Getting frequent-flier credit on tours Packages: Even though the flight is part of the deal, you may still be able to rack up some miles for your next trip.

December 22, 1996|By Christopher Reynolds | Christopher Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Frequent-flier miles can save you money. Package tours can save you money. But if you take a package tour that bundles airfare and lodgings into one price, can you still get credit for frequent-flier miles?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It depends on the tour company and the airline involved. Sometimes a simple itinerary change can capture 10,000 miles that would have been lost. Sometimes a package tour offers no mileage credit, but carries such a deep discount that it's still the most economical choice. And frequently, even after you've decided to take a tour, there are still mileage strategy decisions to be made.

Here are some guidelines:

1. Many tours rely on charter flights or airlines without frequent-flier programs, and thus yield no miles. One example is Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, which sent more than 300,000 people to Hawaii in 1996. A spokesman notes that about 60 percent of the company's Los Angeles and San Francisco customers headed for Honolulu and Maui are placed on American Trans Air, a carrier that offers charter and scheduled flights, but has no frequent-flier program. What attracts the travelers are prices that begin as low as $399 per person for round-trip air and seven nights in Waikiki.

2. Travelers can get mileage credit on many, perhaps most, air-inclusive tours that use major airlines. At Trafalgar Tours, a New York-based company that sent more than 100 tours to Europe last year, a spokeswoman reports that most of the company's tours use major carriers that grant tour customers the same mileage credit they would get as individual fliers. Contiki Holidays, an operator that specializes in travelers 18 to 35 years old, reports a similar setup, as does African Travel Inc.

But there are exceptions: Some foreign-based carriers, including Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines (both of which are allied with American Airlines' mileage program), give no frequent-flier miles for coach-class travel, whether you're on a tour or not. Thus, flying the same route with a different carrier could be a valuable move, if the price is comparable.

Also, some U.S. carriers, in agreeing to provide large volumes of discounted seats to tour operators or others, may stipulate that those seats will carry no mileage credits. Discount agencies known as consolidators often sell these sorts of tickets. And so do some tour operators, often those at the low end of the price spectrum.

Because these contracts can vary from year to year, it's important for travelers to ask tour operators about them before booking.

3. Although you often can accumulate miles by buying a tour, you generally can't use previously accumulated miles toward the purchase of an air-inclusive tour.

But you might look for "land-only" packages that leave air arrangements to you. In fact, some tour operators design and price most of their tours as land-only products (and then maintain "air desks" to help clients find the flights they need).

"Many of our travelers are professionals who are otherwise traveling quite extensively on business. So they're using these miles [to buy vacation air tickets]," says Jim Sano, president of San Francisco-based Geographic Expeditions. "We feel it's an important marketing tool to do land-only."

Whenever you are considering a tour, Sano and others counsel, try to compare the air-included and land-only prices, check to see how the difference compares with available air fares, and book your travel accordingly.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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