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Ask Peter: Solutions to Redeem Miles & Book a Competitive Rate?

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It’s Travel Tuesday, which means we have a new “Ask Peter” column for you. Last week, we focused on destinations. This week, it’s all about the travel process. We have two questions that turn out to be case studies in what not to do. Find out how the intricacies of airline mileage programs and cruise rates are not in your favor and what you can still do about it.

Peter answers questions online and on air on his weekly Peter Greenberg Worldwide broadcast. You can call (1-888-88-PETER (1-888-887-3837)), email him (, tweet questions to @petersgreenberg (use #askPeter), or post questions on his Facebook page.

Remember to leave your contact number if you want to talk to Peter on air for a real-time conversation (we all know how important that is) to solve your travel dilemma.

Keep reading for Peter’s advice on beating the system!

Peggy asked: “Six of us are cruising for the second or third time with Holland America Cruise Line.  Through an American Express travel agent we booked a Mediterranean Cruise in early of January for this year for a September of 2012 cruise date.  Since that time we’ve received emails and mailings from Holland America offering discounted rates for the same cruise dates and itinerary.  When we inquire about a cabin upgrade or other award comparable to the discounted rates we are told that our cabin category is not included in the promotional discounts and we are therefore ineligible for any change in booking.  This is annoying to say the least when we have paid a premium price for  the same itinerary that passengers booking now can get for half the price.”

Holland America cruise shipPeter replied: I would categorize this as a rhetorical question. What’s the incentive for passengers who book early?  News bulletin: it’s nothing!  An unsold cruise ship berth or cabin is revenue they’ll never recoup once the ship sails. Cruise lines may offer you a five percent discounts for early booking, but that don’t even compare to the discounts they’re going to do within one to two months of the sailing date when they haven’t filled the ship. There is no reason to book so far in advance unless you’re booking inaugural cruises or world cruises that tends to sell out right away.

In 2007, the cruise industry took a bit of a gamble. Even though only 12 percent of the U.S. adult population has ever taken a cruise, the industry assumed that the other 88 percent want to go so operators ordered a huge number of ships to be built. Guess what happened? Wall Street tumbles, the banks tumble, the economy falters and now three years later there are a lot of ships to fill.  We’re living in a world of great discounting and there is no incentive for you to book that far in advance.

Peggy also asked: is it the policy of the cruise industry to ignore their returning customers and favor those customers who wait until the last minute?

It looks like cruise lines aren’t paying attention to this issue, which is a mistake on their part.  With airlines if the fare drops more than $150, you can get a refund, minus the $150.  The same thing should apply to the cruise industry, but it does not. The cruise lines want to hold onto the money. And remember when you book that far in advance, you’re giving the cruise industry an interest free loan. Just be aware of that because it is not always the best way to go.

For more information on cruise travel, check out the cruise archives.

Rosie Perez asked Peter on Facebook: “I was trying to claim some old United miles from a round-trip ticket I did in March of 2011 from NYC to California.  United said they would have to charge me $25 to do that.  Is there a way around this?  I thought you had up to 2 years to claim miles.”

Peter answered: In theory, you have up to 2 years to claim miles. However, the airlines are generating revenue for everything short of breathing and anytime you redeposit miles into your account, or claim old miles that weren’t credited there is going to be at least a $25 service fee. Most people don’t realize is that airlines do it all the time.  The only way to get around that, sometimes, is if you’re an elite frequent flier like Diamond Class on Delta.

Now here’s the real question to ask: Is it worth $25 to claim miles from a round-trip ticket from New York to California? At most, you are going to get 2,200 miles. Remember it will take at least 25,000 to 50,000 miles to redeem a reward ticket. And there is no incentive for the airlines to displace a revenue passenger by giving you a frequent flier ticket when they’re selling out the plane with revenue passengers.

In the future, collect as many miles as you can but don’t chase miles you can never use.  It’s never a good idea.

For more information on mileage, check out Peter’s recent report on new ways to redeem miles.

By Peter Greenberg for