Make the Best Use of Frequent-Flier Miles

Physician's Money Digest, September15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 17

Earning frequent-flier miles hasnever been easier. Redeemingthose miles for free flights, however,is another story. Airlines have recentlyestablished program changes that makebooking award travel more difficult. Still,managing your miles wisely will help youget the most out of this valuable asset.

Go the Extra Mile

Money

The more miles you earn, the greateryour chances of earning elite status.According to an article in , elite statuswill get you first-in-line priority forfree upgrades, and you'll have an easiertime obtaining award tickets. You'll alsoearn a 25% to 100% bonus every time youfly, depending on your elite-status level.To earn elite status you have to fly at least25,000 miles in 1 calendar year. However,American Airlines' fast-track program willaward you gold status if you fly 5000 milesin 90 days. You earn platinum status byflying 10,000 miles in 90 days. If you fallshort of elite status 1 year, taking a connectingflight rather than a non-stop maydouble your miles.

Earning elite status with 1 airlinemakes it easier to secure similar statuswith others. Most airlines will automaticallyenroll you in the elite level of theirprograms if you fax or mail them proof ofyour status with a competing airline alongwith your request to match it.

Maximizing Your Miles

With the multitude of frequent-flierprograms, it's easy to lose track of whatyou have. In the United Airlines andAmerican Airlines programs, for example,miles expire if your account remainsinactive for 3 years. Enrolling in anonline account-management service is agood way to maximize your flier miles.Most airlines provide such services fortheir frequent-flier plans. For $14.95 ayear, MileageManager (available at www.webflyer.com) will give you 1 consolidatedstatement with all of your loyalty programsreported and continuously updated.Points.com also offers a consolidatedview of program balances free to anyonewho registers at the site.

Money

You can make the best use of yourflier miles by redeeming them for freetravel. The airlines consider each mileyou earn to be worth approximately 2cents. Thus, spending 25,000 miles to geta $500 seat is a good deal, according to. Being flexible and planning wellin advance is key to getting free tickets,especially if you are flying to a populardestination at a desirable time. Many airlinesare part of travel alliances, whichmeans you can check out a partner airlineif your primary carrier doesn't havethe flight options you're looking for. Ifyou have just under what you need foran award ticket, most airlines will let youpurchase a block of miles for a small premiumof about 2.5 cents each. Shoparound at these free sites to see whatdeals you can get—www.firstclassflyer.com; www.frequentflier.com; www.flyertalk.com; and www.privilegeflyer.com.

Other Advantages

If you can't use your miles for travel,convert them into points in a loyaltyprogram, but do your homework beforetransferring. Each program offers awide variety of purchase options andhas different rules. Hilton Hhonors(www.hiltonhhonors.com), for example,will allow you to redeem 40,000 pointsfor 1 night at a premium hotel. Usingthe 2 cents rule, that adds up to an$800-a-night stay.