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Most airlines offer frequent flyer miles to encourage commitment and loyalty. This can offset the minor differences in airfare prices and earns members “prestige” if they fly frequently with the same carrier.
If you are a business traveler you can rack up miles quickly, but if you are an occasional traveler for vacations or other reasons you may be faced with expiring miles because you do not fly enough over a certain amount of time. Then you need to decide if the cost is worth keeping your miles.
There are many factors to take into account when faced with this dilemma. The following will provide a brief review of options along with some ways to earn miles without flying, eliminating some of the problem.
Options for Keeping Frequent Flyer Miles
The intent of the programs are to keep you flying with the same carrier, so many programs offer ways to keep your miles from expiring. Some options include using miles to purchase items such as magazine subscriptions from participating partners.
Other options include transferring miles as a gift to someone else in the program or simply purchasing miles through the program. Not all of these options cost money, but some of them do and that is where the question of “Is it worth it?” comes into play. Each program is different depending on the carrier. Many carriers offer Frequent Flier Programs. Here is a list of some of the major U.S. and Canadian Carriers with their program benefits:
Air Canada: Aeroplan
Program: Accumulate miles to earn rewards for flights on Air Canada and participating partners.
- Requires members to be active on account once every 12 months as a minimum.
- Accumulated miles have a “seven-year shelf life” where the miles expire if you do not use them within seven years from original date.
- A reinstatement policy exist for the expired miles (C$30 plus C$0.01 for every mile reinstated, then the miles are available for redemption for seven years from the date of reinstatement as long as the account stays active).
- Activity on an Aeroplan account can be achieved in many different ways. Accumulating miles through travel, purchasing items online at the Aeroplan eSTORE, and through promotions such as using a credit card affiliated with Air Canada to earn miles.
This program is designed to encourage loyalty while providing ample time to redeem earned miles. If your lifestyle changed from a casual traveler to a more active traveler, then it may be advantageous to request reinstatement of expired miles. The cost of reinstatement may offset the total cost of an airline ticket in the future.
This program requires the member to be active every 12 months, so it would be in the best interest of the member to apply for an American Express Aeroplan Gold Card, CIBC Aerogold Visa Card, or to simply purchase items through participating partners such as Costco, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Hertz, or shop online at Aeroplan eSTORE. Members obtaining a line of credit through a participating bank can earn double miles for purchases made.
The first reward for purchases will be through the accumulation of miles on the credit card; the second reward will be from the miles accumulated through the use of participating partners.
American Airlines: AAdvantage
Program: First and largest travel rewards program, designed to encourage loyalty to American Airlines and their partners.
- The AAdvantage program is designed to allow anyone to participate, including members who do not travel frequently.
- Frequent travelers can accumulate miles through the purchase of eligible tickets and through participating partners.
- Many opportunities exist with this program for nonfrequent travelers, including assorted financial and retail partners.
Members must earn or redeem miles every 18 months in order to retain their miles. If after 18 months the account has been inactive, then the member forfeits all accumulated miles. “Activity includes flying or using a non travel related participant to accrue mileage including participating hotels, car rental companies, credit cards, telecommunication providers, and other service providers offering AAdvantage mileage credit.”
This program is designed to encourage use of any participating partner. Obtaining a credit card to earn AAdvantage miles can keep your miles from expiring as long as you use the card at least once every 18 months to accumulate miles.
You can also accumulate miles through your telecommunications carrier including AT&T, Cellular One, Sprint, T-Mobile and many others. Retaining your miles in this program is easy because of the large number of non-travel-related partners. It is worth using a partner in the AAdvantage program to retain your miles.
Over time the miles can accumulate and you could earn enough miles to be rewarded an airline ticket even if you don’t travel frequently.
Delta Air Lines: SkyMiles
Program: Delta SkyMiles is a rewards program designed to encourage travelers to use Delta and participating partners when traveling.
- As of January 1, 2011 SkyMiles do not expire.
- This program encourages you to fly Delta and use participating partners through incentives and rewards.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is one way to earn miles along with receiving other benefits. With the use of the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card, your first bag checked is free on every Delta Flight ($50/bag) and no annual fee for the first year ($95 every year after that).
If you are a frequent traveler, the free bag will help to defray the cost of the annual fee. If you travel more than two times a year, you will save money using the Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express card.
SkyMiles members can also earn miles with SkyMiles Shopping. This is an online store where members can earn up to 10 miles per dollar at over 500 merchants including Best Buy, Lands’ End, JCPenney and Home Depot. Other partners include Nutrisystem, Hertz, Alamo, Avis; Delta SkyMiles Check Card from SunTrust, Delta, Hilton or Marriott Vacations; and SkyMiles Cruises.
You can also use earn miles through FedEx, FTD, SkyMall, Teleflora, or Bose. Since Delta instituted a no expiration policy, this is a good program to join even if you are not a frequent traveler.
You can work to accumulate miles through partners and not worry about how long you have to use your miles.
United Airlines: Mileage Plus
Program: Provides rewards for Mileage Plus members to include free travel and upgrades during travel.
- Mileage Plus members can accumulate miles through air travel.
- Miles can also be awarded through the purchase of United vacation packages or cruises or by using a Mileage Plus Visa.
- Other Mileage Plus partners include rental car companies (Avis, Alamo, Hertz and more) and participating hotels (Marriott, Choice Hotels, Sheraton, Fairmont, Hilton, Hyatt and more).
This program allows travelers to accumulate miles in many different ways making it easier to stay active in the program. Obtaining a line of credit through the United Mileage Plus Visa can help you to accumulate miles without traveling and keep your account current.
This card may have an annual fee, so take that into consideration as you apply for the card. If you do not fly very often, then you can still accumulate miles through participating hotels (currently 90 participating hotel partners on the list) or through car rentals (11 participating partners). Presenting your Mileage Plus member number is key to earning the miles through the partners and can be used on numerous awards.
Keeping up with the program is simple and you can earn miles through other means to include specific financial services, retail shopping, flowers, communications, utilities and even dining and entertainment.
Each airline provides different rules of engagement concerning how often you need to be active in the program, when the miles will or will not expire and whether you can use means other than flying to accumulate and remain active.
Each individual must analyze her own specific situation to determine if the monetary cost of keeping miles is worth the time invested in the programs. Most often it is a benefit to take part in one or more non-flying participating partners to keep miles accumulating if you are not a frequent traveler.
To find a credit card suitable for your situation in partnership with a frequent flyer miles program, you can visit CreditCards.com and read about Travel and Airline Credit Cards. Using the special internet stores through your carrier can provide you with discounts as well as mileage accumulation.
Jeremy represents a husband-and-wife team working together to establish a quick, visual guide to assist others in ordinary tasks. Together they are the founders and editors of His and Hers DIY. In short, with their experiences combined, they are a jack-of-all-trades. For further information visit His and Hers DIY | About. You can get free e-mail updates here.
Thanks, as a multiple frequent flier credit card holder this was valuable for me.