By Kate Ashford, Money Magazine Staff Reporter
May Issue (Volume 35 Number 5)
NEW YORK (Money Magazine) — Cashing in miles has gone from hard to harder. In the past six months several carriers have shortened the time you can go between trips (and other mile-earning activities) before your points expire. United and US Airways went from three years to 18 months, and Delta from three years to two. Bad news if you don’t regularly patronize one airline. But you can keep your points in play says Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer.com. You don’t even have to enroll in an airline credit card to do it.
SPEND A FEW BUCKS Buy something you need from one of the airline’s partners. For example, United’s Mileage Plus Mall (mponlinemall.com) is a gateway to the websites of retailers from Apple to FTD. You pay what you would if you went to the store’s site directly, and you earn miles. Find similar deals on other carrier’s sites. You can also earn miles flying with partner airlines – like Continental for Delta.
SPEND A FEW MILES Use a negligible amount of points to buy something other than a plane fare – it will still count as activity. Magazine subscriptions (hint, hint) often cost less than 1,000 miles.
SPEND A FEW MINUTES Respond to a survey at e-miles.com and earn points with Continental, Delta, Northwest or US Airways. The miles aren’t substantial, but they’ll keep your account from going the way of TWA.
ABOUT AIRLINE CREDIT CARDS Unless you find yourself always traveling the same airline (or its partners) a credit card that works on all airlines might be of benefit. Be sure to compare all the different types of cards before settling down on one. They all have different rules and restrictions. Also keep in mind that some airline mileage program cards might give you special benefits that you may not want to give up.
If you choose this route, make sure to check out your credit union for their airline cards. They often give you better deals than the major banks. Also keep in mind that the annual fee (if you get a general mileage card from a bank, try to find one without an annual fee) will eat away at any savings you may generate.
AIRLINE CARDS MIGHT NOT BE THE BEST WAY If you travel occasionally or like to use online travel booking sites to make your reservation on the cheapest airline, you may actually be better off with a regular or flexible rewards card. It really all depends on how often, how far, and the class of tickets you fly. I personally use the search site Kayak.com to do my airline searches.
Kayak.com includes results directly from each airline’s website and also includes the prices from Orbitz.com and Cheaptickets.com. The site has some of the best advanced search features around. Kayak cannot find Southwest fares since they do not let ANYONE search their fares except their own site; however, Kayak is one of the few sites listing JetBlue fares. Kayak is purely a search engine, and you purchase your tickets through the airline itself or Orbitz.com or Cheaptickets.com