Dynamic Pricing, Dynamic Booking, Dynamic Travel (Part 2)

I'm not a travel hacker, not really. I enjoy the places, not the interfaces. And traveling in coach is just fine with me, thanks. As a matter of fact, I do much of my traveling BY coach—bus, that is. I went all over Mexico and Central America before I ever crossed an ocean thirty-five years ago. And the only time I've ever flown first class was when they bumped me up for free. Now don't get me wrong: I'm an avid collector of frequent-flyer miles, but I'd have to have an awful lot before I'd waste them on a fluffy first-class seat, the typical stuff of many travel-hackers.

Everybody knows about airline prices these days and how screwy they are, different prices for every passenger, depending on who what when and where they bought it (from). Strangely enough some of the same games carry into the 'frequent-flyer' booking process. For example, for my upcoming trip, to Central and sub-continental Asia, I figured to start in either India or Sri Lanka (I've never been to either, strangely enough, and I plan to go to them all). That costs 90K frequent-flyer miles from LA, either way you go, east or west. But Bangkok is only 65K, and I can take a stop in Colombo, SL, for free. Huh? An extra stop for fewer miles? Okay. Works for me.

Of course, as long as you're returning back on the same route/direction from where you came, you can stop at any one of a number of major hubs (no RTW allowed; too romantic, I guess, so worth more), and the fact that BKK is much closer to LAX straight over the Pacific—rather than the usually much-more-expensive Atlantic-Europe-subcontinental route—seems to make no difference.

So I got an eight-hour layover in Munich (where I've never been) on the way over, and two weeks in Istanbul on the way back. Flights to India from BKK are cheap on Air Asia, one of the region's best bargains (despite their affiliation with ex-Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra). There's only one problem. I've got less than 63K miles, so short a couple thou.

You can always buy a few extra miles, of course, but they cost much more than the $1=100 miles that I figure they're worth—at least—and still more than the $2=100 miles that I figure they're worth at most. So I buy up everything I could possibly need for the trip, and the next year, charging it all on my frequent-flyer credit card, of course—camera, computer, year's worth of mailbox rental, year's supply of toilet paper, etc; everything, in fact, that I could possibly justify, short of the extra flights that I'll need for the trip.

“First things first,” I keep reminding myself. “Don't buy the second flight until you've bought the first.” I've only got a few days until the current fiscal month ends, at which time I can pay the credit card bill immediately. The question is: will all my purchases post to the account before month's end, and then how long will it take payment to post to the account? I've already claimed another 5K+ miles that the airline seems to have forgotten, but there's no telling when it will post—if ever. And you can't pre-pay your account just to get miles, I don't think.

So the month closes on schedule, and all my purchases are there. I pay it, “in like Flynn,” I figure. Then I wait...and wait, for the miles to post to my account. Unfortunately it's a weekend. That shouldn't matter, but it probably does. Seats are disappearing on the flights I want, and I really don't want a twenty-hour layover in Ethiopia, not without a visa, anyway.

Finally, I just can't wait anymore, so I pay the extra $150 to get the miles I need to book my flight, better safe than sorry. The other miles might not post for days, and I need to go ahead and make plans. They post the next day, of course. It's still a helluva deal. That's on United Air BTW. American charges so much in 'fees' that it's not worth it for international flights, though domestic is tolerable. Choose your programs carefully. Now I can concentrate on the six to eight other flights I'll need over the same amount of countries in the same number of months, like flights in and out of Kabul. It's complicated. 

For more posts like this see author's blog.

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