One of my goals this year is to create a mileage-earning strategy that fits my pattern of travel and help me earn enough miles to get some international tickets. Since I’ve somehow given people the delusion that I’m some kind of frequent flyer, I’d love to get at least low-level status on an airline so that I have a shiny card to support their delusion.

However, picking a program to focus on isn’t so simple. I fly out of Orlando, which isn’t a hub for anyone but is a focus city for some low-cost carriers. Nearly all of my travel is for personal trips. Last year, I flew 4 domestic trips and an international one. This year, it looks like I will be doing at least that much flying again and maybe more if I can find some good promotions. While I’m usually flying out of the same city, where I’m going to varies widely and I rarely go to the same spot twice. So I need to choose a program with a lot of partners in it.

Looking at the three major airline alliances, I’m a fan of the Star Alliance. They are the largest of the three and offer the most choices in terms of carriers and destinations. In the US, where I live, there are three Star carriers- Continental, United, and US Airways. I don’t want to keep my miles in United’s program because of their infamous Starnet blocking tactics. Starnet blocking means that United often doesn’t make partner flights available for booking, even if the partner has award space available. I’ve heard stories of people trying to book a flight to Frankfurt via Luftasa or to Bangkok via Thai Airways only to be told that those airlines don’t have any flights available to those cities (come again?). Since I want to fly internationally, this won’t help me at all.

US Airways has a good mileage program with a decent earn/burn ratio and lots of redemption options. However, flying on the airline itself leaves something to be desired. It’s a basic, no-frills airline. It can get you from point A to point B on time and that’s pretty much it. I’ve used US Airways for short hops on the east coast, but for anything longer I try to fly on a different airline.

That leaves me with Continental. Like US Airways, the program makes it easy to redeem miles at a reasonable rate to many different destinations. They also have a decent on-board product that continues to improve. More interesting, if I can achieve elite status with CO, it can be used to get better seating on UA flights as well starting in mid-2010.

Beyond just flying, I’m also working on getting miles through credit card promotions and spending, online shopping and other promos and deals that pop up. I’m not trying to turn into Ryan Bingham of “Up in the Air” who said “I don’t spend a nickel on anything that doesn’t earn me miles.” But if I can get miles for things I do everyday anyway, so much the better.

So that’s my strategy this year. Hopefully it’ll get me to where I want to go this year.

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