Monday, January 03, 2011

The Mileage Game: Tips for Beginners

If you like the idea of free travel, then getting into the mileage game might be for you. There are, of course, lots of loop holes and restrictions that the airlines have put in place to make it difficult for you to actually redeem your miles, but if you’re willing to put some thought into it you can bend the game to your side. Some advice if you’re just starting your mileage addiction plan:
  • Consolidate! If you have a mileage plan for every airline you fly, then you’ll never earn enough miles to fly for free. Instead, read up on which airlines are in what alliance and then pick one airline frequent flyer program to give every time you fly within that alliance. Your miles will pool and you’ll be flying for free much faster.
  • Don’t let your mileage expire! This is one of the most common annoyances for the infrequent traveller: If you haven’t had any activity on your account (redemption of miles or accrual of miles) within a certain period of time (two years for United), all of your miles will vanish. It doesn’t matter if you have 5,000 miles or 500,000 miles: If you don’t keep an eye on it, you can lose everything. The good news is that any activity at all, even a single mile, will reset that countdown for all of your miles and most airlines have a “mileage mall” where you can buy stuff through a plethora of different websites (even gift cards on some!) and earn miles regardless of payment type just for starting your shopping session in their “mall”.
  • Don’t let miles rule over your travel or purchases. All frequent flyer programs are designed to get you to spend more money than you might otherwise. If you see a higher fare or an offer that will give you miles for buying something from a third party, always make sure that the miles you gain is worth it. For redeemable miles, a conservative estimate of the value of your miles is around $0.01 per mile. That means that if you wouldn’t sign up for something or make that extra purchase for $5, then you also shouldn’t do it for 500 miles (although this doesn’t apply for things that you would genuinely buy otherwise: In that case, you can think of your miles as a 1% discount).

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