It’s getting harder each year to earn and redeem your frequent flier miles for flights or upgrades. However, there are still some tricks to getting more miles for your time and money. I travel internationally nearly every month, so frequent flier miles are an important part of my life. I’ve almost boiled miles and points down to a science. I’ve made and learned from a lot of mistakes, and picked up some good tips along the way. Here are some important tips to earning extra miles for your next flight:
Stick to one program. I do all of my flying within Star Alliance, but some of my best friends only fly with One World. I have another colleague who just exclusively flies with 2 carriers who are partners. Regardless of which program you choose, stick with it. Don’t hop back and forth, or you’ll never earn enough miles to get in the air. Accumulation is the key, so try to add all your miles to one program.
Cheap Flights Are Not Always the Best
The cheapest flight isn’t always the best flight. I recently paid an extra $40 to fly on Thai Airways instead of a cheaper flight on JAL. Why? Because Thai is a part of my network, and would give me miles for the flight. Miles are worth about 2.5 cents each, so do the math and see if it’s worth it. It’s not worth an extra $40 for just 700 miles, but it is worth it for 5000 miles. I was flying a good distance; my program’s flight was just $40 more and netted me almost 5K miles. Cheapest isn’t best.
No one likes a multi-leg trip, but it can help you rack up extra miles. A non-stop flight from NY to Honolulu will be faster, but with stops in Chicago and LA, you’ll get more miles. The ticket will probably be cheaper too. This all depends on your schedule: do you have time for many stopovers? Sometimes you can get almost twice the miles at 10% less of the cost for a non-stop flight.
Look for shopping deals in your program. If Wal-Mart is doubling their miles per dollar spent this week, do some extra shopping for things you’ll need anyway. It’s never a good deal to buy what you don’t need, but if you do need some items – buy them during miles campaigns. I make a list of big ticket items I will need sometime this year (new laptop, stereo, luggage, etc), and buy them only when double miles kick in. Patience will pay off.
Try to Get Bumped
If your schedule is flexible, try to get bumped from a flight. This will usually get you extra miles or a voucher as compensation. Book crowded flights at busy times. When you check-in for the flight, volunteer to be bumped. Be nice about it, and they’ll put you at the top of the list. You have a 50/50 chance of getting bumped and booked on a later flight – with a lot of extra miles to compensate you for the inconvenience.
Credit Cards May Not Be Worth It
I find that most credit cards attached to a frequent flier program are not worth the cost. Many of these cards come with high annual fees, foreign exchange charges, point transfer fees, and a load of purchases that don’t qualify. Generally it’s best not to bank on these cards, no pun intended.
Many airlines are now offering surveys you can take in exchange for miles. You answer questions and get a few miles for your time. Generally, these are not worth the time spent. The surveys are deceptively long, or kick you out after 20 questions and say “sorry you didn’t qualify for this survey,” even though you’ve already answered most of it. Scam or not, I don’t know; but they’re not worth the few miles you get. Spend your time in better ways.
Keep your eyes open for Double-Mile and Triple-Mile flights. A reasonably priced flight with triple miles might be a good excuse for a weekend vacation.
See Also: Travel Phobias: 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers
How to Get Through the Airport Faster and Easier
10 Things You Will Likely Forget to Pack for Travel