Are you are part of one or several of airline loyalty programs and have built up hundreds of thousands of air miles in your account? Even if you are not a frequent flyer, many credit cards give you air mile points and you get a real surprise when you see the number you have built up. Wow!!!! Finally, a bonus from someone! So, how can you make sure you are getting all the points you can? And when you build up your stash, how can these points work best for you? Here are a few tips:
Think through how your credit cards work. Credit cards are not all created equal! Some offer miles that can be used on only one partnership system (Such as "One World" or "Star Alliance") while others build points for seat purchase on any flight. Some cards give you 1.5 points for every dollar spent at certain oil or food companies. Some merchants have a direct alliance with one airline and if upon purchase of a product or service from those merchants, you show your airline loyalty card, you get points. Then if you pay for the product with a credit card that also gives you points...you have a double bonus. Think this through BEFORE you shop. If building up a mountain of points for free travel is a priority, a little purchase planning can make a real difference. Stay within one points "family" and you can fund your vacation travel!
Get informed on airlines loyalty programs. Loyalty programs are not created equal either! If many of your points come from flying, pick your airlines carefully based on their point getting and spending systems. Check the Internet for information to help you shop for the right flight shop. Look at your flight patterns and pick the mega group that can best meet your needs. Most airlines are part of one of these mega groups. Once you have the group (such as "Star Alliance" or "One World"), then pick your core airline whose card you will use. The big deal here is to get to certain status points with that airline so when you hit the status threshold, you get privileges such as business class check-in, lounge access, priority in booking "free" seats, priority luggage service and even special lines through customs/immigration. At times, only points on that airline will build your status although you may be able to use the bonus across the mega group.
Purchase prepaid flight miles cards. With prepaid flight miles cards, you purchase a given number of miles in advance and the airline debits a certain number of miles for each flight. In some cases, the actual miles flown for an economy seat, 180% of the miles flown for Business Class, and 240% for First Class. You can purchase upfront enough points to attain elite status and almost instantly, enjoy the privileges that go with it, including free upgrades. Again, different airlines vary in their offers so compare which would be of value to you given your flight patterns. By the way, even if you don't have this card and you lack a few points for a flight, you can always buy just the miles you need.
Calculate the cash value of your miles. It is always good to know the actual value of the miles you use to redeem a flight. You do this by dividing the cost of the ticket with the total number of miles used. The result is the cash value of each mile you used. For example, a trip from your residence to your destination regularly costs $200 if you book in advance. To use your miles, you will need 25,000. Divide $200 by 25,000. This will give you .008. That is the value of each of your miles. However, if you miss the advance purchase window of the airline you are using and you really need to do the trip, this is when your miles can save you a small fortune. Say, booking on short notice, the ticket goes up from $200 to $800. You still use the same 25000 miles. Divide $800 by 25000. This will give you $.032 per air mile.
Know when to use your miles. As already mentioned, one of the best times is when you miss the advance purchase window. When you book on short notice, you pay a premium. Fares can really be sky-high, so using your air miles will give you very good value. If you have built up your "status" on one airline, you really improve your chances of getting that last-minute seat, too. Seats magically become available for high status folks. Another good opportunity to use your miles is to upgrade to a better class, either business or first. Usually, for business and first class, airlines allocate more seats for upgrades than for free seats, so your chances of getting a free seat unless you are at the highest reward category is minimal. So, use your miles to get an upgrade and travel comfortably. What a great gift this is to yourself. Make sure your ticket qualifies for upgrades. Singapore Airlines, for example, will upgrade economy class tickets in S, Y, B or E booking classes. Check the websites of the airline you are booked with. Redemption of upgrades must be confirmed at least 24 hours before flight departure. Put in your request earlier to increase your chances of getting an upgrade.
Watch for promotions. During off season for certain routes, airlines offer promotions that allow you to fly to certain destination for fewer points than usually required. Thus, the advantage of having a card that allows you to use your air miles with various airlines. This increases your chances of getting free trips for fewer points. Some airlines offer a 15% discount for redeeming miles online.
Redeem your miles. As the years go by, the value of the points seems to shrink as loyalty programs raise the number of points to qualify for different levels of redemption. You used to be able to redeem 60,000 points in some loyalty programs for a trip to Asia. As of this writing, Star Alliance asks for 75,000 miles to most of Asia including Japan, China, Singapore for economy seats.
Donate your miles. If you are one of those who rake up miles by the millions, those miles are losing value each year. Try to use them. They may be worth more to others than to you. If you don't need them now, donate them to charity or give them as gifts to family and friends. The joy you share is more valuable to you than watching your miles lose value.