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Maximizing Your Miles

Earning miles is like anything else… you can just do it, or you can excel at it.

If it’s a priority, and you want to be sure you’re doing everything possible to get the most value from your frequent flyer program participation, following is an action plan to help you do just that, from goals and objectives through strategies and tactics.

Goal

Maximize your return from travel and other mile-generating purchases.

The “return” is not the miles themselves… it is the tangible benefits that those miles may be exchanged for.

Objective

Specifically, the objective is to maximize one or more of the following:

  • Recognition
  • Elite level benefits
  • Awards

Again, the above are the sought-after benefits… not the miles themselves.

Individual objectives tend to vary according to frequency and type of travel. High-frequency business travelers don’t want another trip as much as they want to be comfortable on the ones they have to make for business reasons. So for them, recognition and elite member benefits (upgrades in particular) are most important. The challenge for this group is to reach and maintain the highest possible elite status level.

For the occasional leisure traveler, who will never attain elite status, the desired payoff is that extra trip, paid for with frequent flyer miles. The challenge for these less frequent flyers is to reach the mileage threshold for a free trip (typically 25,000 miles for a coach ticket within the continental U.S.) before they (or their miles) expire.

Strategies

Consolidate

Miles, then, are a kind of currency that can be used to obtain free tickets, upgrades, special recognition, etc. But unlike national currencies, miles generally cannot be converted or exchanged from one program into another.

Consider: 50,000 miles earned in one FFP account gets the member elite status (and the associated benefits and recognition) plus a choice of attractive awards. By contrast, 50,000 miles spread equally among several FFPs earns the member no special status, and no awards. Which is why consolidation is key.

Choose one frequent flyer program, and concentrate your mileage earning in that program!

Since consolidation is key, choosing the appropriate FFP in which to earn the miles is paramount. Do, therefore, spend some time reviewing the Choose an FFP page.

Pay Attention

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. In the case of FFP participation, this means monitoring your account and looking out for new mileage-building opportunities.

Tactics

Focus

As much as possible, accrue all mileage into the primary FFP, using the host airline and the services of the FFP “partner” companies (other airlines, hotels, rental car, affinity credit card, etc.).

Earn miles aggressively.

Know and use the partners. Not only the number but the type of FFP partner company has multiplied. Partner rosters now include florists, phone companies, mutual funds, etc. Charge your purchase on an affinity card and earn mileage both as a purchaser and as a user. Watch for special promotions.

Read, read, read

Read every issue of your program’s newsletter. Don’t forget the Bonus Box–the summary of current promotions, usually on the newsletter’s back page.

It used to be that you were at a disadvantage if you weren’t active, because you wouldn’t receive the newsletter in the mail. That’s no longer a problem, since almost all programs make their newsletters available online (see FFP Links).

Also, since newsletters can be up to a month or more out of date, don’t hesitate to call the FFP customer service desk and ask about current promotions and new partners.

Read InsideFlyer or the online version, WebFlyer.

If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to The FrequentFlier Crier, the newsletter associated with this site.

Track your miles diligently.

In particular, monitor your progress toward attaining elite status. If, for example, you find yourself at the end of the year only slightly short of the required mileage for elite status, reschedule an upcoming trip. The extra mileage and other elite benefits enjoyed over the next 12 months will more than compensate for any such dislocations in the short term.

If you do fall just short of the elite threshold, call the FFP desk and beg: “I’m a good customer. I refer business to your airline. Please grant me elite status.” Some airlines will promote near-missers if they feel the member has significant revenue potential. Worth a try!

Monitor the expiration dates of your miles.

Having earned the miles, be sure to redeem them before they expire. Since award tickets are typically valid for one year, make the award-ticket request before the miles disappear… even if it’s for a fictitious travel date. You can always have the date changed when plans firm up. And if there’s a charge to have the ticket reissued, it will be a small price to pay.

TIP: With the new industry standard extending the life of miles for three years from the date of any account activity (earning or redeeming), using your program’s affinity credit card will automatically protect your miles from expiring.

Keep receipts and reconcile mileage statements.

Airlines and their program partners sometimes drop the ball when it comes to tracking or reporting your hard-earned miles. And if you’re not reconciling your statement against what you know to have occurred during the last statement period, those missed miles could be lost forever. So check that statement carefully.

When you do discover a discrepancy, you’ll want to have documentation on hand with which to file a retroactive credit claim. You may be able to obtain copies of your bills from hotels, rental-car companies, etc., but you will be spared the time and aggravation if you saved your credit card receipts or other paperwork in the first place.

Most programs will honor a retro claim if (a) you can provide substantiation that the transaction took place, and (b) you file the claim within six months of the transaction.