Miles Away from Your Next Vacation?

Frequent flier (hereinafter FF) programs may seem like a scam – how can you possibly accumulate 25,000 miles for a domestic flight, let alone 40,000+ for an international flight, if you only get 600 miles on a DC-NY round-trip flight?! – but you will learn to love them once you pay for your first flight with miles.  Over the last 6 years I have flown to South America twice and once to Europe using just accumulated miles plus $150 or so in taxes and fees (these cannot be paid with miles) each time.  How quickly you accumulate enough miles for a ticket will obviously depend on how frequently you travel, but how careful you are to make sure you get those miles also makes a huge difference in the long run.  Here are some general tips to get you on your way to a FF mileage-funded vacation:

  1. This is basic, but make sure your FF number is recorded when you check into a flight and do not throw away the boarding passes and reservation until you see the miles posted to your account.  And if you don’t see those miles in your account 3 weeks after you’ve flown, make sure to chase after them.  While some airline companies allow you to request missing mileage credit online, others require that you send them a copy of your boarding pass and reservation.  American Airlines, for example, generally allows you to request the credit online, but if the mileage is for a Japan Airlines flight that you want to add to your AA account, for instance, you must send a fax instead.  To request mileage from a US Airways flight to a United account, on the other hand, you will need to provide them with your seat number.
  2. If you travel for work, number 1 still applies.  The FF miles are an added benefit to your job, and you should not hesitate to earn them.  You are entitled to them, and since frequent flier miles can only be awarded to the person who actually took that flight, you are not taking away any potential opportunities for earning miles from your company or your boss.
  3. Some car rental and large hotel chains also give you miles.  Check your FF website before booking either of these to find out.  For car rentals, you usually need to give a booking code (found in the FF website) and your FF number to accumulate miles.  There are often deals for double or triple miles depending on the length of your rental, and these frequently come with extra discount codes.
  4. Use the FF website for online shopping.  Whenever you are about to purchase something online, besides searching for discount coupons, make sure to check your FF website to see whether you can get miles for that purchase too.  Most FF programs have a site with links to various retailers that award you miles as long as you purchase from them after clicking on their link (rather than visiting the retailer directly), similar to UPromise and ShopDiscover.  This site is usually listed in the “earn miles” > “gifts and retail” (or similar name) section of your FF website and does not bar you from using coupons as well.  Last week, I purchased an item on sale at J.Crew using a 20% off coupon AND got 300 miles (3 miles per $ spent) from American Airlines!  That’s the same amount of miles I would have gotten for flying from DC to New York.

Obviously, if you don’t travel a lot for work or pleasure or shop online, accumulating enough miles for a trip to the Pacific Islands will take years.  But my reasoning is simple: FF programs should not encourage you to purchase a more expensive ticket just because it will give you miles (having accounts with airlines in the three main groups mostly covers that) nor should you make superfluous online purchases just for the miles.  However, if you were going to take that flight or make that purchase anyway, why not get something for it, even if small?  As I see it, slow but steady wins the trip.

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One Response

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