Frequent flier miles tips: How to amass travel rewards quickly

More miles, please

Trying to hoard miles? Here are a few tips for maximizing your efforts:

Airline loyalty: Pick one airline and fly only it or its partners, and have all your miles funneling into a single account. Fliers generally pick airlines based on hubs in their city. There are three major airlines based or with a major presence in Washington: United Airlines at Washington Dulles, Southwest Airlines at BWI Marshall and US Airways at Reagan National, where it will expand again this summer.

Earning status: Elite status offers many perks, including free checked baggage, first-class upgrades and bonus frequent flier miles. Since completing its merger with Continental, my chosen carrier, United, has a new four-tier system: Premier Silver status, earned by flying 25,000 milesin a year and offering a 25 percent frequent flier mileage bonus; Premier Gold, offering 50 percent for flying 50,000 miles; Premier Platinum, offering 75 percent for 75,000 miles; and Premier 1K, offering 100 percent for more than 100,000 miles.

Credit cards: Airline credit cards, if used enough, can provide huge mileage bumps for a nominal annual fee. These cards usually come with large up-front bonuses (United’s card offers 25,000 miles after first use, and American Airlines’ card awards 30,000 miles after $1,000 in purchases). I use my card in place of a debit card and pay off the bill at the end of the month. Generally you earn one frequent flier mile for every dollar spent. These miles, however, don’t count toward status, which can be earned only by flying.

Partnerships: Need to send flowers? Buying a new computer? Renting a car on vacation? Most airlines have non-airline partners that will offer you miles for your business. For example, a floral delivery company may offer you five miles for every dollar you spend. By sending a $100 bouquet of flowers and using your airline credit card, you can earn 600 miles without stepping onto a plane.

E-mail deals: Sign up for airline e-mails to see the latest specials, discounted fares and other offers that might not be broadcast on an airline’s home page. Read the fine print on everything in your airline’s frequent flier program. Knowing the rules inside out will help you become a better mileage hoarder.

 
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