We don’t always buy the cheapest ticket and neither should you.

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Earlier this week, we posted a deal from Washington, D.C. to Nairobi, Kenya on Brussels Airlines for $841. Over the course of that day, we received a few emails on why we didn’t put up the Turkish fare that was cheaper.

What Is The Better Deal?

Price alone should not be the determining factor for what is a better deal. Let us illustrate:

Option 1: Turkish Airlines, $806 from Washington, D.C. – Nairobi, Kenya

2014-05-29_tk_nbo

The Turkish fare is in W class. W class fares earn zero miles with United and all other Star Alliance carriers except Turkish. If that wasn’t bad enough, starting June 1st, W class will only earn 25% mileage with their own program.

or Option 2: Brussels Airlines, $841 from Washington, D.C. – Nairobi, Kenya

2014-05-29_nbo_sn

Brussels Airlines also serves Nairobi. The fare is $35 more and 100% mileage earning with United. So are the miles worth $35?

What is a mile worth?

Mileage valuation varies but, at minimum, a mile is worth a penny to us. The Brussels Air itinerary  is 15.9K miles.

Image via GCMAP.COM

Image via GCMAP.COM

So what can 15.9K miles get you on United?

How about a domestic one-way for 12,500 miles plus $2.50 (nonstop) or $5 (with a connection)?

2014-05-29_sfo_ua

How much is the same paid ticket?

2014-05-29_sfo_ua1

The paid ticket is $224. Meaning, if you went to Nairobi on Turkish Airlines and then traveled again later from DC – San Francisco, buying the Turkish Airlines fare would’ve cost you at least $189 ($224 – $35) more than buying the Brussels Airlines fare.

Travel is a long game

Do not look at travel as one-off transactions. When you do, you end up spending more. Having miles allows you to travel more for less. Always buying the cheapest ticket is not the path to success nor saving.

Our philosophy since Day One has been:

  1. Feature deals that are mileage earning (we denote any that aren’t) that are 6 cents per mile or less
  2. Do not feature mileage earning deals if they are significantly more than the non-mileage earning deal
  3. Always denote exactly how many miles you can expect to earn for the sample routing

When you do see a cheap fare, do the following:

  1. Ask yourself – Is it going to earn miles with any mileage programs (like American and United)?
  2. Look at the fare class code to make sure the fare is mileage earning — the fare class code is shown on ITA on above screenshot next to Economy.
  3. Once you have the fare class code, go to American, United, Delta, etc. and see if the fare will earn miles. A lot of airlines are partners with the three majors so be sure to check!
  4. ITA automatically calculates the mileage for the itinerary. Use that as a guide on how many miles you can expect to earn.
  5. Use a baseline of one penny per mile to see how much those miles are worth. The Nairobi itinerary with Brussels Airlines is 15,926 miles. Those miles would be worth about $159 to us.
  6. Do not redeem your miles for an award ticket if you are getting less than that. We only redeem if we can get at least 2 cents per mile on a coach ticket and at least 4 cents on a business class ticket.
  7. Collect those miles! They are free. Not collecting them is like leaving money on the table and it makes travel more expensive in the long-term!

And that’s why we don’t always buy the cheapest ticket. For more on our philosophy on travel, see our interviews with Extra Pack of Peanuts, AAdvantageGeek and Business Insider.

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11 Responses to "We don’t always buy the cheapest ticket and neither should you."

  1. Anon says:

    Thank you!

  2. Bryan says:

    Great article! I will point out that when flying on TK, you can earn 100% miles on UA in booking class “V”, which is usually $40-50 more. You can book this by calling them over the phone.

  3. N says:

    What’s economy V and economy K and all that stand for anyway? How do you know which economy class you should be?

    • TFD says:

      @N – when you buy a ticket, it has a fare class code. That determines whether or not it earns miles. As shown on the screenshots — you can find it on ITA. Using that, you can determine whether or not it credits to your program.

      All deals we post includes the fare class code and unless noted otherwise will earn 100% mileage.

  4. Luke US says:

    Great article!

  5. Wolfgang says:

    Great article!
    One question though, you say “ITA automatically calculates the mileage for the itinerary”…..where on the ITA page can I see those miles?

    I usually use milecalc.com to see how many miles I can/will earn.

    • TFD says:

      @Wolfgang – milecalc is easier since you don’t need to actually run the search. On ITA, its in the itinerary details view — see the screenshot below:

  6. enjoy Fine Food says:

    Realizing, “Travel is a long game,” you are rapidly attaining the next level of blogdom. Once there, pure travel bliss is within your reach.

  7. stella au says:

    There are so many airline codes. Is there a website that list the codes and their meaning?

    • Marc says:

      The codes themselves do not stand for a specific word or have meaning. It is simply the way airlines denote which category and the hierarchy within that class of fares. For example, most airlines use F for full fare first class and P, D, or A for restricted first class, depending on the airline.

  8. Dizzy says:

    Only drag is that Turkish is such a drastically better economy experience…so sad their fares don’t earn as well anymore!

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