If you like surprises, don’t read any further. But if you are interested in a new book about frequent flyer programs that will be out by the time you read this, then keep on reading.
As you probably know, frequent flyer programs will be 25 years old in May of 2006, and to date there have been a number of books written about the topic — none of them a commercial success (except for the reference guide-The Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook in the 90s). Remember these titles? Points, A Guide to Frequent Flyer Bonus Programs by Susan Michaels and Taylor Milsal (1987); Seduced By a Mile by Greg Moore (1998); Managing Frequent Flyer Programs by K. Peabody, J.A. White and John Holland (1985); Frequent Flyer’s Award Book by John Fitzgerald and Charles Saggio (1987); or what about The Frequent Flyer Guide by Kriss Hammond (1987)? We didn’t think so.
They were all fine efforts and we have been lucky enough to know those who toiled to put words of advice forward. But as you can see from the publishing dates, it’s been seven years since the last book written on the topic, and 18 years since 1987, when three books in the same year were published.
Let us introduce you to Mileage Pro, The Insider’s Guide To Frequent Flyer Programs. It’s published by OAG, the folks who at one time or another owned the business of flight timetables and other information for the business traveler. They somehow got Randy Petersen, the editor of InsideFlyer, together with Tim Winship, who runs frequentflier.com, and had them map out a short history of these programs and a few hundred pages of advice that most members will need at one time or another when building a respectable portfolio of miles and points. The book doesn’t attempt to present you with quickly outdated award charts (and that’s good), rather it seeks to address members of all levels of knowledge, from the newbie trying to figure out what these programs are all about (see Chapter 1 — Frequent Flyer 101) to the member who perhaps did buy one of the titles listed above in 1987. For them the book serves as a reminder of just what kind of strategy one needs these days, from exchanging miles among programs to a comprehensive list of how to get an upgrade.
Is it all new? Well, frankly, Randy and Tim have been broadcasting advice to members of frequent flyer programs for so long that there can hardly be anything new — but this book does put it all in perspective, and serves as a well-rounded and frankly needed depository for all things miles and points.
Creating a book like this is a huge process, and they have even figured out a way to continue adding information as it changes by providing a value-added, clever Web site — http://www.mileageprobook.com
The book’s table of contents looks something like this:
1. The Birth of Frequent Flyer Programs
2. Frequent Flyer 101
3. Choosing a Program Made Simple
4. The Art of Earning
5. Plastic Magic — Credit Cards Miles and Points
6. Cashing In — How To Redeem Your Miles
7. Keeping Tabs — Managing Your Loyalty Programs
8. Exchanging Miles and Points Among Programs
9. Elite Status
10. Moving Up — The Matter of Upgrades
11. Using Airline Alliances
12. Identifying Optimum Awards
13. Converting Miles and Points into Money
14. The Fine Print — Legal and Taxation Issues
15. Expiring Miles and Points
16. The Best Frequent Flyer Advice You Will Ever Get
17. Resources for Mileage Junkies
18. Glossary of Key Mileage-Related Terms
The book contains two distinct elements in each chapter: Memorable Moments of Miles and Points, and at least three takeaways — things to remember at the end of each chapter.
As a sneak preview, we’ve chosen “Chapter 16: The Best Frequent Flyer Advice You Will Ever Get.” This chapter goes into all the details you need to understand to get the most out of your devotion to all things frequent flyer.
There’s great stuff in here. It’s just broad enough to avoid intimidating those just learning about miles and points, but advanced enough so that the advice will actually work, and better yet, remind you.
Chapter 16: THE BEST FREQUENT FLYER ADVICE YOU WILL EVER GET
OK, we did put a lot of information in Mileage Pro. Information we hope you will be able to go back to time and time again. But we also know that your time is valuable and limited–especially if you are a road warrior and are out there traveling thousands of miles a year. For easy reference, we have compiled the 52 best pieces of advice you will ever get regarding your frequent flyer miles. Please consider the following:
1. Eat out often. One of the fastest ways to a free trip is to skip airline food and go straight to your favorite restaurant. With several airlines now participating in mileage dining programs, your favorite restaurant might offer from one to three to 10 miles for every dollar you spend there. Still be careful. Some establishments require you to show your airline frequent-flyer membership card, while others restrict visiting the same restaurant more than once a month to earn miles. Best advice: Join several airline dining programs such as the United Mileage Plus Dining or American AAdvantage Dining programs by Rewards Network. This is a great way for you to stay active in airline programs that have expiring miles. And you can use these miles to “top off” accounts in your less active programs.
2. Be sociable. Chat with airline seatmates as well as your coworkers to find out about new reward deals from other airlines and hotels. For instance, Marriott and Hilton members standing around the water cooler may hear about the “Faster Free Nights” program from Hyatt that awards one free night after two stays (without any point deduction) when paying by MasterCard.
3. Carry a smaller wallet. Gone are the days of excess. Pick one or two reward programs and put loyalty back into these programs. Leave your collection of membership cards (such as those only showing 732 total miles earned) at home.
4. When there is no way to win the fight, relax. With most major loyalty programs having miles that expire without activity over a three year period, you must learn to manage the miles you earn. Staying active in your minor programs with some annual partner activity that will allow you to continue to save for a rainy day should be your strategy. Do not be fooled though. While miles may not expire, issued awards, such as free airline tickets, do. Normally, you have to use an award ticket within one year of it being issued.
5. Develop double vision. When one big reward program offers an unbeatable bonus opportunity know that other programs will soon match. For example, in July 2005 when American introduced 750-mile distance awards for only 15,000 miles, United matched it just a few days later.
6. Do not be left standing inside the airport. Several programs allow you to exchange miles for airline club membership. Delta Platinum Medallion members get club membership for free allowing them, because of the SkyTeam alliance, to also visit the airline clubs of Continental and Northwest.
7. Avoid overlooking the obvious. Smaller and very substantial programs by Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines may be right under your nose. Now is the time to discover the difference.
8. Learn something new every week. For instance, did you know that some programs allow one way awards at half the mileage requirements? Did you know that American AAdvantage has a formal program where they will match your elite membership on another airline when you meet certain flight requirements? For instance, if you are Premier Executive on United, American will match that status as long as you fly 15,000 miles on American in a three month period. This is done to prove that you are capable of providing American a good amount of business. Listen and learn.
9. Double dip is not just for hotels. Multiply your miles on each trip by using only your airline program’s car rental or hotel partners. Sticking with your airline’s partners means you will not miss big opportunities. For example, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver you will earn 1,930 miles (roundtrip) depending on your airline program. The correct hotel partner could add an additional 500 bonus miles to that total, and a partner car rental could add another 50 to 250 bonus miles.
10. The real Double Dip. Opt for a hotel partner that lets you earn both miles (for the airline) and points (for the hotel). Hilton is the best example. Their Double Dip program now includes three options for you to customize each stay. You can choose HHonors Points and Variable Miles in which you earn 10 HHonors Base points plus one airline mile per eligible U.S. dollar spent. Or you can choose HHonors Points and Fixed Miles that earn 10 HHonors Base points per eligible U.S. dollar spent plus 500 airline bonus miles per stay (100 miles per stay at Hampton/ Scandic hotels). Or you can choose HHonors Points with an extra bonus. By choosing just to earn HHonors points without airline miles, you will earn 10 HHonors Base points plus five bonus points per eligible U.S. dollar spent. Of the three choices, we often feel this option delivers the most value.
11. Know your programs. While you might be collecting miles, we always advise choosing points over miles with Marriott and Priority Club. The reason is simple: Both allow you to convert to miles at any time. If you choose miles right away, you will have forfeited your freedom of choice.
12. Building miles. You can build miles by buying a home. All major airline and hotel programs have national programs that will allow you to earn a lot of miles for mortgages. And guess what? Some of the nation’s leading mortgage lenders: Countrywide, Washington Mutual Home Loans, Chase Home Finance, CitiMortgage and Wachovia Corporate Mortgage Services participate in these programs.
13. Take advantage of special mileage-earning promos. Hotels and car rental companies, along with airlines, offer bonus miles. Triple miles with an airline’s car rental partners is a frequent promotion, while hotels often offer double and triple points by property. Become a real estate agent and find the hotel property that gives you the best bonus. These bonuses will be listed on the hotel program’s Web site and in their member newsletter.
14. Be a mileage consumer while looking closely at your credit card choices. Flexibility is the name of the game and American Express and Diners Club are looking pretty good right now. P.S.: Did you know you could earn American, United and Northwest miles with the Starwood American Express card? (With the Starwood American Express card you earn Starwood points that can be converted into miles later on.) Did you know the Diners Club card is now accepted wherever MasterCard is accepted and also includes redemption with American, United and Northwest?
We realize neither man nor woman will spend by one credit card alone. The best wallet has a Visa, a MasterCard and either an American Express or Diners Club card. The reason is need. Many hotel and other programs run promotions that earn extra bonus miles/points when paying with a particular type of credit card so do as the Boy Scouts do and always be prepared.
15. Be in the know. With an increasing number of incentive miles in the market, keep an eye out for free miles with the purchase of everything from dry cleaning services to automobiles. Did you know some residential utility companies, such as Gexa Energy in Texas, now offer miles for choosing them?
16. One of the hottest leads on learning more about any loyalty program is to surf the Internet. Newsy stuff and opinions, usually not found in print, can be found via Google or Yahoo! Search term: frequent flyer (of course).
17. Capture all the points you can. For example, to make the most of choosing the best hotel program, be certain your hotel point total on your bill includes “total folio” rather than just earning points on the room rate. Who ever thought “room service” could be so tasty?
18. Study hard. It is now fashionable to actually read your loyalty program’s newsletter. Most have changed to electronic delivery and many are now rich with special bonus offers that can up your mileage or hotel point balance. Note: These newsletters are the only place you will find out about the latest auction of miles that may send you to the Super Bowl for free. And most programs give you miles or points for signing up to receive their newsletter.
19. Withdraw miles. Need miles for an award this year? If so, move the exact number of miles from your Priority Club, American Express Membership Rewards, Diners Club Rewards or Starwood programs into your primary airline program. Never ever turn more points into miles than you actually need. While you will not lose the miles or points, they just will not be where you want them. More of a hassle factor.
20. Take a second look. OK, you are a hotel kind of person who stays at Brand X. But, if you have not looked lately, Choice Hotels may be the sleeper program of the year. Many new rewards (no blackout dates) and positive changes in their program. Our advice: Take a second look at programs you normally do not do a lot of business with.
21. Play your points. Got points and need miles? Hold on and play the odds. Did you know that for the past five years Diners Club has offered a bonus redemption of 50 percent or greater when converting their points into British Airways Executive Club miles? Or that American Express Membership Rewards annually offers a bonus of 15 to 30 percent when redeeming into Continental or Delta miles.
22. Use points or miles to underwrite a vacation. If you are a light traveler (you have not racked up anything close to what you need for a significant award in an airline or hotel program) but are a heavy duty shopper, you can earn miles and points when shopping online at merchants such as The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Body Shop and our favorite, Mrs. Field’s Cookies. Nearly every major loyalty program has a portal for earning miles or points while shopping online. We will see you at the “virtual” checkout line.
23. Designate a primary airline. You probably belong to three or four airline programs. If you fly on one airline 75 percent of the time, or more than 10,000 miles on one carrier in a year, then make that your major program.
24. Do the whole deal. Hotel programs often offer vacation packages you can purchase with points. Believe it or not, it is now possible to earn a free hotel, airline ticket and car rental with one reward. Talk about convenient.
25. Qualify for elite membership. Nothing is as important as earning elite status in your primary loyalty programs. Verify the number of miles needed to qualify in both your airline and hotel programs. It is well worth scheduling an extra flight or night in a hotel if that is all that stands between you and the extensive benefits of elite membership.
26. Buy online. Most programs offer you the opportunity to earn bonus miles if you purchase tickets directly from the airline’s Web site. Beam up those miles from United, American, Alaska and US Airways.
27. Loyalty is not dead. Know your major program’s partners (airline, hotel, car rental) and stick with them.
28. Rack up free nights. Once you have earned enough miles for free air travel, start opting for points instead of miles in your hotel program. By booking enough stays you can get free lodging to use with your flight award for an almost free vacation (since you still have to pay for meals and other incidentals).
29. Phone home? Although there are not as many telephone partners as in years past, owing to the popularity of cell phone use, that does not mean these programs do not exist. Quiz your frequent flyer friends to find out who is still earning bonus miles for talking on the phone. We would tell you here but that is not possible because the partners and offers change too frequently. Sorry.
30. Educate yourself. Read the fine print instead of just the headlines and become a true mileage expert. Know when you can and cannot earn miles for elite qualification. For example, mileage earned on some special promotional flights, some code shares and even some partner flights may not accrue toward elite status. Conversely, some credit card purchases now qualify toward elite status credit.
31. Learn how to stretch your miles. If your three year stash is about to expire, tap a small partner such as a car rental company or a dining program to keep those miles active. No need to fly or stay at a hotel. Just use your knowledge of how to stay “active” for another three years.
32. Listen to the music. Buy your iPod music and earn points for each dollar spent on music downloads. Points can be earned for Priority Club Rewards and Marriott Rewards. Tip: No airline currently offers this option but you could convert these hotel points into airline miles.
33. Plan ahead. Many programs have raised the cost of certain fees associated with express service for an award. Plan ahead and your award will remain free.
34. Gotta have it. Capacity controls got you down? With all the miles you earn from these tips you might need to use some to get the exact reward seat you want. Capacity free awards are available from all major airline programs and from most hotel programs but they do cost more miles.
35. Privileges. Do not forget that in some hotel programs, elite and other members qualify for free breakfast credit. Eat for free.
36. Respect others. Several loyalty programs administer employee recognition programs to reward those who provide great service. Do yourself and them a favor by participating. When a recognition program is offered, you will receive a recognition card to present to the employee who then submits it for reward credit. Sometimes you will even get small ribbons to hand out to deserving airline or hotel employees.
37. Do not forget to backup. This advice is not about computers. It is a reminder to always carry your complete list of frequent- traveler program numbers around with you in case you are ever bumped from a flight and end up flying on another carrier. You will have the right frequent flyer number at hand and will not have to send in for missing credit. The trick? Make a complete list of all your program numbers on a small sheet of paper, have it laminated and carry it in your wallet.
38. Tick tock. In November, do not become the turkey by letting your miles expire. Now is the time to find out if any of your miles or points will depart this Earth at year’s end.
39. Be a savvy mileage spender. Some programs offer you the chance to redeem awards for fewer miles. American AAdvantage has special awards for Citibank credit card holders, and both American and United give special discounted awards when you fly 750 miles or less.
40. Cash in by converting. One trend you need to know about is that more programs now allow you to convert airline miles for more than just free flights. Frontier Airlines has the More Store that allows members to cash in for dining certificates, a new car and even bicycles. Both American and United now have miles for hotel rooms. Beyond that even more airlines are expected to come up with even more fresh ideas and offers.
41. Pool your efforts. For instance, for a fee the American AAdvantage program will allow members to move miles from one member’s account into another member’s account. These “pooled” miles often go to friends or family as gifts. These “pooling options” require a transfer fee but for the right situation it may just be the key to a free ticket for someone else in your family. Most major airline programs now have this option either as a benefit for members or as a promotional offer several times a year.
42. Shoot for a million miles in a single program. More airlines than ever before are putting together programs that honor those who fly them the most. What is cool about earning a million miles, other than having the right to brag, is that an airline with a million miles program also gives you lifetime elite privileges.
43. Spread your mileage around. With a large balance in your primary program, you can afford a more diversified portfolio of miles and points in several secondary programs. This allows you to grab even more awards and helps you bypass any “sold out” award situations.
44. Top off accounts. Membership in several programs means you need to diversify your earnings to maintain the balances required for the awards you have targeted. Consider adding miles earned by dining, credit card, telephone and other third party partners. And do not forget the sign up bonuses.
45. Stay alert. Many international travelers must contend with changing itineraries. Keep an eye out for new airline partners in the various global alliances.
46. Suck up every bonus you can on international travel. Travelers who hit world capitals on a regular basis are prime candidates for bonuses. One trip to Asia in the right cabin class could earn you one free domestic ticket, as long as you register to earn the bonus (registration is usually required). For example, in October 2005 British Airways launched a bonus for travel across the Atlantic in which members who registered could earn a guaranteed 50,000 frequent flyer miles for a single trip. It was a combination of the miles earned from flying along with bonus miles. Referred to as a “long haul” bonus, it is worth more than almost all the bonuses you might earn by traveling solely within the United States.
47. Protect ALL your miles. Having substantial earnings in one or several programs means you have more to lose if you lose track. Note the expiration dates of any miles and awards you have earned. Better yet, start thinking about using awards today that you might normally put off using until tomorrow. Some members rely on managing their miles with their memories, while others use homemade spreadsheets, or even worse not managing their miles at all. We feel strongly that an investment in one of the program management software solutions can protect all your miles with no additional investment of your time.
48. Minimize mileage expiration. Many mega milers find they do not have enough time to use all their awards and miles. If you find yourself up against deadlines, familiarize yourself with the Hilton HHonors Reward Exchange and Points.com. These nifty exchange options allow you to trade your unexpired miles from one program to another. There are restrictions as to which programs participate, but at least your miles will not expire. But frankly, with the dilution of miles or points, you might be better off keeping them. Dilution occurs when you move miles or points from one program, through a middleman, and then to miles or points within another program. Often members will lose 50 to 90 percent of the miles’ or points’ original values. If you are wondering why this is, it is because loyalty programs were introduced to try to make you loyal to a single program. If you want choices, it is going to cost you.
49. Do not lose sight of any opportunity. When your mileage balance reaches a high level, you may think you have perfected the art of accrual or you may think some promotional offers do not merit your attention. Not so in either case. Keep reading newsletters. Periodically review all the ways you can capture miles to make sure you have covered all the bases.
50. Splurge. How about attending the British Open, the Super Bowl or any number of unique events? With a wealth of auction packages from which to choose, consider bidding on the special events and unusual vacations offered by airlines and hotel programs. In the past, United Mileage Plus has even allowed members to bid their miles for a part in a TV sitcom. Auctions vary by loyalty program. Some auctions are open to all members, such as the auction in the Continental OnePass program. In the past, other programs such as American AAdvantage only had auctions for elite members, which is something even smaller programs like Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns are doing. Auctions are not only conducted by the airlines. Hilton HHonors sponsored recent auctions allowing members to attend the Academy Awards, and in a variation, American Express recently gave members the opportunity to redeem their points (as little as 5,000 of them) for a Mercedes Benz.
51. Donate miles. Have miles you cannot use? Give them to a charity. Virtually every airline and hotel program can funnel miles and points to a variety of organizations such as Americares, CARE, Make a Wish, National Children’s Cancer Society and the United Way. And we can answer a question before you even ask it: We are sorry but the IRS has determined that donating your miles to a worthy and charitable cause is not tax deductible.
52. Registered traveler. Do not confuse this with the government airport security program. Almost every traveler we know has missed out on collecting bonus miles because they failed to register for a promotion. These days, loyalty programs require you to register for a bonus rather than automatically issuing you the extra miles and points. Make sure you know when registering is a requirement. For instance, members of the Delta SkyMiles credit card by American Express could have earned double miles for every purchase they made over a two month period if they had registered their card number. Those who did not were only able to earn a single mile per every dollar spent.
This is just one of 18 chapters that can truly serve as a refresher course for your knowledge of frequent flyer programs. Now, where can you get the complete book? Look no farther than http://www.mileageprobook.com
The book started to ship right before Thanksgiving and could make a great gift to yourself or others you know — perhaps a business partner or that spouse of yours that is forevering arching an eyebrow when you mention the words “mileage run.” Now, we admit we are a little biased when reviewing this book, but there are two other items that we’re impressed with: that Randy and Tim dedicate the book first to their own readers. We all know there’s nothing more important than the men and women who are out there earning the miles and points. Secondly, they were able to get postive reviews from those that actually run the programs. We’ve seen several very positive comments about the book from Vice Presidents and Managing Directors of various airline and hotel programs. These have to be tough reviews to get.
So, we know what we’re getting for Christmas around here. The only question remaining is: Will Randy autograph our copy of the book?