Frequent Flying Perks
Did You Know?
Similar to the hotel rewards programs we recently discussed, most airlines have frequent flier programs that offer a variety of different rewards, some of which may be less obvious and some which contain caveats that you should take care to avoid. I flew back and forth from college a number of times, but in those days I was more concerned with collegial topics than racking up miles.
When I had to begin traveling for work, I started to think about it more and began with the airline that served the main hub I flew from most often, Newark International Airport. At the time, that airline was Continental, and after some flights to Europe I soon had enough miles for a free vacation flight. Those miles are now on United Airlines (Tii:UAL) and their MileagePlus program. I don’t fly them as often anymore, and the rewards program has become a lot more complex – it used to just require 25,000 miles for a free round trip, now it seems you need an advanced calculus degree to figure out how to redeem them for a flight or an upgrade to business class.
But there are alternatives to using them for flights, as United sends out a regular catalog of different merchandise you can purchase for points, from home appliances to luxury watches and golf clubs. Last year I bought a nice touring bike just for riding around the neighborhood and I think it cost around 18,000 miles delivered – which seemed a bargain for reward miles I haven’t used in years!
Other airlines offer similar programs, American Airlines Group (Tii:AAL) has their AAdvantage program, Delta Air Lines Inc. (Tii:DAL) has their Skymiles program, and nearly all of them have partnered with banks for credit card programs where you can earn miles for spending on the card. This may be a way for less frequent travelers to gain miles and status for free flights or other benefits. The other cautionary consideration is expiration. Most firms have a default expiration if you don’t fly very often or use your account. Generally, if there is no activity within a year, the miles expire and you will lose your balance. One way to avoid that is to use miles for other purposes, such as magazine subscriptions. Every so often I receive an e-mail from one of the programs and use perhaps 1,000 or 1,500 miles for a magazine subscription or renewal (I’ve never paid a cent for my Wine Spectator subscription, but I have used a few thousand miles!).
Finally, one program that is different than the rest, is the Southwest Airlines Co. (Tii:LUV) Rapid Rewards program. I’ll confess I used to be an airline snob and looked down at Southwest as a glorified intercity bus, but my opinion changed when I started flying out of Midway and could find direct flights to nearly everywhere I wanted to go. The program is easy, much like a lot of things used to be. You earn A-list status simply by flying enough segments (25) or earning enough points (35,000) which gets you an advantageous boarding position and other benefits (like free drink coupons) for the following year. The points never expire and you can use them for flights any time with no blackout dates.
Whether flying for business or pleasure, there are rewards to be had, just make sure you know the rules and make the most of them!