Frequent Flier Miles and What They're Good For.

In Up in the Air, George Clooney's character got to drink champagne with the pilot of the plane when he hit 10 million miles. Naturally, that never happens in real life. But the pursuit of miles are important because we're all trained to chase after something that's "free." Nothing ever is free.

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After reading travel blogs for years, I've seen countless strategies and techniques for maximizing miles and all sorts of shortcuts. They still matter, and are still good for something.

The biggest way to earn miles is by flying. Unless you're flying a few times a year, earning miles might be rather pointless because you'll accumulate them slower than the rewards will increase.

So, here are my quick tips on frequent flier miles:

  1. Stick with one airline/alliance. United's got StarAlliance, and American has OneWorld. Fly them if it makes sense. If it's twice the cost to get your precious miles, then there's no real need.
  2. Earn Status. Once you make United's Premier or American AAdvantage Gold, you get mile bonuses. But that also requires you to fly 25,000 miles a year. Unless you're traveling for work, this might be difficult.
  3. Set a goal. Why do you want to use miles? Where do you want to go? Do you want just a free domestic flight? To go in style in first class somewhere?
  4. If you're going to get a credit card, get your airline's mileage card. The downside is that they have higher APR's and annual fees that suck. But most of the time they offer an insane amount of miles for joining - 25k to 30k. There's also the American Express Starwood Card, which allows you to take your Starwood Hotel points (Sheraton, W, Westin, etc) and transfer them at 1:1 to nearly 30 airlines.
  5. Pace yourself. It'll take a while to get to your goal.
  6. Look at alternate programs. Rewards Network gives you extra miles for dining at restaurants/bars. 

So I ask you - where do you want to escape to?

Filed under: Mileage programs

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