While many of us are still homebound, it's a great time to look towards our future travel opportunities and maximize those frequent flyer mile perks. By following a few tips, you can bank your miles and be ready to access free flights for a well-deserved vacation. And with enough points, you could even begin traveling first class.
These are the 7 simplest ways to increase your mileage earned and start enjoying some serious travel perks.
Set a Strategy
Of course, many airlines offer loyalty programs, but choosing one or two to focus on can help you build up your miles more quickly. But, which airlines to choose? That depends on a few things.
If you want to use your miles for international travel, focus on an airline that flies where you want to go. Most airlines still operate with a hub system, and if you choose an airline whose hub is your closest major airport, then you will have the greatest opportunities to earn miles on that airline each time you fly since they route more flights through that location.
Make sure you check airline alliances for compatible mileage earning opportunities. For example, you can earn Delta SkyMiles on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France flights. American Airlines participates in the Oneworld airline partners, which include British Airways. United Airlines' MileagePlus program is part of the Star Alliance, which partners with Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. Flying partner airlines can help build your miles on your preferred carrier.
Alex Miller, the founder of Upgradedpoints.com, notes that each airline has its own set of pros and cons, "there isn't one airline that really provides better value than any other airline," so you will just want to find one that works for your unique needs.
Another successful strategy is to set a goal, such as a trip to Hawaii or New York. That way you are saving your miles for a specific purpose, which can be a great motivator. And it helps you calculate the number of miles you need to get you to your goal. By researching the current flights to your desired destination and identifying which airlines work best for your home airport, you will have found an airline to focus on.
Once you've figured out an airline, try to use that one as much as possible. Sure, you might not be able to fly around as much right now. But that doesn't stop you from getting your daughter and new grandbaby a gift card to come and visit as soon as it's safe.
Sign up for a Travel Reward Credit Card
The fastest way to maximize your mileage accumulation is to utilize a rewards credit card with an issuer that offers points or miles for your frequent flyer program. Almost all card programs offer a sign-up bonus tied to a specific three-month spend, which will help you get to your goal quickly.
These bonuses currently range from 30,000 miles to 60,000 miles, which will get you at least one domestic round trip for free. In addition, many of the cards offer bonus miles when used for airline travel as well as other benefits such as free baggage check, trip delay and cancellation coverages.
Most of the major airlines offer a credit card tied to their mileage program, but if you don't want to focus on building miles with a specific airline, then sign up for a travel rewards card instead of a card affiliated with a particular airline. Many of the major credit card companies and banks offer these, such as Chase or Capital One.
In addition to the normal ways you would utilize a card, explore some not-so-traditional ways to earn miles using the card: You can pay your federal tax bill with a credit card (fee required); check with your landlord to see whether you can pay your rent using your card; when you socialize and split the tab, put it on your card and have your friends Venmo you their share; pay your medical bills using your credit card and put all your recurring charges such as cell phone bill, utilities and other monthly expenses on your card. And don't forget to use your card for car rentals and hotel stays during your trip.
Pay attention to annual fees to make sure the card is always working in your favor, and keep an eye out for special promotions offered. Usually, a card will offer category bonuses on qualifying purchases, such as 3 points on groceries. Many cards send out a monthly email with updates to category bonuses, so check those out before hitting delete!
Use Online Airline Portals for Shopping
Instead of going directly to your favorite online stores, approach your shopping trip by accessing your airline's shopping portal. The portal gives you access to many of the same major stores you use, but it also gives you miles for the money you spend through the portal. By using the airline shopping portal AND your airline credit card, you increase your mileage earning power instantly.
Also, many of the shopping portals run periodic bonuses, so it is definitely worth checking out for your online purchases. You can access 950 or more stores through the American Airline's eShopping site and 900 stores through United's MileagePlusShopping program. Once you've signed up to use the shopping portals, you may even be eligible for additional mileage bonuses as a new customer once you obtain their threshold spending level.
Use Airline Dining Reward Programs
Several airlines offer dining reward programs that provide a mileage boost with your restaurant spending, including carry-out. In order to participate, you need to sign up for the program through your frequent flyer account and then register a card that you will use when paying for your meals. And you will enjoy fast perks if it's a travel credit card.
Most of the programs offer first dining bonus points, and both independent restaurants and chain establishments are included as participants. Check your specific mileage program to find out what is available in your area.
Sign up for Surveys, Contests and Promotions
Most mileage programs offer periodic contests and promotions. Usually, all you need to do is sign up through an email. You can also build miles by agreeing to take surveys and fill out questionnaires through the airline. Make sure that you sign up for emails from your travel reward programs and click through in order to obtain the additional miles offered so you don't miss out.
Maximize Rental Car and Hotel Partnerships
If you travel frequently and earn points renting cars and staying at hotels, it is well worth conducting a few math exercises to determine whether you should claim your rewards in the form of hotel or rental car points vs. airline miles. Generally, earning points with the hotel or rental car company will give you more points than earning airline miles, but the airline's miles may be worth more upon redemption.
Miller also recommends, "Use your frequent flyer miles toward premium cabin–you'll get the most value of these tickets since they usually cost the most if you pay cash."
Fortunately, no matter what point currency you choose, most programs allow for conversion to airline points. So if at a later date you decide you actually want the airline miles, you can have your hotel program convert your current bank into your preferred airline program miles.
Manage Your Mileage
One of the biggest threats to your mileage earnings is point expiration and program devaluation. Make sure you review your mileage account so that you are aware of any upcoming expirations. In today's COVID world, several airlines are waving expiration dates, but it's wise to check before your miles unexpectedly disappear.
Today's world has also created great business uncertainty for airlines, and it's smart to stay alert for program devaluations that might impact your mile accumulation plan. Spreading your efforts over more than one airline could help mitigate any adverse changes to your mileage benefits. However, it is not unusual for all programs within the industry to implement the same type of changes over time.
Calculate Your Savings
Before you utilize your miles for free travel, it's important to know how much they are worth. Most miles are calculated at a value of 1 cent to 1.6 cents, depending on airline and seat class. When you are ready to use your miles, check the fare in dollars as well as the miles required. Take the fare (less taxes and fees) and divide it by the miles required for the flight. The answer will tell you if you are better off paying for the flight in dollars or if it's a good deal to use your miles.
For example, a $300 fare that requires 45,000 miles is not a good deal since the miles in that formula are worth .6 cents each, but the same fare for 25,000 miles is a deal because, in that calculation, the value you are receiving for the miles is 1.2 cents each.
Most airline mileage programs offer the flexibility of restoring miles back into your account if your plans change and you don't take a trip you had issued with a mileage reward. However, there usually is a time frame that is applied, and many programs won't make that accommodation within 72 hours of your planned flight.
If you're serious about earning free travel and want to maximize your ability to manage programs, try one of the travel point apps like AwardWallet and TripitPro. These tools can help you track many of the things you will want to know and also alert you to special opportunities for point accumulation.
Prepare for Take-Off
By employing these strategies now, you will be well-positioned to use those miles for a free flight or seat class upgrade when the world opens up again. It's always encouraging to look ahead to times when it's easier to travel for leisure, and if you increase your chance of doing it for free, that's even better!
Miller leaves one final suggestion, which is to be flexible in your searches. "While you may be wanting to travel on a specific date, if you're flexible by just a few days or in your connection cities, you may be able to find award availability."
So now that you have the lowdown on how to maximize your frequent flyer miles, you can start dreaming of your next travel destinations and begin building up your rewards bank. You'll be glad you did when this pandemic is finally over.