10 ways to save with frequent flier programs
Casino pit bosses will tell you the best way to make your table action pay dividends is to sign up for a players card that is used to record points based on how much money you put down and how long you play. You often can get freebies on food, hotel rooms and merchandise.
The same holds true for flying. If you don’t have a frequent flier reward program number or card when you buy your next ticket, get one. The credits, miles or points you earn when you fly add up to discounted or free flights, upgrades and other rewards.
Not all airline programs are the same, so here are 10 tips to make frequent flier programs take off for you.
Look for value.
If you have 25,000 miles and want to fly Delta Air Lines, consider how much the ticket is before you use the miles. Sales abound right now due to the weak economy. If you can fly roundtrip from Atlanta to Boston for $178, it’s worth it to buy the ticket and save the miles for a free transcontinental flight that might cost you twice as much to buy, or use it for an upgrade on an international flight.
Make sure you get that free ticket for only 25,000 miles. Don’t pay 50,000 miles that took you two years to accumulate for that cramped coach seat unless you absolutely have to.
The best way to maximize your miles is to book your reward ticket at least several months before you want to fly. That’s because the number of reward seats available at the lowest redemption level on many airlines are limited, particularly at peak hours of the day or peak days of the year.
“If someone tries to get an award on a high demand specific flight at a specific time of day and they’re not flexible, they may be disappointed,” American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said.
If you must travel at a specific time on a specific day and your plans don’t come together until close to the day you want to leave, you still can get a free ticket, but it may cost you more miles. For 60,000 miles, Delta guarantees a free seat on a domestic flight, excluding travel to Hawaii, as long as a coach seat is available.
Sign up for several reward programs — it’s free. Rewards on AirTran Airways add up fast. You can get a free domestic coach ticket for 16 flight credits, which take just eight roundtrip paid flights, regardless of distance, to accumulate.
But if you tend to take a lot of transcontinental flights, it may get you a faster free roundtrip coach ticket on United Airlines or US Airways, which, like Delta, give reward miles based on the distance you travel. AirTran only flies in North America. But for 100 flight credits, AirTran will buy you a ticket anywhere in the world on another carrier.
Get the credit card.
Some airline branded credit cards will give you 2 miles or points for every dollar spent on the partner airline and 1 mile or point for every dollar spent everywhere else. Some of those cards carry annual fees of up to $85 or more. AirTran and Delta, however, have partner credit cards that offer no-annual-fee options, but that comes with 1 point or mile for every dollar spent on the partner airline and one-half of 1 point or mile for every dollar spent everywhere else.
“For those people who charge very high dollar amounts annually to those cards but yet don’t carry a revolving balance, the mileage you generate is worthwhile. The annual fee is worthwhile,” said David Robertson, an expert on frequent flier credit card promotions and publisher of the Nilson Report, a credit card industry newsletter.