How to maximize your airline miles
Flying isn't the only way to rack up frequent-flier miles. Try these tricks to boost your stash.
Between all the fees, poor customer service and high fares, airlines offer surprisingly few incentives to fly. The one exception is your ability to earn frequent-flier miles, either through airline loyalty programs or partnerships with credit card issuers.
To help consumers leverage this perk for maximum benefit, MainStreet consulted George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog, an airfare alert site that covers all carriers, and got some tips on how to get the most of your airline miles.
Negotiate for more miles before taking a credit card deal. You're probably well aware that the best way to earn frequent-flier miles is by signing up for a credit card offering big rewards on travel, but what you may not know is that a lot of times these deals can be negotiated to your advantage.
"Don't necessarily take what is being offered to you," Hobica says. He explains that credit card issuers sometimes add additional bonus miles to what is offered as a signing bonus to the card or match offers by their competitors if a particularly creditworthy applicant asks them to. Post continues after video about a recent report on frequent-flier miles.
Get extra bonuses by buying or transferring miles. It may sound counterintuitive -- miles are typically earned, not bought -- but Hobica says carriers often run deals that make buying miles worthwhile. For instance, US Airways has a program running until June 30 that offers a 100% match on up to 50,000 bought miles. This means that taking the airline up on the deal would end up doubling the miles you can use for flights. Currently, US Airways is letting consumers buy 1,000 miles for $27.50.
"It's cheaper to buy the miles and then use them to buy the ticket than it is to just buy the ticket directly," he says.
Similarly, American Express has been known to offer bonuses of up to 30% to members when they elect to transfer bonus points into miles. These deals aren't always available and change frequently, so consumers need to pay attention to what deals are being offered when they are getting ready to fly, Hobica says.
Don't use miles on domestic travel. As a rule of thumb, Hobica cautions against using any miles you have earned on domestic travel. While the conversion of mile-to-dollar value will be no different, you don't want to squander the hard-earned points on airfare you could probably get a good deal on anyway.
"Don't spend your miles on a ticket that is $500 or less," he says. Instead, use them on long, pricey international flights or as a possible way to upgrade from economy to business class.
Do your shopping in online airline malls.Online airline malls are a great way to preserve miles that might be otherwise expiring in your account. As soon as you make a purchase, your expiration date is pushed out another 12, 18 or however many months stipulated by your airline.
Consumers can also use online airline malls to their benefit since the retailers often offer bonus miles on purchases they were already intending to make. For instance, if Continental offers four miles for every dollar spent with the Apple Store, one of their shopping partners, and you buy a $2,500 iMac computer, you get 10,000 miles.
"It's the bonus miles that really add up," Hobica says.
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