand the importance of the business traveler. THEY are the ones who subsidize the flights for the rest of us and without them airline travel would be nothing like it is today. Almost every decision (pricing, schedule, amenities) made by an airline revolves around the business traveler. I will not disclose the exact numbers, but you'd be amazed at how a small percentage of travelers (ALL business) pays for such a large percentage of all the flights!

That being said, the changes in lesser miles seat availability, new and higher fees to use miles, etc. all stem from there now being fewer business travelers, and therefore, less income to the airlines. If you're wanting to get something at the lowest miles possible, say around Thanksgiving or going to Vegas on a Friday night with Sunday night return. Fuh-get-about-it! If you're considering using miles on any flight that the airline feels they can probably sell all the seats on, then you won't be able to find anything at the lowest number of points possible.

You CAN still get flights at the lower number when you're flying at times or to destinations that are not the most popular, or when they are plenty of flights (more on that later). The bottom line - is that flexibility is the key when wanting the lowest price or lowest number of reward points possible.

You mentioned flying from any of the NYC area airports to either Sacramento (SMF), New Orleans (MSY), Portland (PDX) and San Francisco (SFO). I researched that thoroughly and came up with the following. Getting out of the NYC area isn't a problem. It's the destination that is the issue. For Continental (CO) and Northwest (NW) there are not as many flights to SMF and PDX as there are for MSY and SFO. The summer months are also the three busiest months of the year for all airlines. SMF and PDX are, in fact, difficult (if not impossible) to fly in and out of during the summer months. Once September hits THEN there are plenty of seats on most flights and on most dates at the lowest number of miles possible to both SMF and PDX.

CO and NW have many more flights to SFO and MSY and therefore, the vast majority of dates for all of the summer ARE available right now at the lowest number of points possible for coach. Most of the dates that are available are also available on non-stop flights from Newark as well. Again, if you're somewhat flexible you'll be able to get what you want, at the mileage level you want. If want exact flights on exact dates to exact destinations then that is what the higher number of miles are for, so that you CAN get it, but at a higher cost. Just like when buying a ticket monetarily.

Obviously CO wants it's frequent flyer program to remain valuable to it's customers. That's why it has been regarded, in previous years, as the absolute best among airlines (see CO closely monitors all aspects of it's competitors frequent flyer programs and they make sure CO is competitive or better. In light of the current airline industry climate, CO is first making SURE that they WILL outlast the other airline(s) that will NOT be in business a year, or two, from now. Not only do your CO OnePass miles never expire, unlike other airline's programs, CO is going to see to it your miles NEVER do expire. So when the flights DO match up with your desired schedule your miles will be there for you to use.

Hope that helped, Gregory in Houston, TX