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The following article is an update to our original Maximize Your Miles article I published on Rewards Canada way back on May 30, 2005. I thought it best to bring it up to date although the basic premise has not changed.
There are literally hundreds of millions of people around the world today that are members of a loyalty rewards program. Out the many different types of programs, travel still remains as one of the most popular. That being said, a large percentage of the people that participate in travel rewards programs do not know how to make the most of the programs. As with most things in life that require a decision, research is warranted to make the most of the programs you participate in. If you want that free flight to Asia sooner or want your reward program balance to grow faster, you can follow these nine steps to maximize the way you earn miles and rewards.
Focus on a few programs but you can join many
It is always best to focus on only a couple of programs (1 Airline, 1 Hotel, 1 Credit Card, etc) to put your miles into but sometimes you may be flying somewhere or renting a car that your primary program(s) don’t partner with. In that case it can be worthwhile to find a program that does, since joining most loyalty programs is free it does not hurt to join them. In the end you may end up with some programs that have orphaned miles or points that you never use but on the other hand you may end up collecting more then you originally thought in that particular program so that you can redeem for a reward sometime in the future. If you do plan on using certain programs only occasionally, check out the rules of the program to see if points expire. Some programs don’t have expiry dates so you can just leave the points in the program while other programs do have expiry dates. Expiry dates tend to be 1 to 3 years after your last action (earning or redemption) so keep track of your points and if you want to keep them make sure that you have activity in your account. In some cases it may be worthwhile to transfer those orphaned miles/points out of the program into your main program. A good example is if you have a low hotel program balance that would not be enough for a stay but enough to transfer to your airline program to increase the latter programs balance.
Look for and take advantage of bonus mile offers
Use bonus mile offers to your advantage, they are an easy way to work your way up to that reward you want to redeem for. This is what sites like Frequent Flyer Bonuses were initially started for, listing bonus offers in one site. But don’t just read FrequentFlyerBonuses.com, read the emails the programs send you, don’t delete them, you’ll never know when a valuable offer could be hidden somewhere in the email. Check out the websites of the reward programs and other frequent flyer sites like webflyer.com, frequentflier.com, freefrequentflyermiles.com, milepoint.com or flyertalk.com.
Search out offers, if you have to stay overnight in New York City and the Westin and the Hyatt both have the same rates, find out if one of them is offering a bonus mile or point opportunity and stay there. Do your research, your travel agent or online booking engine won’t do it for you, in fact most are unaware of the hundreds of bonus offers that are out there.
Register for every promotion even if you think you may not use it.
Many of the bonus offers require registration and while you may not think you can take advantage of the bonus offer, register anyway. Who knows when your employer may send you to Vienna for a meeting and you don’t remember or realize that the airline you’re flying on was offering double miles on all flights to or from Vienna. By registering for an offer when you first see it, you’re making sure you don’t miss out on any bonus opportunities.
Pay for everything with your mileage/point earning credit card
This is by far the easiest way to rack up miles outside of actual flights with the airlines or stays with hotels. Put everything that you buy on your credit cards right down to the chocolate bar from the corner store. Every mile counts no matter where or how you earn it. If you have a card that has a 1.5x, 2x or even higher points/miles multiplier for certain types of retailers, make sure you use that card at those locations. Plus if you want to earn higher mileage from your card for places that don’t have multipliers, buy gift cards for those merchants at places that offer you the 1.5x or 2x multiplier. Be warned however, if you run a balance and pay interest on your credit cards, those miles you earn will never be worth the money you lose in paying the interest. If this is your case get a low interest credit card, and lucky for you some low interest cards now carry rewards.
Carry different credit cards
Some bonus mile offers or other offers like free gift cards (see Cash in on other rewards below) require that you only use a specific credit card like a Visa. So if it is economically viable for you to do so, carry a Visa card, a MasterCard and an American Express. Think it may be expensive? Well there are quite a few no fee credit cards that earn points like the American Express Blue Sky credit card. Of course you don’t even have to get a mileage card for your additional card, you could go for cash back rebates or merchandise but since this is an article on travel, why wouldn’t you? Another method of earning more miles or points with credit cards is called churning. This entails applying for a card, receiving the sign up bonus and then cancelling the card followed by reapplying for the card sometime down the road to receive the bonus again. The time period that you have to wait to get the sign up bonus varies by card issuer so check with them first (or research it online) plus watch your credit scores, too many applications in a short period of time can have a negative effect on your credit rating.
Double & Triple Dip
Double dipping is the term coined for earning miles twice in one purchase or transaction. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. Buying something at a retailer that participates in your favourite loyalty program? Use your mileage or points earning credit card and then swiping your loyalty program card ensures you are double dipping.
Triple dipping is little tougher then double dipping and mainly involves travel purchased on your credit card. Certain airlines and hotels may offer a mileage or point bonus if you buy airline tickets or book hotels through their website directly. Thus the triple dip in this case would be the online purchase bonus, the miles earned on the credit card plus the miles or points earned for taking the flight or completing the hotel stay.
Double and Triple dipping does not have to involve the same program. You can always use a credit card that earns in one program while collecting the actual miles from another program for your flights, hotels, shopping or anything else you can earn miles on.
Upgrade your flights
Take steps to fly in business or first class by buying the ticket outright (the expensive way unless there is a really low or mistake fare) or by making sure that you meet criteria to get upgraded (this works more for those who are status members in their respective programs) to ensure that you earn the 25 to 200% class of service bonus associated with the upper classes of flying. This is an easy way to build up those mileage balances and your qualification for status.
Cash in on other rewards
Sometimes reward programs offer bonus or rewards other then miles. Some airlines have had promotions whereby you take three flights and you’ll get one free. Same goes for hotels, many hotels have promotions that offer up free nights after a certain amount of stays. Hotels also like to offer gift cards for future travel after certain stays. In many cases you have to be a member of the respective company’s reward program so this goes back to the beginning where you may just have to join the program to take advantage of the offer.
Keep track of your miles and points
If you don’t keep track of your miles and/or points, you stand to miss out on potential rewards and even worse you can lose all the miles and points you earned thanks to programs inactivity or expiry rules. It can be extremely time consuming to keep track of all the programs you participate in but thankfully there are ways to make it easier. There are handful of websites out there that will help you keep track of your balances (and some also track your expiry dates) and most of them do it for free. Examples are sites like Awardwallet.com and Gomiles.com which are both free although Award Wallet does offer a paid upgrade version. Don’t like handing out your membership numbers and password/PIN codes to these sites? Then it can be as simple as creating a spreadsheet to help track your balances although you still have to manually check all your programs or you can download a program like Miletracker which runs on your computer and not a third party server.
By following some or all of these steps you will see the balance in your reward programs grow faster then you think. Then those reward flights, nights or merchandise will be within arms reach and you won’t be waiting years to get them.