Racking up Frequent Flyer Miles

September 13, 2012

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While the airlines are not handing out miles like they were a few years ago, it is still a worthwhile investment to accrue miles. They offer free travel and loyalty perks.

I conservatively estimate my family has cashed in 40 free airline tickets over the last 20 years. Notice I said conservative. I regret missing several years of mileage accrual early in my career.

If someone offered you two free tickets a year, you would take it right?

Racking up the frequent flyer miles is not as hard as it might seem. Here are 5 tips:

Sign up – You can’t earn them if you have not signed up. I have registered my whole family for cards on multiple airlines. It is as easy as a few minutes on the internet. Make sure you have at least one airline in every major alliance.

You should never take a flight you do not earn miles for. My children have already cashed in on tickets purely from signing up and flying.

Make sure flights get credited – People often forget to have flights credited. Submit your number at booking, confirm it at check in, and follow-up to make sure the miles are credited post flight. If you forget, most airlines allow you one year to submit details. Keep your receipts, itineraries, and boarding passes until the credit appears.

Credit cards – These are a great way to add miles if used correctly. There are two kinds, airline linked and general travel /cash back cards.

Airline – Most offer a sign up bonus ranging between 25,000-50,000 miles and first year free. Take it!

You have the ability to cancel when renewal comes up. Sometimes, you are able to apply for a new card on the same airline after a few years. When renewal comes, they often will attempt to keep you as a customer. I have kept cards several years without paying a fee.

You also earn miles on purchases. Focus on the purchases that earn double or triple miles.

General travel / cash back cards – These are good for any airline or cash back These cards are nice in their flexibility, but it takes a long time to earn free travel. If you earn 2% cash back (which you can convert to airline credit) it takes spending $20,000 to earn $400 of credit. The positive is there often is no fee and you are not limited to flights or a specific airline as a reward.

With an airline card, you can combine spending and actual travel. You might receive 15,000 miles from your spending along with 10,000 of actual flights. This adds up to your free ticket.

My suggestion: Do both.

Take a no fee cash back card (I use Capital One which also has no international conversion fee) as well as an airline card (I use United Airlines). Use the airline card on double mile purchases and see how many years you can keep it fee free. When the fee comes up, determine if a $95 fee is worth what you are earning. Consider it an investment and make a business decision. If you are able to earn the equivalent of a $400 flight for $95, it is a no brainer.

Credit cards are not evil. The abuse of them is the scourge of the modern world. Treat them like a bank account register, not spending more than you have or can pay off interest free. Allow them to work for you.

Look for bonus offers – Airlines will offer miles for signing up for emails, completing a survey, or checking-in online, Take what they will give you. They also renew the expiration on your account.

Do not let miles expire – As mentioned, frequent flyer accounts need activity or your miles disappear. Many airline miles expire after 18 months. ANY activity renews it for an additional 18 months. This is flight, credit card, or even purchasing a magazine through the airline site. Keep track of these so they never expire.

While it is not as easy as it once was to earn free travel, it is still a worthwhile endeavor.

How about you, do you have a frequent flyer strategies?

If you missed the previous posts, make sure to read about airline loyalty and finding the best flight deal.

The opinions expressed on my own, I have received no compensation for them.

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Chris

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A missionary teacher for 24 years currently living in South Africa. I am a recovering superhero, daily in need of the grace of God