Before the year gets too far along, it’s a good idea to figure out how to get the most out of your frequent-flier miles, especially with the airline industry in so much flux. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Check up on how many miles you have and which programs you have them in. Though Continental OnePass miles don’t expire, if you don’t have activity in your American AAdvantage or United MileagePlus accounts in an 18-month period, wave goodbye to those miles. Delta’s expire after two years without activity. Activity can mean earning miles or using them.
2. Think about where you’ll fly this year and if your frequent-flier program fits your needs. For example, Continental Airlines’ last day as a SkyTeam member is Oct. 24, leaving Delta and Northwest frequent fliers in Texas without a partner option for getting around the state. But OnePass members will gain a lot of new options when Continental joins the Star Alliance, such as flights on United Airlines and Lufthansa.
3. Decide on your goal for the year. Want to make elite status for the first time so you can skip checked baggage fees, board the plane early and get upgrades to first class? Read about your chosen airline’s elite-level benefits and fly on that carrier, even when it’s not convenient, and track the elite-qualifying miles as you shoot for 25,000.
4. Spend your miles wisely. For example, if you can land a 25,000-mile round-trip award on Continental in May to Edmonton, Alberta, it’s a better use of your miles than spending the same amount for, say, Los Angeles. The round-trip fare to Edmonton can run more than $700, while a Los Angeles trip can be under $250.
5. Earn miles for purchases you’re already making. You buy groceries, right? Look to see if your carrier has a grocery partnership. Buying your electricity from certain providers can also help you rack up miles. See your carrier’s Web site to look over the possibilities.
6. Stay informed so you won’t be blindsided by changes in programs. Look over e-mail your carrier sends you, of course, but also go to sites where changes are analyzed and discussed: www.webflyer.com has a wealth of information; www.flyertalk.com draws lots of elite fliers; www.smartertravel.com often tracks and critiques program changes.