The art of achieving airline frequent flyer miles has become slightly more involved and cumbersome over the last decade. Airline financial problems, security concerns, airline mergers, increased usage of frequent flyer upgrades, and other safety issues have contributed to the fact that earning and using miles is a little more complicated now, but do not let those facts deter you. You can still earn miles and use them; you just have to be diligent and pro-active.
Airline Reward Programs – Go Directly to the Source or a Travel Agent
The easiest way to sign up for a reward program is directly with the airline websites. Generally, they ask very basic information about you and sign up can usually be done in minutes. If you use a travel agent or travel coordinator, they can sign you up as well.
1. Airlines: Be selective about which airlines you sign up for. If you never plan to fly Air Emirates, then do not bother signing up with them. Remember, if you end up flying with an unexpected airline, you can always sign up when booking your ticket. You just do not want to sign up for every airline, especially ones you never plan to use, because it dilutes your reward pool. Stay focused on the airlines you want to achieve rewards with and you will be able to accumulate them quicker. Also check to see if your airline shares miles with another, sometimes you can earn miles on two different airlines using one reward program.
2. Hotels: The same runs true for hotel reward programs. Only sign up for the hotels you plan to use. Be sure to check out their reward program descriptions as many hotels also offer airline miles with select hotel stays. If you are lucky enough to find a hotel chain you like, it is available most places you stay and they give airlines miles to your airline of choice that is a win/win situation for you. If the hotel does not offer outright airline miles, you can often exchange hotel points into airlines miles. It all depends on the chain and their particular regulations.
3. Rental Cars: Many airlines have preferred car rental agencies that offer extra bonus miles to your frequent flyer account.
When signing up for frequent flyer accounts, be sure to read their policies. There you will find a list of their partner travel companies. You will be able to plan your travel more cohesively once you know who the partners are. Then the miles can really start to add up.
Other Ways to Receive Airline Miles
Now that so many travel companies partner with other companies, it has become easier to earn miles; sometimes without even having to travel. These partners are all detailed on each airline’s website. Below are a few more ways to earn miles:
1. Credit Cards: Most large airlines now do business with a preferred credit card company partner. For example, American Airlines has teamed with Citi to offer credit cards that earn bonus miles. When you use the credit card for select purchases you are actually earning airline miles and you do not even have to be traveling. Many times groceries, gas and other daily purchases can earn miles. Most major airlines offer similar programs.
2. Shopping and Dining: Some airlines have partnered with specific online retailers, restaurant chains and/or financial institutions that offer miles when spend money with them. Using American Airlines again for example, for each dollar you spend at 1-800-flowers you earn 15 air miles. It may not seem like much, but if you are going to be using these partner companies anyway, you might as well take advantage of whatever specials they have to offer.
3. Special Offers: There are times when the airlines offer bonus miles when you use their website to plan a complete vacation package (air, hotel, and car) or when a cruise is booked through the website. Also depending on the airline, you can earn extra miles when you purchase last minute (no advance purchase) airline tickets. As always be sure to review the airline website frequently for additional special offers.
4. Airline Club Membership: Joining your preferred airlines club usually means you get a substantial mile bonus in addition to the membership. Please note that airline club memberships are not free and are obtained by paying a yearly membership fee. The airline club memberships are one of a frequent travelers most coveted perks. With this membership you are able to wait for flights in an area that is less crowded and enjoy amenities that are not offered to the general public. For example (depending on the airport) you may enjoy: food and beverage service, individual work stations, access to printers and copiers, personal showers, play areas for children and more. There is also someone available to help with any travel problems or concerns you may be having. If flights are cancelled due to weather or another reason, you have assistance right there to help. Please note that not every airport offers club locations, be sure to check the airline website for available airport club locations.
5. Purchase Miles: Most major airlines also make miles available for purchase. This works out especially if you are short a few thousand miles for a reward. Just keep in mind that purchasing miles can be expensive if you need quite a few thousand, but it is still another way to earn more miles.
Now that you are well on your way to earning airline miles, what are you going to do with them? You have quite a few options for “spending” them. Below are a few ways you can enjoy the fruits of your travel labors:
1. Free Travel: This is the main reason most frequent travelers work so hard to earn airline miles; they want to enjoy a free vacation for themselves and others. If you are earning miles for your business, you need to make sure you are able to use the miles earned for personal use. Some employers do not allow travelers to keep the miles and require the earned miles to be given back to the company, it is always a good idea to find that out early on to avoid any conflicts.
2. Upgrades: Many travelers find this option one that works the best for them as fewer miles are needed for upgrades than for free travel. When planning a longer trip, many frequent travelers will use miles to upgrade their seating from Coach to Business or First Class. If the trip you are taking is multiple consecutive hours in length, an upgrade can mean the difference between arriving at your destination refreshed or completely exhausted. The extra space and amenities can make a long, grueling trip much more pleasurable. As the world of corporate travel has grown, so has the amount of travelers vying for upgrades, be sure to check how your airline handles multiple upgrade requests. There is nothing more disappointing then expecting an upgrade and then finding out that there are no upgrade seats available.
3. Redeem for Other Items: Many airlines offer other ways for you to use your earned miles that do not include travel. You may be able to use your miles to order magazine or newspaper subscriptions, obtain gift cards to specific restaurants or retail establishments, or use your miles to bid on auction items (such as sporting or concert tickets, etc.). Not every traveler is going to be able to travel enough to earn a free trip to Hawaii, but you can still use your miles for fun things you can use or give to someone else.
4. Donations: You can also use your earned miles to give back to organizations that may need airline miles. The airlines work with children and veteran charities to provide air travel for those in need and the miles donated are the ones used to help. Other charities, such as Make-A-Wish, can accept airline miles directly to be used as part of a child’s granted wish. If you have a specific charity you would like to assist, check with them directly to see if they can use your miles.
Always read the airline website in order to completely understand the rules and regulations of frequent flyer accounts and also know your employers travel guidelines. If you do this, you should not have any unexpected or disappointing surprises.
As you can see, there is a lot of information you need to know about frequent flyer accounts and you have to have a goal in mind in order to keep your efforts in line. It is very easy to just want to sign up for every available airline account, but you really want to keep yourself focused and do not dilute your efforts too much. You will work very hard to earn these miles, and you will want to make sure that when the time comes you are able to enjoy them in the way you wanted to.