Today, even infrequent flyers are enrolled in one or more airline frequent flyer programs. With the volume of air travel reaching and surpassing pre-9/11 levels, more and more people are hitting the skies. This article provides some tips and tricks to maximize those frequent flyer miles given out by most airlines as a reward or incentive for flying their airline or within a given airline group.
First a brief history of the airline frequent flyer program. Two events were key to the creation of the frequent flyer program, deregulation in 1978 which created a marketing environment and computerization which created the necessary infrastructure to support these programs. Without these two events frequent flyer programs would be either unnecessary or impossible to implement. In May 1981, American Airlines introduced AAdvantage, the first frequent flyer program. The goal was to retain their best customers by rewarding them for their loyalty. The program tracked member’s miles flown, and provided incentives in the form of free flights and upgraded amenities. Today, there are more than 70 frequent flyer programs, with over 100 million members. Members receive over 10 million awards per year.
The keys to maximizing your frequent flyer awards are as follows:
- Join the program – you can’t accumulate miles if you’re not a member, and there is generally no cost to join.
- Consolidate – focus your travel on as few airlines as possible, so that your miles accrue in one account, and you attain elite levels faster. Also, be aware of any alliances that airlines have, which allows you to fly on one airline but credit the points to another airline.
- Keep track of expiration dates – most frequent flyer programs expire miles after a period of time, usually 2-3 years after being granted.
- Credit card promotions – airline credit cards are a popular way to put an extra 5-10,000 miles in your account when you sign-up, which on some airlines is 50% of a round trip ticket. As long as the credit card doesn’t have an annual fee, this is a great way to close the gap on a free ticket. Plus some airline credit cards provide bonus miles for each flight.
- Hotel and rental car accelerators – check hotel and rental car agreements, you can pick up extra frequent flyer miles based on where you stay on the car you rent.
- Elite levels – Try to achieve and maintain elite levels with the programs. Besides other amenities such as upgrades and preferential boarding, elite levels frequently get bonus miles. If you’re elite in one airlines program, one trick is to send a letter to another airline requesting a bump into their elite program. Most airlines will do this to get you hooked on their programs.
- Leverage merchant partnerships – airlines have signed agreements with various merchants (e.g., FTD) to provide frequent flyer miles for purchasing partner products. Find out which merchants your airline has partnered with and adjust your spending.
In summary, the quickest way to a free flight isn’t necessarily through the air. Make sure you focus your travel, if possible, with one or two airlines. And make sure you understand all of the partnerships that airline has entered into, so that your non-flight dollars can be channeled into that free ticket to the Bahamas.