Countless articles and websites like Flyertalk are devoted to getting the best out of frequent flyer programs. But what about people who aren’t frequent flyers but still want to take advantage of the programs to get free flights and upgrades? There are several programs and strategies that infrequent flyers can use to get some free flights and other bonuses along the way. So if you’re unfamilier with all the different ways you can get miles without flying (and how to maximise the miles you do get from flying), read on.
1. Sign up for frequent flyer programs– This may seem obvious to seasoned travellers, but for folks who only fly a few times a year, they may not know about it or think it’s worthless. However signing up for most frequent-flyer programs is quick and easy. It’s just a matter of filling out an online form or two and you can do it at the same time you’re buying your tickets if you do it through an airline’s website. Even if you fly an airline just twice a year, it may be enough to get benefits. For example, I flew Airtran late last year and will do so again this month. Those two roundtrips are enough to get a free business class upgrade on my next flight. And all I had to do for that upgrade was fill out a form and make sure my number was attached to my bookings.
2. Don’t let miles expire– Many programs will let you keep miles indefinitely in your account as long as you keep the account active. And in most cases, that activity can come from shopping, eating out, renting a car, using a credit card- it doesn’t have to be flying. For most programs, miles will expire after 12 to 18 months of inactivity, so as long as you do one activity a year to keep those miles alive, you can keep accumulating miles towards a free ticket. Or, if you really don’t want to worry about expiring miles, consider flying with Continental, which doesn’t have miles expiration at this time.
One caveat- most of the low-cost carriers like Airtran and Southwest have credits that expire after 18 months, no matter what you do. So you’ll have to keep expiration dates in mind as you’re planning trips.
3. Take advantage of airline alliances- When I was in college, I started flying somewhat frequently for an office that I was volunteering for. Most of my flying was with Delta and Northwest, which are in the same Skyteam alliance. Unfortunately at the time, I didn’t realize that I could credit the flying I did on Northwest to Delta and vice-versa. Had I done so, I would have gotten a free ticket on one of those airlines. By crediting all your flying you do in an alliance to one member, it makes it quicker to hit your target.
4. Use an airline-affiliated card– If you pay off your credit card each month, have good credit and want to get enough miles to get a free ticket in a matter of days, signing up for an airline-affiliated card is the way to go. The cards usually have large sign-up bonus, come with no mileage expiration and sometimes other benefits such as avoiding some fees. Gary of View from the Wing wrote an excellent post comparing most of the major card programs.
5. Shop online– Nearly all the airlines offer an online shopping portal where purchases will get airline miles. If you’re going to go shopping, you might as well get some points along the way. Also, most airlines have partnerships with various rental car companies and other businesses that can also earn miles.
6. Eat out– The iDine program offers miles for when you dine out at certain restaurants. All you have to do is register your credit/debit cards with the program and pick an airline to credit the miles to (don’t worry, Idine doesn’t charge anything to your card). Here’s the list of links to each airline program.
Hopefully this advice will help you get that next ticket or upgrade that you want even if you don’t have elite status with an airline. Happy flying!