10 Ways to Maximize Frequent Flier Mileage

10 Ways to Maximize Frequent Flier Mileage

Frequent flier programs have been around for quite a while. These are the rewards programs that most airlines have implemented to grant perks to those customers who show loyalty to their particular brand, usually via flying, in the form of free flights and other various benefits.

When the first frequent flier programs came into existence, they merely gave member-passengers points almost solely from flying, redeemable for almost nothing but free flights. Now, decades after those pioneering days of the first frequent traveler programs, there are a plethora of options from which to earn mileage (or whatever the name of the program’s currency), and likewise myriad rewards from which to choose for redemption. Actually, it seems that virtually every commercial transaction can be worked in a way to earn mileage, and there seems to be no limit to what items or experiences your points can be redeemed for. I mean, you can bid your mileage for a meet and greet with Miss Universe, for crying out loud.

An actual auction to attend the Miss Universe show in Las Vegas, as well as to meet the current Miss Universe. This is an auction to be bid on only with Delta Skymiles.

But let’s focus on the purer initial intent of these programs – flying. Earning mileage via flying is still the easiest way to earn larger quantities of mileage, as well as the main (and one of the only) way to earn that other kind of mileage: the elite qualification mileage, also known as butt-in-seat miles. This is the mileage that you accumulate in hopes of becoming an elite member of the airline’s program (if offered at all), benefiting passengers with more convenience-like perks, such as priority boarding, waived fees, upgraded seating, and so on.

Now, after that long intro, here are 5 ways for you to maximize the mileage you receive, both award mileage and elite qualification mileage, when flying:

1. Don’t let your miles expire

Currently, only Delta’s Skymiles program is the only one which I am familiar with that really has no expiration date on points earned. Most others, though, make it very easy to not succumb to the expiration date; usually, no flights even have to be taken. Many frequent flier programs have implemented online shopping into their systems, allowing members who purchase items from regular retailers to earn more points (though not the BIS mileage, of course). Many of the top online retailers can be found through most of the airline’s programs, so why not earn mileage if you were going to shop anyway? Mileage earned via this option, much of the time, allows the expiration date to reset, just like flying would. Keep track of each program online at the program’s website, or track multiple programs with a third-party website or application.

2. Take advantage of the 500-mile minimum

Many airlines, especially those in the United States, have a minimum of 500 miles awarded for flying. This means that, even if you do a quick hop, say from Miami (MIA) to Orlando (BBBBBBBO, which is only BBBB miles, you will earn 500 miles, both award mileage and BIS/elite qualification mileage. Got a trip from HERE to HERE? Consider making a layover, perhaps halfway, to get that minimum each way.

3. Sign up for the credit and debit cards

Most of us know that credit card offers are the easiest way to rack up points in a program. They’re called affinity cards, credit and debit cards that are branded with the airline’s (or other’s) frequent traveler program. Signing up, you usually get a nice bonus, but then on everyday spending there is mileage earned per dollar.

4. Shop and dine

You shop anyway. You might dine out frequently. Why not earn frequent-flier miles for these purchases? Many of the larger programs have incorporated online shopping malls into their websites, allowing you to earn miles with any online purchases you make via their site, purchases you might have made anyway. Also, some of the larger programs have a similar dining service, with many restaurants affiliated with their programs, especially if you live in a more-major city. You simply sign up, register each and every debit and credit card you can with them, and when you dine at a participating restaurant, you earn points – simple as that.

5. Consolidate

One of the most important rules for frequent fliers is to choose only one frequent flier program and stick with it. You want to try to earn the most rewards in one account, rather than earning for one trip with Delta Airlines, another on Lufthansa, and another with Singapore. Banking all your earnings in one account, if possible, is the quickest way to become an elite member with that airline, given that you meet the minimum threshold requirements. Then, once you’re elite, any flights after will probably net you the elite level bonus mileage, on most airlines, snowballing your rewards points.

6. Sign up for multiple programs

This may sound antithetical to my last point, but though you should focus on one frequent flier program to consolidate all your travel and mileage-earnings into, there is absolutely no harm in signing up for other programs. They’re free, and another program may offer you points/mileage for some purchase that you might have made anyway, that your main program may not offer mileage for. Still try to focus on one program, but take advantage of offers on other programs when they arise. Who knows? You may earn enough credit for a free flight with them after a while. Since you (hopefully) will try not to put so much attention on these secondary programs, the points you accrue with them may expire after a stagnant year or two; see what the expiration rules are. You may be lucky and simply have to make a purchase through their online mall or such to reset the expiration date of your points, effectively making them almost non-expiring.

7. Complain

I don’t suggest you use this one often, especially if your issue is petty or irrelevant, but it can be a good way to get some heavy mileage. If something goes wrong on your flight, like if it was delayed (not mere minutes, I’m talking hours) or your luggage was lost, write a descriptive email letting them know what happened. Use a certain tone that suggests the mishap caused you undue inconvenience, but don’t be overly aggressive. I also suggest that you don’t specifically ask for any kind of reimbursement or compensation; let them do as they see fit. Many times they will immediately send thousands of points over your way.

8. Stay in the loop

Make sure you check the website of your frequent flier program at least weekly, so that you can be aware of any special time-sensitive promotions they may have, offering bonus miles or the like. Sign up for their email newsletters, and never disregard them as junk. Check out forums of your program on sites such as Flyertalk.com, where there are communities who seem to know about promotions before the airline’s employees even hear of it. Do all these things not only for your primary frequent flier account, but for all the other ones, as well.

9. Travel!

Traveling on your program’s airline or one of it’s partner’s is still about the quickest way to bulk up on mileage and points, especially that elusive BIS mileage. If you signed up for their emails or are paying attention to their website for promotions, you may see bonus dates that double or triple the mileage you would earn on specific routes. Try to fly when the airline is running one of these promotions. Also, pay attention to the fine print, which is the fare code and terms. Some fare classes may not earn you as many miles as you think you are going to earn, if they are deeply-discounted.

10. Buy mileage/points

Buying mileage in a frequent flier program is usually not a cost-effective way of traveling, since airlines usually sell them at a premium. If you were to fly with a ticket that you paid for with miles that you solely purchased, rather than earned, you would probably be paying anywhere between 3 and 6 times the standard cost of the ticket. However, there are times when buying mileage can help. Firstly, always wait for those mileage-purchasing promotions where they offer you two miles for the price of one. This makes it more reasonable. If you are only a few thousand miles short of redeeming for a free flight, top up, perhaps, by paying for those last few miles, especially if it is mileage credit in one of your secondary programs that doesn’t see much activity. Likewise, if points are about to expire, it may be reasonable for you to purchase mileage and book a trip, rather than to let all those miles go down the drain.

So….

They key to maximizing your frequent flier mileage is to treat every financial transaction like it should earn you points. When you travel, of course, you earn mileage, usually. But when you’re in need of some stationary supplies, purchase them at an online stationary supply shop via the program’s online mall. When dining, see if the restaurant is in the program’s list of affiliated dining options, and then pay for the bill with a registered credit card. Signing up for new cell phone, cable, electric, or internet service? Again, check your airline’s frequent flier program, where these often earn you thousands of points for signing up through them. Not any of these are always ideal at any given time, but with this knowledge in your mind, it should be easier to call the right ones forth, if any, at the proper moment.

A few other helpful articles related to this:

Which Airline Alliance Should I Join? - Things to consider as you navigate the pros and cons of each of the “Big 3″ airline alliances.

Which Frequent Flyer Program Should I Join? - Factors that should be considered before choosing one program over another. Which program is best?

Christian "Krzysiek" Eilers is a twenty-something who constantly likes to look up the next flight out of JFK. His life goal is to visit every country in the world; as a young adult working full-time, he often settles on visiting the near countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean, knocking these off the list as it is less of a financial strain than Europe or Asia. Caffeine is his vice, and if he doesn't have a coffee in his hands, then it's probably a green tea. A native of New York City, when he is not traveling, he can find an abundance of cultural influences right in his own city, enough to keep him satisfied until the next country's beckon cannot be ignored any longer.

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