Maximizing Miles and Points


This month’s Conde Naste Traveler features some articles on the collection of frequent flier miles.  They tie the whole thing into the theme of the recent movie Up In The Air.   In that article, they get the opinion of Gary Leff, the president of FlyerTalk on how to maximize your earning of miles and points.     There is are few people more qualified to hand out advice on frequent flier miles than Gary.   That said, let’s take a look at his recommendations:

1 Shop at e-tailers that go the extra mile(s). offers lists of loyalty programs and deals affiliated with major sites.

This is good advice on the face of it, but just remember, if you are ing something just for the frequent flier miles you are almost always loosing.    This makes sense only if you would have bought the item anyways, and you can’t purchase it for significantly less elsewhere.    It would also make sense if you are being reimbursed by a third party who doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the product might be available for slightly less elsewhere.

2 Use branded credit cards. By FlyerTalk consensus, the best all-purpose card is the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, which earns points that can be applied across dozens of airlines.

Fantastic advice that I have echoed on the blog many times.

3 Earn miles to burn them. “Miles will never be worth more tomorrow than they are today,” Leff says. Don’t hoard and don’t waste them on domestic coach flights. Your goal: international business or first class.

More great advice.    Never spend years saving for an award, as the availability will go down while the price in miles or points will go up.    Maximize the value of your reward, which will always have a higher cents per mile when redeemed for international business or first class travel.

4 Think alliances, not airlines. Most major carriers allow passengers to book reward tickets on any alliance member. Consider where you want to fly and on which airline when choosing your domestic carrier.

More good stuff.    This reminds me of the time I had my parents use their Membership Rewards points to redeem miles on Japan’s All Nippon Airlines, for award seats on South African airlines.    There is a tangled web out there, but it can be leveraged by those in the know.

5 Be strategic with miles. “Start with one account and concentrate on miles there until you can redeem the reward you want,” says Leff. Then sign on with a different alliance for greater coverage.

This is great for regular business travelers, while occasional leisure travelers might only get to focus on one or two programs.

6 The best program in North America is Aeroplan. Air Canada, which participates, has the lowest threshold for elite status, accepts American Express points for reward tickets, and allows for multiple stopovers on a single ticket—you can fly around the world on your way to Hong Kong.

Aeroplan is a Star Alliance carrier, so you might want to consider accruing points on their program when flying other carriers in the alliance such as United, Continental, and US Airways.

7 The best U.S. program is Continental OnePass. Leff gives it high marks for reward tickets, the ease of booking them, and membership in the largest airline alliance.

Enough said.

8 Toughest program: Delta offers very few premium seats at sky-high prices. Next comes United, which tries to block passengers from booking seats on partner airlines in favor of its own.

I have had some real trouble with redeeming Delta awards, and the consensus on FlyerTalk is that the Delta Award booking engine on their web site is broken beyond repair.    Only an expensive call to their staff has any chance of finding reasonably “priced” award seats.   In fact, just today he tries to find some use for Delta miles in a post on his blog.

9 Your carrier is not your miles bank. You’re not stuck earning miles on whomever you happen to be flying; funnel those miles to your preferred account within the same alliance. Don’t scatter your miles.

See numbers 4 and 5

10 Once you’re addicted to miles, start planning a “mileage run.” Mileage runs are multi-layover trips to nowhere, specifically designed to rack up miles. Visit FlyerTalk’s forums to learn how to plan your own.

I suppose Conde Naste did not include enough detail due to space requirements, so they just said to see FlyerTalk.   The idea behind the “mileage run” is not to accrue miles towards an award seat, as the miles are rarely worth the cost of the ticket.    The idea is to earn status by earning qualifying miles.   Those “butt in the seat” miles flown are the only way to graduate from being a lowly peon to an exalted member of status, indicated by a plastic card in the color of some rare earth metal.     Taking a flight at the end of the year that brings you to your next level of status may earn you first class upgrades and other perks, for the next year, that are worth far more than the price of your ticket.

In Conclusion

A great list with some super advice from a real guru.

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