A Love of FlyingNo, the first time I ever flew was when I was 3 days old. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I have always loved to fly. There is something so exhilarating to me about flying. Now, I could totally do without going through security and taking my shoes off to actually get on the plane. As a teenager and adult, I have flown a few times. I often would wish that I had a job that required me to travel. However, now with having 5 children, I am happy that I don’t. But for those of you who do travel for work or pleasure Guest contributor Ben Lovell joins us today to share his expert tips on how to get the most out of your airline miles, even if you don’t travel for work.
Using Airline Miles to Fund Your Next FlightCompared to a daily life of brown bag lunches and 87 octane commutes, serious travel can be seriously expensive. There are two overarching strategies for making travel as budget-friendly as possible. The first and most obvious is to spend less money. The second is to generate your own rewards from the travel itself. The travel industry is full of benefits for the taking, all aimed at getting and retaining your business.
Benefits of MilesFirst, let’s talk briefly about why you even want miles. You can’t pay your rent with them and they come with pretty mediocre bragging rights. They can, however, save you A LOT of actual hard currency.
Free FlightsWhen you accumulate enough miles, you can cash them in to book flights. You can also use the miles to pay for part of a flight and complete the transaction in cash. This second strategy is usually not as efficient a use of the miles.
UpgradesYou can also redeem airline miles to upgrade from Economy to Business or First Class.
Miles Vs. StatusAirline ‘miles’ is a fluctuating balance that you earn and spend. ‘Status’ refers to thresholds achieved by flying a certain number of miles on a particular airline in a given year. Your status qualifies you for automatic perks without having to spend your miles. A flight’s ‘upgrade list’ and ‘standby list’ are ranked by status. So, as you move up in status, you qualify for perks, including free upgrades, without having to spend your miles.
Discounts at Hotels and Rental CarsThe travel industry is extremely intertwined. Airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, and other travel-related enterprises are all partnered with each other. Their goal is to keep you spending money within their circle of businesses. As a savvy traveler, you can take advantage of this by using your airline miles to pay for a hotel room and rental cars.
Strategies for Maximizing MilesNow that we’ve explored a few of the benefits that you can enjoy by accumulating miles, let’s develop some tactics for getting the most miles from our travel.
Concentrate on One Airline (and Partners)Airlines give mile-related benefits to encourage loyalty. Pick one airline and travel it as exclusively as you can. (This will also help with your status.) Airline maps are a hub-system, with each airline flying primarily into a handful of airports. Focus on an airline which hubs near your home and travels to your frequent destinations. Airlines often let you share miles with other airlines in their group. For instance, Air Canada and United are both part of the Star Alliance, so your miles are good for either.
Stay, Dine, & Shop with AffiliatesJust as you can use your airline miles to pay for certain hotels and restaurants, you can generate miles by patronizing affiliated lodging and other businesses.
Use the Right Credit CardsFree miles is a huge perk of signing up and using certain travel credit cards. Read more in the last section of this article.
Work Hard. Play Hard.If you travel for work, you may not have to pay for the travel to get the rewards. Many businesses let you assign loyalty points and miles to your personal accounts. If you have a hand in booking your own travel, you may be able to make arrangements that favor your favorite airlines, hotels, and other businesses. Finally, if you book your own travel for reimbursement, you can generate even more perks by paying with a business credit card that has rewards.
Best Airlines for PerksProximity to your home and travel destinations may not be the only factor in choosing which airline to laser in your loyalty. Let’s take a look at the ones with the best frequent flier programs.
Alaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines Mileage Plan is generally considered the best airline frequent flier program, primarily due to the numerous ways you can earn and spend miles. Alaska partners with 16 other airlines including American Airlines and British Airways. You can earn miles through their numerous hotel, retail, and rental partnerships and can use the miles on the majority of Alaska Airlines flights.
DeltaDelta SkyMiles is an even more robust loyalty program than Alaska. It has 20 partner airlines and your miles never expire. Why is it generally ranked lower than Alaska? Because so many people fly Delta, the upper-level loyalty tiers are extremely hard to achieve.
Jet BlueJetBlue TrueBlue also has no expiration on points, plus there are no blackout dates to limit mile redemption on Jet Blue flights. The downside is that it is a much smaller airline so the partner opportunities for earning and redeeming miles are not as abundant.
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The Bottom LineSerious travel takes serious money, there’s no way around that. But, the more you travel, the more that travel starts to offset the cost of more travel. By doing your due diligence and focusing your loyalty on a few, carefully chosen travel vendors, you can really benefit from economies of scale. Put simply, you can really start to make your travel expenses make sense.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I actually cash-out my airline miles?Generally speaking, the answer is ‘Yes’. However, this is usually a much worse deal than redeeming them for travel. Also, many travel rewards credit cards offer a cash-back option. Again, this usually pays out a fraction of the value you would enjoy if you exchanged the miles for travel on the airline where you earned them.
Can I transfer miles? Donate them? Will them?Yes. Yes. And (potentially) Yes. With all of these questions, there are variables, strings, stipulations, and gray areas. Mileage transfers to person generally cost a fee (like a bank transfer). Donations to a charity (e.g. The Red Cross) count as a tax deduction for the airline, not the individual. If it’s not possible to directly will an heir your miles, you can leave behind your username and password and they can transfer them. Always check with the airline where you are accumulating miles and a third-party expert if necessary. A passionate envoy of the written word, freelance writer Ben Lovell relishes a good tale. From fact to fiction (and all the shades between), he channels the storytellers of old with the hope of enriching the world for his readers. His writing has appeared everywhere from travel articles to short fiction contests. Follow his semi-occasional musings at the Gothic Optimist. You can also find him on Facebook.
How do you use your airline miles?]]>
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