Merry Christmas to All, and to All, a Few Miles

Merry Christmas to All, and to All, a Few Miles

It may indeed be better to give than receive, but where is it written that you can’t hedge your bets a little?

For over three years now, frequent flyer programs have been offering members a chance to do just that, by shopping at online malls and earning miles in the process.

Like the traditional mall, the online mall provides access to several stores, each accessible from one convenient location (or one convenient Web address). In the case of online frequent flyer malls, the entrance point is from the frequent flyer program site, and when customers enter the mall from this location and make a purchase at any of the mall stores, they earn a set number of miles/points for the purchase.

Shoppers in the United States will spend about $738 each on gifts this year — a 5.1 percent increase over 2004, according to the National Retail Federation.

Why take that kind of bite out of your wallet without earning a little something in return?

In the past, mileage junkies have complained that mileage earned through mileage malls takes too long to post to a member’s account, and may never post at all. Frustrated members have waited patiently, then finally called their program, only to be caught in a finger-pointing match between the program and the merchant.

Improved technology and communication has reduced the number of such incidents lately, however, and overall complaints about missing miles are down. Still, it’s important that members take appropriate steps to minimize the risk.

The best single action you can take to ensure you get the miles that are due you is to print your receipt screen when making the transaction, as well as keep all printed materials that arrive with the purchased item — this includes shipping receipts, order receipts, even the shipping order attached to the box. The more physical proof you have demonstrating your purchase, the better your chances of convincing the program you deserve your miles.

Other members have expressed the concern that they might end up overpaying for an item on a mileage mall that they could find for less at the store. This concern is unfounded. The frequent flyer malls are basically designed as portals, or doorways, into the various merchant stores. In order to receive miles for a purchase, the customer must enter the merchant’s Web site via the program’s site, but once in the merchant’s online “space,” the customer can purchase items at the same prices available to all customers.

This isn’t to say that you still shouldn’t shop around, however. Very often, direct competitors can be found within a single mileage mall, and though the price of the same item may not vary much, the number of miles you can earn can vary considerably.

What about spending your miles for gifts?

Well, here your options are a little more limited. The overwhelming number of miles-and-gift opportunities are aimed at earning, not burning, miles.

That said, there are a few options. American AAdvantage, for example, now allows members to redeem miles for hotel certificates. And both AAdvantage and United Mileage Plus, among others, allow members to use miles to purchase magazine subscriptions.

And new this year are six new redemption partners for Starwood Preferred Guest, including Hasbro, Amazon, Starbucks and Brookstone. Members who redeem points with those partners will earn an additional 500 points through Dec. 31.

But it’s the lure of earning miles like that has led to a slew of mileage mall Web sites.

Alaska Mileage Plan and American AAdvantage have opened their own malls, joining Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways.

America West FlightFund, Aloha Airlines AlohaPass and Amtrak Guest Rewards also maintain online malls, each powered by a third party mall site — MilesMall.com.

A number of programs are offering particular incentives to members this year, ranging from threshold bonuses to online sweepstakes. We’ve listed a few of the best below.

American AAdvantage
In addition to the usual bonuses, AAdvantage is offering double miles for all transactions completed with a MasterCard through Dec. 31. But that’s not all — during the same time period, Citi/ AAdvantage World MasterCard holders will earn 1,000 bonus miles when they spend $500 or more at 25 selected merchants.

Delta SkyMiles
Delta is offering double miles on all purchases made on a Dleta American Express card through Dec. 31. Registration at http://www.americanexpress.com/deltaenroll is required first. In addition, select retailers are offering more miles than usual until the end of the year.

United Mileage Plus
Select retailers are offering up to twice the usual number of miles per dollar until Dec. 31.

Even if you budget is tight this year, there’s simply no reason not to make the most of your holiday spending by adding a little to your mileage balance.

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