High Flying: Getting the Most Out of Airline Miles

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Tuesday 12th October 2010
In this article
  • Where to get them.
  • How to use them.
  • How to get more.

Frequent flyer miles are great. You fly, you rack them up, and then you fly free. But is it ever that simple? No way. How many times have you boarded a plane realizing that you’re not getting credit for the flight you’re on, or that you’ve never bothered to get a frequent flyer number for that airline? Or how many times have you paid for a ticket when you have enough miles - but not enough time - to use a free ticket? Worse still, how often do you discover that your hard-flown miles have suddenly expired? For most SharpMen, all of this happens more often than not - and that’s what the airlines bank on. Check out these SharpTravel tips for getting and using your frequent flyer miles more effectively:

Step One: Rack Up Your Points

Get Frequent Flyer Numbers for Every Airline.

Go online and sign up for the programs of every major airline. While you’re there, make a note of the reservations numbers and frequent flyer agent phone numbers of each airline. Next to each set of phone numbers, record your frequent flyer number. Store this information in two places. First, make an entry for the phone numbers and frequent flyer numbers in your telephone book or electronic organizer. Then make a separate listing in another location - just in case. Why bother with all of this? With more numbers on hand you are more likely to give travel agents and online reservations services the numbers up front - that way you’ll be more likely to use them when you fly. After all, who has time to get and fill out forms at the check-in desk, then send in the copies of the original ticket stubs after the trip?

Sign Up for Other Sources of Frequent Flyer Miles.

Airlines are not the only sources of airline miles. There are many hotel rewards credit card companies, car rental agencies, utility (gas, water, electric) and other various credit card companies that have alliances with airlines which enable you to earn miles towards a free flight with that carrier. Call every credit card company you work with and sign up for their awards program. Patronize hotels and rental agencies that reward your business with additional points.

Claim Mileage for Work-Related Travel.

Many companies allow their employees to keep all or a portion of the airline miles they accrue on work-related trips. Find out what your company policy is and make sure your program numbers are used when booking work-related airline, hotel and rental car reservations. You’ll be surprised how quickly these add up!

Other Ways to Rack ‘Em Up.

When you patronize airlines, hotels and car rental agencies that offer mileage points, pay for that stay or rental with a mileage-earning credit card to get double mileage for the same activity. Keep your eyes peeled for large purchases that can be made with your mileage-earning credit cards. For example, this year, several members of the SharpMan Editorial Team paid their state and federal income taxes with a credit card, thereby earning thousands of additional miles!

If you’ve got more time than money, consider booking indirect flights to your destination. Frequently these indirect flights cost less and result in additional miles of travel.

Step Two: Prepare to Use Your Points

Know What You Have.

Make a point of keeping track of the points you earn. If possible, set up a file for each airline program and keep the statements indicating your point balance. When you fly, always ask the check-in agent to confirm that your number has been entered and look for the update in your mileage account when the statement arrives.

With credit card and other sources of points, keep track of the points you earn and transfer then to the partner carrier as soon as you earn enough for free travel.

Find Out About Restrictions.

Most frequent flyer programs have restrictions and black dates for free tickets. Find out what restrictions apply for each airline program and record these in the appropriate file. This will save you time when deciding between using mileage or purchasing a ticket (thereby giving you a price break on an earlier ticket purchase).

Redeem Points As You Earn Them.

Learn how many miles are required for a domestic or international ticket and redeem your points for vouchers as they accrue. This way, when travel needs arise, you’ll already have a voucher and voucher number with which to make your reservation. This will save you weeks of planning time, and may make the difference between getting one of the "mileage" seats or losing out. Also, redeeming vouchers as the mileage accrues prevents you from losing out on mileage that has expired.

Step Three: Be Frequent Flyer Savvy.

One of the greatest advantages of frequent flyer tickets is that many airlines allow you to change your flight plans without penalty. Imagine: you’re in a cab on the way to the airport. The traffic is awful. Your frequent flyer ticket may allow you to move your reservation to a later flight without penalty. The more you know about the airline’s policies the smoother your travel plans will go - and the more you’ll get out of the points you earn.

This article last updated on Wednesday 4th July 2012
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