One of the greatest obstacles of any river cruise can be finding affordable airfare. While some lines – most notably A-ROSA – include economy-class airfare as part of the cost of the cruise itself, other lines including AmaWaterways, Avalon, Scenic Tours, Uniworld and Viking frequently have free or deeply-discounted airfare offers, or discounts that significantly mitigate the relatively high cost of flying overseas.
But for the savvy river cruiser, that investment in airfare can pay great returns over the long run.
No matter how often you travel, you should always ensure you’re signed up for your favorite airline’s frequent-flier program. A simple trip from, say, Seattle to Prague can earn you roughly 5,600 miles one-way, for a total of just under 12,000 total miles. Airline “status” tiers can start anywhere from 20,000 miles earned in a single year, meaning your summer river cruise vacation alone could get you more than half-way to earning some pretty decent perks.
Airline points aren’t just valuable for elite status, though. They can be used for car rentals, hotel stays, gift cards, and even special perks like airline lounge access or even upgrades to economy plus, or – dare we dream – the first-class cabin.
If you have enough points, many airlines begin waving fees to pre-select your seats, and a few will even let you purchase onboard snacks or merchandise using your frequent-flier points.
You can even take mileage accrual and redemption one step further. Whenever I stay at a Hilton – or one of their associated brands – I earn Star Alliance points that are added to my Air Canada Aeroplan account. That, in turn, will eventually give me more hotels stays, rental cars, and little perks that make the entire experience that much more enjoyable.
I try to fly Star Alliance carriers as much as possible, simply because that is where the majority of my points lie. But one trick I learned surprisingly late involves registering for Alaska Airlines’ frequent flier program, even though I rarely fly with the airline.
At first, that might seem like a bit of an odd choice, but here’s where it becomes surprisingly beneficial: using Alaska’s frequent flier program allows you to accrue points for Oneworld Alliance airlines like American and British Airways, as well as Skyteam alliance airlines like Delta, KLM and Air France. Most airlines will only let you accumulate mileage built up on one particular “alliance”; Alaska lets you accrue mileage on two alliances. And that can add up fast.
No matter how often you travel, it always pays to accumulate frequent-flier points – particularly when river cruising!