The Frequent Flier

© Tom Bachtell

Airline guru Todd Bliwise, at Absolute Travel, knows every trick in the book for maximizing points and miles on flights.

As Absolute Travel’s director of air, how do you get the most out of your clients’ points?
My rule is that the method in which you earned the points or miles is the worst way to redeem them. For example, recently two clients wanted to go from JFK to Bali in first class. They had 1 million points in a particular rewards system. The tickets would have required 3.4 million points if they stayed in that network. I transferred the points to Singapore Airlines, where I booked both tickets for 560,000 points total. Absolute Travel’s Absolute Air program, which I oversee, charges a $350 fee for booking first class, but we saved our clients $30,000—and millions of points.

When is it worth it to fly first class versus business class?
I have experienced nearly every first- and business-class service on every carrier, and I’d say definitely when flying international. Quantas is a good example, where the experiences of first and business are vastly different. In first, you get a luxurious, private, open suite. They even put down sheepskin mattress pads. Their business class is nice but very utilitarian.

What’s your favorite first class?
I break out the suites into their own category. Etihad is my favorite, followed closely by Asiana.

What’s one of your best-kept air secrets?
On Virgin Australia, behind the bar, there’s an extra row of business-class seats called Row 5. It has a curtain that blocks it from view completely. It’s usually reserved for celebrities, but you can book it at check-in if it’s available. You just have to ask for it. It has so much space, it’s like a living room.

Top onboard dining?
Swiss Air. They bring out this cheese board from 15 countries. They also serve port, Cognac and dessert wine.

Is there any place left for first class to go? What’s next?
I think we’ll soon see even more creature comforts. Maybe a gym or fitness center eventually. Emirates gives their passengers five minutes of running hot water in its shower spa. A sauna? I don’t think that’s out of the question.