Maximize Your Miles

Travel always causes a great debate for me. Should I pay for the trip or use miles? In general, I like to pay for long flights because then you get the miles and if you have status, for instance platinum status on American Airlines, then you will receive double miles in addition to the miles equal to the price of the ticket. Additionally, paying for flights will give you a leg up on re-qualifying for elite status for the following year. Obviously, this debate is for people who have a lot of miles and have status with an airline or would just like to get started (try this list of the best frequent flyer programs).

Once you have status you really don’t want to give it up because of the fringe benefits you get. The complimentary upgrades are wonderful and so are the double miles and the ability to redeem your miles with a variety of partners. It still blows my mind that a lot of people don’t belong to a frequent flyer program let alone a global alliance such as One World. This is of course a conglomerate of the worlds leading airlines that combine services and code shares to better serve clients around the globe. Their systems in theory are perfectly integrated (although this is debatable).

These alliances, others are the Star Alliance, Sky Team, etc. are a must for any globetrotter. As a veteran airline traveler, I have miles with several different alliances and have used all of them to redeem miles for award travel. They can cut the cost of your trip to basically just the ground cost of your trip. They can save you thousands of dollars. For instance, last summer I flew into Baku and out of Athens on an open jaw (into and out of different cities-a little used option by mileage redeemers that can really help you save money and cover more ground) and I used miles to pay for the flights, 60,000 miles to be exact. That was hardly a dent in my miles but the cost of the flights had I booked separately and paid for them would be nearly $3000. The only drawback is that I don’t get the benefit of having the elite miles add up for my platinum qualification for next year. However, for $3000 it is worth it and hopefully I will still be able to qualify for next year anyway, qualifying being 50,000 miles in a calendar year.

There are other ways to achieve this type of status on an airline. For instance on American, you can do a platinum or gold challenge where if you are going to fly a lot in a short period of time, meaning 3 months, then you can challenge to hit either 5000 miles for gold or 10,000 for platinum. This is a spectacular way to achieve status on your favorite airline for relatively little flying. Just be careful that you realize that it is 5000 or 10,000 points, not just miles. Sometimes the airlines screw you by only giving half miles for certain classes of tickets booked. This can be confusing but just check with the airline before you book a ticket to find out how many points you will receive. Conversely, some of the classes give 1.5 miles so it makes it even easier to qualify.

In conclusion, there are a lot of ways to get ahead with regards to miles and saving money. Keep an eye on your airlines website for bonus mile offers and take advantage of them. Try to gain status on your airline and use your best judgment on whether to use miles or to pay for the trip. Obviously, everything depends on your budget and if you have the miles available but at this point, I assume most people have at least some but it doesn’t take too much effort to maximize how far your miles can take you.

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  1. Jennifer says

    Interesting about the platinum challenge, I will call about that bc I am flying alot on the enxt few months and should easily clear 10K miles. Thanks.

  2. I’m also using miles (Delta SkyMiles) for a flight on Aeroflot into Baku and back from Yerevan in August — only 50,000 miles. I’m also using miles to go to Easter Island in May (only 70,000 AA miles for a roundtrip flight from JFK on American, Air Tahiti and LAN). I’ve heard people debate that its not worth joining a program (too much hassle, difficulty securing flights, etc.), but to me, they are the great fringe benefit of flying.

  3. My new favorite thing is my credit card that gives me points for the purchase price of my plane ticket, then additional points for the miles I fly. The best part is when I redeem a “free” ticket with my credit card points I still get FF miles with the airline carrier.

  4. Associating your miles within a proper allinace is the key to using your miles around the world as you mentioned. It really depends on where you live and what airlines have hubs near you so you can choose based upon that. I live in Houston so I usually fly Continental. I use the Skyteam for my alliance flights and mileage redemption and it works out great. Last year I flew to Seoul on miles or could fly to Paris as well or anywhere really–this is all kind of new to me and I am excited about it.

  5. is a great site to look for bonus offers.

  6. Awards are great for doing open-jaw/overland itineraries. Also look into alliance RTW (round-the-world) fares, these can be very useful if visiting several out-of-the way places on one trip.

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