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Getting the most out of airline and hotel rewards programs does not have to be a chore.By incorporating earning miles or points into your daily routine and overall lifestyle, it’s easy to rack up free flights and hotel stays. Follow these five tips to learn how to get the most out of rewards programs with minimal effort.
First, sign up for the airline or hotel rewards program, even if it’s just for a single flight or stay. All rewards programs offer free signup, so there’s nothing to lose. Even if you don’t earn additional rewards ever again on a particular program, you may still receive some benefits just for joining. For example, at many hotel chains, rewards members can take advantage of tangible benefits right away, including late checkout, a free newspaper or free access to Wi-Fi.
Alternative Ways to Earn Rewards
Some programs allow you to accumulate miles or points for other purchases and activities beyond a flight or overnight stay. Visit the reward program’s website for the latest information on other means of earning and redeeming rewards. For example, the Continental Airline’s website lists a wide range of partner companies offering services and products that can help you earn miles, everything from taking a cruise to a rewards bonus for opening a brokerage account.
However, don’t spend money for items or services that you don’t really need just to earn miles. Buying a $100 wine rack through a rewards-linked merchant mall in order to earn 100 miles is hardly worth it if you never drink wine! But, if you spend $100 at a partnering book retailer that offers five miles for every dollar spent, you might have a good deal.
Luckily for consumers, there are dozens of ways to earn miles and reward points that you may not realise are available, including refinancing your home mortgage, buying flowers, and setting up an internet connection. You can even earn miles by participating in a program such as e-Miles that rewards its members with miles for simply reading and responding to marketing messages.
Earn Miles on Everyday Purchases
By far the fastest way to earn miles or points is to sign up for a credit card that accrues rewards for every dollar spent. Every major airline and hotel chain has a rewards-branded credit card. But, with so many options, how do you choose the right card? Review the annual fee and percentage rate structures as well as the different mile amounts you must accumulate before redeeming awards. Consider which airlines you frequently utilise. For example, if you live in Houston, you most likely will be a frequent flyer on Continental or Southwest, since those are the two biggest airlines operating in Houston, and you may reap the most benefit from choosing the Continental or Southwest-affiliated card. On the other hand, Atlanta residents might be better off with the Delta or AirTran-branded card, as this is a major hub for both carriers.
Watch for Mileage Bonus and Multipliers
Savvy air travellers can also rack up extra miles by paying special attention to mileage bonuses and multipliers available for taking certain routes. For example, if you are heading from Dallas to London and see that routing through Chicago nets a triple miles bonus, go for it! That extra leg of the trip may earn you an upgrade to business class for the overseas portion of the flight, which is definitely a worthwhile usage of miles.
Check the airline’s rewards website frequently to see which routing options offer double or triple mileage. However, don’t go overboard—only take alternate routes if it truly makes sense when you compare the miles earned against the extra time required. If a nonstop flight will afford you more time for your weekend vacation, that’s typically a smarter option than choosing a lengthy layover journey just for the extra miles, only to wind up completely exhausted when you arrive.
Avoid Blackouts and Restrictions
Watch out for programs that feature “blackout” dates or limitations on the number of seats or travel dates for which you can redeem rewards. Many frequent flyer programs offer a very limited number of rewards seats, especially during popular travel times. To avoid this restriction, choose a program like the JetBlue or relaunched Southwest Airlines programs that allow you to use miles as currency, without restrictions on available flight inventory. Always try to book your rewards flight first thing in the morning, as airlines analyse their booking percentages overnight and perform rebalancing as needed, often making more rewards-level flights available.
Also, some miles or rewards expire after certain periods of inactivity. It’s worthwhile to review each program’s expiration policies against your travel frequency to be sure you don’t keep adding miles that you’ll likely never redeem. Thankfully, most plans can be “reset” before the expiration date by performing any activity on the account. Just use the branded card to buy groceries or book a local rewards hotel for an in-town vacation or deposit miles from your e-Miles account in order to keep your hard-earned miles.
To truly maximise your miles and rewards points, it’s important to choose the programs that best fit your lifestyle. Don’t get caught up in jumping through hoops or making unnecessary purchases just to earn miles. With so many options available, there is sure to be a program, or two, that works best for you, and you’ll quickly be on your way to flying and staying for free.