How to Use Miles to Travel for Free
1. Earn Miles from Credit Card Spending
Using credit card rewards wisely is step one to earning your way to a free flight. Once you have one of the best travel rewards credit cards with mileage rewards, use it as your primary method of payment for your day-to-day expenses.
The key is to always pay your balance in full and on time; otherwise your miles earned will be a worth fraction of the interest you will owe. Savvy mileage collectors eventually find themselves charging utility bills, parking fees, or any other purchase they can use their credit card for.
2. Get a Credit Card Sign-up Bonus
Big spenders can earn a great deal of miles on their credit cards, one for each dollar charged. The rest of us, however, have learned that it can take years of spending to earn enough miles for a free flight. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut: sign-up bonuses.
With the best credit card sign-up bonuses, you can instantly earn multiple free flights just for getting approved for a card. As with rewards card spending, always pay your bill on time, never carry a balance, and don’t ever spend more just for the miles.
3. Buy Miles
Ever since frequent flyer programs got popular, airlines have made miles available for almost every type of spending activity. They sell miles to corporate partners, and the partners give the miles away. Finally, the airlines cut out the middlemen and starting selling them directly to their customers.
Normally, the purchase of miles is not a good deal, but you can find regular promotions that make sense. For example, US Airways and Delta have run prior promotions in which you can buy miles for half the normal price. Depending on your destination and the time of year you are traveling, a promotion like this can allow you to fly in business class for less than the price of coach.
4. Maximize the Value of Awards
Earning miles and points is only half of the game. The other half is finding the deals when you use your miles and points. The problem is that the airlines feel like they have no incentive to maximize the value of your miles, and they devote scant resources to assisting your search.
In most cases, airline partner awards to international destinations represent the best value for your miles, but it can be extremely difficult to search for these flights on partner airlines using your miles. US Airways, for example, has no way to search for partner awards online, but there are some tricks and techniques you can try to redeem US Airways Dividends miles.
Delta, on the other hand, has an award search engine on its website. The problem is that it doesn’t work most of the time, forcing you to use some creative strategies to redeem Delta SkyMiles rewards.
5. Earn Miles by Flying
While racking up travel used to be the easiest way to work your way to a free trip, lately it’s been the toughest method. Still, it doesn’t hurt to add to your mileage balance by traveling, especially if you can get your business to pay for it.
Never book a flight without using your frequent flyer number. When you complete your trip, confirm that your mileage has posted to your account. If you ever forget to provide your number when you book, follow up with your carrier to get your miles added.
6. Maximize Miles by Choosing the Longest Route
Some people who are trying to pile up the travel miles will go so far as to book a flight with a connection in a distant city to earn more miles. If you have the time to spare, and you don’t mind the extra travel time, you can route yourself through one or more distant airline hubs rather than simply take the shortest connection.
7. Earn Free Miles with Partners or Retailers
Every airline has a list of partners that try to advertise products by giving away some miles. You can get extra miles by answering a survey or watching a promotional video. Bose, for example, recently ran a promotion in which they gave away 150 Delta SkyMiles to anyone who watched a one-minute video about one of Bose’s new headphones.
Other times, you may need to make small purchase, open an account, or get an insurance quote. You’ll rarely get a lot of miles, but these are easy to get and each one helps. Spend a few minutes looking through the mileage section of an airline’s website and you will be amazed at how many ways you can get miles without much effort. Also, monitor retailers’ websites and emails that will often mention these deals.
8. Earn Miles with Online Malls
Not only do airlines have individual partners that offer mileage, they also partner with online shopping retail sites. Nearly every airline has an online shopping mall where customers can earn extra miles from purchases at many retailers. You sign in, and then click through from the mall’s website to one of their retail partners’ sites. The site places a cookie on your computer, and then your purchases will be tied to the frequent flyer mall so you’ll start compiling miles.
Note: This is not the same as the “SkyMall,” which is filled with overpriced novelties; these are links to popular department stores, home improvement stores, and other major online retailers.
9. Transfer Miles to Airline Programs
There are some great mileage transfer offers from hotel chains and their affiliated credit cards. For example, the Starwood hotel chain lets you earn points that can be transferred to miles with over 20 different carriers.
In fact, some travelers use the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card to earn these points, even without staying at their hotels. Hilton, Hyatt, and other chains also offer the option to trade hotel points for airline miles, with various exchange rates.
10. Concentrate Your Miles on Just a Few Programs
While you’re usually better off flying the airline with the best price and schedule, many travelers choose to only fly with one or two carriers. This way, instead of having a few miles with a lot of airlines, they concentrate all of their miles and make their way to free flights faster.
Fortunately, you can credit your miles to any airline with an alliance. For example, perhaps you normally fly US Airways, but are flying United to Chicago and Lufthansa to Europe. You could open up accounts with each airline and earn a few miles in several programs, or you can credit all of your miles to a single account, since all three airlines are part of the Star Alliance.
By earning all of your miles in just one program, you will reach awards faster and may even attain elite status, enabling you to earn even more miles.