Recently UsingMiles.com had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Kralev, a frequent flyer & point maven and the author of a new must-read book for frequent flyers (and frequent flyer wannabes), called “Decoding Air Travel.”
Nicholas has a very interesting past that motivated him to figure out the rules of travel early on in his career. It quickly became a passion for him, and now he is inspired to share all of his learnings with you and I so we don’t have to take the time to learn it ourselves (other than by simply reading his book).
Nicholas’ goals are pretty straightforward: to help you save money and improve your travel life. We like the sound of that!
We were eager to learn more about Nicholas’ inspiration for his book and how to save money and travel better! Read on to learn about his top tips for maximizing the value of your miles.
UsingMiles.com: Describe your background in travel and how you taught yourself the “frequent flyer game.”
Nicholas: Out of necessity, I suppose. It had to do with my job. From 1999 to 2002, I was a correspondent for the Financial Times and I had to fly a lot domestically. Then when I started working for Washington Times, I had to travel the world. I had a very small travel budget and I had to learn to stretch it. The most effective way to do that was to learn everything there was to know about airlines. I was originally doing 3-4 trips per year with my budget, and after training myself and figuring out the system, I was taking 9-10 trips on the same budget! The next problem was that I didn’t want to fly in coach. So I needed to figure out how to get status in an airline and maintain status from year to year. For the last 10 years I have been top elite status with my preferred airline. The last time I flew in coach was in 2002 (unless the plane only had coach.) I love to travel. I grew up in Bulgaria and we were not allowed to travel so I cherish the opportunity to travel. My mission is to help more people travel and to help Americans see the world.
For an aspiring frequent flyer, what are your top 3 practical tips on how to get started maximizing the value of your miles (other than reading your book!)
- Pick an alliance. There is no point in spreading yourself across several different alliances. Domestically, I think the Star Alliance is the best alliance just because of its domestic partners (3 major airlines.)
- Achieve elite status. Even if it’s the lowest level, at least you will get all of your baggage fees covered. Status doesn’t necessarily need to be with a domestic airline. For instance, it’s easier to get Aegean status, but since it is a Star Alliance member, you will not have to pay for your baggage fees with any Star Alliance member, including United.
- Learn the air travel science. This includes fare filing. It sounds complicated, but honestly you just have to read the book and you’re done. It took me years to figure it out, but you could do it in hours (shameless self-promotion, wink wink!)
- Think before you book and think before you travel. There are many things you can do between the time you book and before the time you travel that can minimize your hassles while traveling. Stop complaining about the airlines! Learn the system and use it in your favor! The system is what it is. There is nothing you can do to change it. So let’s learn everything about it and let’s find a way to turn all the negatives into positives.
Is your book a better fit for experienced frequent flyers or aspiring mileage junkies?
Both. My only criterion is if you fly 2-3 trips per year, you will get value out of this book. Whether you love to travel or you have to travel, you will learn a lot.
What real-life experience as a frequent flyer are you most proud of?
Typically my proudest moments are when I am sitting in business or first class in an International flight and I know that I have paid far less than people in economy. For instance, I was sitting in first class on a one-way flight to Lufthansa and I paid $1,600. There were people sitting next to me that paid 10 times what I paid.
What is the best place you have traveled to or stayed in on miles?
Sydney, Australia, because it’s very difficult to get business or first class to Australia. I was actually able to take both of my parents with me in business class on the same flight to spend New Year’s in Australia – and I did it on Saver Awards!
What frequent flyer experts do you rely on for advice?
Out of all the travel bloggers out there, the one I read the most and respect the most is Gary Leff ‘s blog. It’s not just, “I went there and I had fun. It’s hands-on experience that people can use. I also read FlyerTalk and MilePoint.
Intrigued? We knew you would be. You can buy the book on DecodingAirTravel.com or go to Amazon.com and read some of the reviews if you can’t decide (disclosure: we make zip, zilch, zap if you buy this book, but we still think it’s a good idea!) Morevoer, the eBook is out in Kindle format and selling on Amazon’s U.S., UK and German sites.
Nicholas is also doing a book tour in many cities and rumor has it that he may be co-hosting one with yours truly in Denver, so we’ll let you know!