There are lots of blogs out there that talk about high dollar travel and highly exotic destinations. I follow some of them, and they're great. Occasionally you'll read about those things here. "But what about us normal people," I ask, "you know, the ones who are traveling often (or even not so often), to less exotic places, and want to make the most of it?" That's really what WTF is about… getting the most out of some of life's best experiences: good people, places, wines, and ways to get there.
So with that said, we bring you the first installment of what we anticipate being a semi-recurring series of tips for better travel, in this case asking which airline you should choose to make the best of your experience and the most of your hard earned dollars. We travel a lot, spending a lot of time observing or talking about travel, but we're by no means high rollers in the queue. We know our way around, and we make the most of that knowledge. We're often asked which airline to fly, and find ourselves explaining that, well, it depends. This is an important question, though, because having a go-to airline helps you make decisions that maximize your return on travel experience in terms of rewards, deals, benefits, and perks. Staying consistent with one or a few airlines also helps you get to know your preferred carriers' quirks, improving your travel experience by removing some uncertainty and guess work. Comfort and familiarity mean you spend less time panicked at the airport, and more time sipping wine at the Vino Volos of the world.
If you live in a smaller city or more rural area served by a few (or fewer) airlines, you don't have many choices, so stick with what you know and be price conscious. If you live in any even moderately large city, observe these guidelines (but be flexible).
Rule 1: Concentrate your points on the "hometown airline".
Figure out what your major local airline is, and fly it as often as possible, even if you have to pay $10-$20 more per trip, or even more for a convenient schedule. Flying your hometown airline allows you to concentrate your points and miles together. I've met a lot of occasional to semi-frequent travelers that never amass enough points for a free trip because they've diluted their earning across too many airlines.
Rule 2: Infrequent traveler with multiple options? Be price conscious!
If you live in a place well-served by multiple major airlines (most larger cities are), but don't fly more than 30 segments (one segment = one plane ride) per year, you're best served going with whichever of the two is cheapest for any given trip. If you're not flying at least 30 segments per year, you're never going to earn special frequent flier status on any airline, so you're better off getting the lowest cost while still observing rule #1 above (concentrate your points).
Rule 3: Frequent travelers, double down on your favorite airline.
If you fly more than 30 segments per year, you're best served by always trying to fly the same airline, even if it costs you a bit more per trip (competition will often ensure this is not the case). Thirty (ish) segments per year is going to put you in the hunt for special status on most airlines, and you don't want to come up just short at the end of the year because you didn't concentrate your flying earlier! Caveat, more power to you if you are an ultra-frequent traveler who flies enough to score status everywhere you sit. Most of us aren't.
A lot more can go into your calculus on this, and in future writing I'll talk about considerations based on the city you live in or which airline(s) best suit individual needs, but these are the basics. If you don't have many choices, go with the biggest. If you have choices, be strategic based on how often you travel. The goal is to get there safely and enjoyably while earning as much in rewards as you can.