7 Ways To Bump Your Frequent Flyer Earning Up A Notch

July 6, 2010 by Anil Polat  

Not signing up for a frequent flyer program is one common mistake many travelers make, but even the most reluctant travelers can be earning miles in 8 minutes or less. You may already be signed up and have a few miles scattered across several programs, have lost track of your miles accounts completely, or are still waiting for your next flight to earn a few more miles.

With a few organizational tricks and tools you can start earning many more miles from home than you ever could in the air by bumping up your game to the next level.

1. Use A Single Account Per Alliance

When you sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program, in most cases you can earn miles by flying on any of that airline’s partner flights. So, for example, you can earn miles on United’s Mileage Plus when you fly on Lufthansa (both Star Alliance) but only if you used your United frequent flyer account number for that Lufthansa flight. Many people make the mistake of using their individual mile accounts for each airline, which usually means you end up with small amounts of (unusable) accumulated miles scattered across programs.

number one

2. Track Miles The Digital Way

Don’t waste time and discourage your mile earning enthusiasm by trying to track various accounts from different websites with logons and passwords you’ll never remember (unless you’re using KeePassX). Rather, use Award Wallet to keep track of all your frequent flyer programs in one place and get notified if any are about to expire. When booking use MileMaven to find all of the promotions for a particular flight route or hotel and trade your smaller account miles with others on Points.com to rack up a bunch on a single airline.

award wallet

3. Get A Boost With Credit Card Bonuses

Most airlines and many banks offer you a bonus of several thousand miles for signing up to one of their credit cards. In fact, wait a few months after signing up and you’ll notice the offers get increasingly more enticing. Wait for one you like, or, if you’re not loyal to a particular program consider a points-based credit card. For most of the credit cards there is a minimum total to get the bonus miles ($250-1,000 in 1-3 months) and you’ll have to keep the card active for at least 6 months.

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boost gauge

4. Know What You Need To Fly

This is perhaps the most basic yet confusing piece of information to find about the various frequent flyer programs. To best redeem your miles you need to know how many are needed for a free upgrade or round-trip ticket. Frequent Flier has a list of the most popular programs and how many miles you need to redeem for US domestic. You’ll still have to do some digging for international flights, here are the requirements for OneWorld partner airlines and Star Alliance members.

question mark and arrow

5. Ask For Unused Miles From Friends And Family

Sherry brought up a good point last week, many of us have family and friends who fly infrequently or have miles set to expire. Rather than let them go to waste, you can ask to have the miles transferred to your existing account. It does cost a fee to do so (about $50-100) but the investment might be worth its weight in a free ticket or upgrade.

woman sharing a beer

6. Holding A Minimum Balance Has Its Perks Too

Most airline frequent flyer programs have an ‘elite’ or ‘premier’ level attained when you reach slightly less miles than you need for a domestic flight. When you reach this level, typically you get some perks like being able to use the business or first class lines (even if you’re flying coach), boarding before everyone else, and get priority on your luggage at the baggage claim.

priority luggage

7. Shop At The Online Mall

Many airlines and most of the airline alliance frequent flyer programs have online malls that are made up of familiar stores like Barnes & Noble (where you can buy eBooks from overseas), Best Buy, Macy’s, and Dell where you earn more than 1 mile per dollar spent. (Purchase with a credit card linked to your miles account and double the earnings.) All you need to do is click through to those stores from the online frequent flyer mall for a particular program to earn bonus miles on things you’d buy anyway.

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girl using laptop in park

Don’t Stop There

Always try and keep your frequent flyer account in mind when you spend money, travel, or sign up for a new airline program. Often, there are miles waiting there to be had if you simply ask.

You ultimately may want to redeem the miles you’ve earned for a free flight but beware airlines are changing the game. In order to make good on those miles you’ll need to book well in advance, and can only fly where that single airline goes (no code-shares generally). Refunds or changes of flights once booked aren’t typically allowed either so keep that in mind and always stay on top of the airlines to get the value of the miles you worked so hard to earn.

[photos by: Alicakes* (number one), daftIntrovert (boost gauge), laurakgibbs (question mark and arrow), o.blaat (sharing beer), kalleboo (priority luggage), Ed Yourdon (girl using laptop in park)]


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  1. Earl says:

    Great post Anil.

    These days, I make almost all of my purchases through United’s Sky Mall. On this current trip back home to the US, I’ve stocked up on about $300 worth of clothes and gear and by using the Sky Mall, I’ve received 2500 extra miles. Sure, now I have to wait for the items to arrive, but it’s well worth it!

    And for US citizens, if you sign up for Jet Blue’s credit card at the moment (at least as of yesterday), they are offering 12,500 bonus points. That’s enough for a return ticket to Mexico from many US cities!

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    • Anil P. says:

      Awesome tip Earl, that’s a good mile bonus. The credit cards are usually stocked with them. I’ll check it out and might use it next time I’m stateside.

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  2. Sherry Ott says:

    Great tips! I never knew that pets could earn miles; wish I had known that when I was moving my cat across country!

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    • Anil P. says:

      The airlines definitely don’t like people to know about it (except maybe JetBlue). Makes you wonder why they’d have a service and never advertise it!

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  3. Anil: What an amazing article – so full of good advice. I got at least three tips that will boost the benefits I get from my Frequent Flier accounts. Thanks so much.

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  4. Bethany says:

    Great tips Anil! I had no idea pets could earn miles. I have a habit of sneaking my dog on flights (to avoid the insane fees) so I probably can’t say anything about the extra miles! hahaha…

    These are great tips though!

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  5. The other aspect of collecting miles is to become a a Frequent Travel Status. I had it with the Star Alliance and after 2 years I couldn’t hold that status anymore and had to give it up. But I surely got used to have access to lounges, more luggage allowance, earning more miles per flight, flights don’t expire and I got upgraded one time for free to business class. Good times!

    Now I’m a travel blogger and don’t manage to rake up enough miles to become a “Frequent Traveler Again” oh well. Someday again!

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    • Anil P. says:

      It is a sweet place to be and a good incentive to carry around a baseline of miles, even if you don’t cash them in for flights. Hopefully you’ll get back up there soon!

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  6. Thanks Anil it’s reminded me that I really, really need to sign up!

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  7. Shannon says:

    Great tips, especially the first. Somehow I found myself with three different accounts for the same airline. Fortunately I was able to merge all of them into one main account and redeem for a ticket πŸ™‚

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  8. Emily says:

    Love this post! You have some really awesome tips. I’m a frequent flyer junkie with Continental, especially because their OnePass miles don’t expire (though I hope to God that doesn’t change with the United merger). I have the credit card for my freelance business, and I got a huge bonus when I was approved for the card. I get one mile for every dollar I spend with it, and one mile for every mile I fly. If I use the card to purchase Continental airfare on their website, I get double the miles for each dollar I spend. I’ve stacked up miles really quickly over the years–now I just need to figure out how I want to use them!

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    • Anil P. says:

      I’ve read that Continental miles will be absorbed into United’s Mileage Plus, so will probably expire after 18 months of completely inactivity. Don’t think they’ve set anything in stone though, so finger crossed…

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      • Stephen says:

        Any idea if the merger will at least allow current OnePass members to start booking one-way reward flights?

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        • Anil P. says:

          The cutoff I believe was in December, although you should still be able to use the OnePass miles – just only on Continental flights (no code-shares).

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          • Stephen says:

            Checked into it a lot last night, and it seems that for now we’re still bound by the OnePass rules. Apparently as of 12/31/2011 accounts for both programs will be merged, and Elite qualifications and current mileage totals from the two will be combined into a single Mileage Plus account.

            I couldn’t find anything about changes on United’s one-way rewards policy, so I have to assume that unless they specifically mention something once the FF merger happens it’ll allow the use of current OnePass mileage for that but not until then.

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  9. Shannon OD says:

    I feel like a travel slacker since I *completely* do not take advantage of earning miles. I am considering this a motivation to get off my but and start signing up for the programs and seeing if I can back-log any of my flights!

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  10. Some more excellent tips for jetting around the world! I utilitze step number 5 quite frequently by begging for miles from the parents. Just recently transferred to the single account so I can accumulate miles from various airlines together!

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    • Anil P. says:

      It’s a good strategy. Most miles programs don’t charge you per miles transferred, just the flat fee which is pretty good (especially since you mentioned your dad flies quite a bit).

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  11. Andi says:

    Such fantastic points!!! I’m definitely a mile whore hahaha.

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  12. Renato says:

    I would add (almost all if you travel alone and have a flexible schedule), be ready to volunteer in case of overbooking. On top of extra benefits, if you are able to postpone your flight you may gain an incredible number of miles. Or maybe I was just lucky.

    Renato

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    • Anil P. says:

      Hi Renato, how did you get the extra miles?

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      • Renato says:

        Hello Anil

        My experience was with BA in 2009. Intercontinental flight back to London was overbooked, I was travelling alone and the asked me if I wanted to volunteer to be on the next flight (18 hs later if I well remember). There were different options, the best one was (at least to me) a mix of voucher and extra miles

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