Things I Am Good At Part 1: Airline Miles


Not to toot my own horn, but toot, toot! I possess a better ability to accrue and use airline miles than most. Admittedly, most people don’t travel enough to really care about airline miles, but I know many who do, and are blowing it when to comes to making the airlines work for them. Luckily for you, I do like to toot my own horn and I am going to share my wealth of knowledge.

In this day of crowded flights and baggage fees, airline status has become even more important to me. It’s at the point where I will take a trip simply to keep my United Premiere status. Last year I went to New Orleans and this year it’s Hawaii, so I’m not exactly suffering, but whatever. Here are some reasons airline status is awesome:

1) No waiting in lines at the ticket counter, or at many airports, security.

2) No baggage fees

3) Free upgrades!

4) Preferential treatment if you’re on the stand by list

5) Better seats in general

6) Priority boarding

7) Oh yeah, and you can trade all your miles for free travel

So yeah, you want status, which on United is earned by traveling 30 segments or 30,000 miles a year. There are different levels of status that get you even more perks, but luckily I don’t fly enough to have earned any of those.

How does one go about earning tons of miles and getting said status? Well, obviously you have to fly a lot. But the most common issue among those that fly is that they rarely travel on the same airline. In this economy you really have to go with the cheapest flight, right? So that brings us to the first step. Choosing an airline to focus on. You see, airlines all have partners, which enable you to earn miles on each other. There are two main airline partnerships that cover pretty much any airline you are likely to fly: Star Alliance (United, US Air, Air Canada, Luftansa, Air China, Air New Zealand, and a bunch more) and then the other, with no catchy name (Delta, Alaska, Northwest, Continental, etc). So pick one airline from each (preferably the one with the most flights from the airport you use,) and then always use that number.

Now there is a catch the partner airline thing. The miles don’t always count towards your status, but you’ll still be accruing miles towards free flights. Which brings us to the next step. Figure out other ways to earn miles. I get miles for buying things with my credit card, going out to eat, even grocery shopping. I’m right on the brink of getting a mile every time I breath.

1) Airline credit cards. If you fly on one airline enough, I find this one is worth it. Usually they come with a large mileage bonus for signing up, as well as annual perks. The bad news is they generally have a high interest rate and an annual fee, so if you don’t pay off your credit cards every month it might not be a good deal. I earn a ton of airline miles since I put everything I would purchase with cash otherwise on my card, but we’ll get to that in things I am good at part 2: money management.

2) Go to the airline’s website and look at their other partners. If any of them provide services you use regularly, sign up! The best example of this is Safeway, my local grocery store. I get 125 miles for every $250 spent, and it adds up over time. Use Netflix? You can get miles for that too.

3) Link your regular credit card to dining rewards. Any card works for this and when you eat a certain restaurants (from fast food to fancy places) that are part of the program, you get up to 10 miles per dollar spent.

4) Check with your bank and see if they offer an airline debit card of miles for getting a loan, etc. Many do.

5) Almost any other travel service you may use you can probably earn miles as well. Rental cars, hotels and even shuttle services probably offer miles for use.

So now that you’ve earned enough miles to get a free flight, there’s one more thing you can do better than other people: booking award travel. The bummer with airline miles is they can be difficult to redeem unless you do it well in advance or splurge for higher level rewards that take twice as many miles. Also, some airlines make it more difficult than others. I’ve had good luck with United, but have heard US Air can be a royal pain. The issue is there are only a few award seats available on each flight, so again, you really have to book early. If you’re not good at planning ahead, plan on using the higher-mileage rewards almost every time.

But I do have good news, and I almost hesitate to give this secret away as it’s pretty much the greatest thing I’ve discovered. On United (and I can’t speak for other airlines, but I’d venture it’s similar) you can get a saver first class ticket for the same number of miles as a standard coach ticket. Now I am a cheap ass, so if possible, I always go for the award that takes fewer miles, but during heavy travel times, such as Christmas, those tickets sell out fast. However saver first class tickets may still be available. So for the past two years in a row, yeah, I’ve used 50k miles to fly cross country, but I did it first class (which during the Holidays is even nicer!)

There you have it, all my airline mile secrets, no longer secret. And if you are traveling a lot, and not taking advantage of this stuff, you will probably need my next installment of things I am good at: money management, coming soon!

  1. Brian

    The “other” with no catchy name is actually “SkyTeam”. Continental has left SkyTeam and is now a member of Star Alliance.
    SkyTeam is Delta, Northwest, AirFrance, KLM, CzechAir, Aeroflot and several Asian airlines as well.
    There is also a third one called OneWorld that has American, British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines and others.

    Happy Flying!

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