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Ten tips

By LAURA T. COFFEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


Get the most from your frequent-flier miles

So you've flown to Europe and back on one airline, used your credit card to rack up frequent-flier miles with another airline and accumulated more miles with a third airline when you rented that car on your last business trip. How are you supposed to keep track of all the miles you've amassed and use them to get what you really want? Consider these tips:

1. Get organized. According to InsideFlyer magazine, billions of frequent-flier miles expire each year. To prevent that from happening, know how many miles you've built up in each program and when they expire. This can be a challenge because many airlines mail frequent flier-program statements only once every three to six months.

2. Seek help on the Web. For fees ranging from $15 to $30 a year, several online services will tally up your miles and let you know how close you are to a free ticket or other perk. Such services include MaxMiles (http://www.maxmiles.com), American Express Membership Rewards (http://www.rewardsmanager.com) and HandsHigh.com (http://www.handshigh.com), which sells AirMiles software for Palm handheld organizers.

3. Check your statement. FrequentFlier.com reports that up to 25 percent of eligible frequent-flier transactions are not properly tracked and credited to your account. That makes it all the more important for you to review your statement after every flight.

4. Do the math. Most airlines value frequent-flier miles at about 1 cent each. That means you should try to achieve that value or better when you trade in your miles for a plane ticket or upgrade. In other words, if you trade in 30,000 miles for a ticket that would have cost $300, you got a decent value for your miles.

5. Stop hoarding. Be careful about stockpiling miles for that ultimate travel destination,because you may never be able to obtain a ticket to that destination. That's because airlines usually set aside less than 10 percent of their seats for rewards tickets. If you're nearing your expiration date and you risk wasting the thousands of miles you've saved up, use them right away.

6. Don't restrict yourself. Once you've accumulated enough miles, most airlines offer restricted and unrestricted free flights. The unrestricted flights cost more miles, but who cares? It can be a great way to score a free flight at the last minute or during peak travel times.

7. Make your reservation late. While it's true that airlines set aside a small number of seats for frequent fliers, it's also true that the allotment goes up if all the seats on a particular flight haven't been sold. The closer you get to departure, the more rewards seats may open up and the number of miles required for a ticket may be reduced.

8. Buy miles. If you're short 1,000 to 2,000 miles for the ticket you want, you can buy miles directly from the airline for about 2 to 3 cents a mile. That's not such a bad deal if it costs you $25 to buy the final 1,000 miles you need for a $400 round-trip flight.

9. Use other strategies. Other last-minute tactics for earning miles include switching your long-distance service, buying a car from a participating dealer, getting insurance quotes from participating insurers, shopping online at certain Web sites and ordering flowers from participating florists.

10. Avoid the black market. A frequent flier-mile underground is thriving on the Internet, even though airlines don't allow you to buy or sell frequent flier miles from other people. If you get caught using a ticket bought or sold through a broker, you could lose your frequent-flier membership and your ticket home.

- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Money magazine (http://www.money.com); InsideFlyer magazine (http://www.insideflyer.com); and FrequentFlier.com (http://www.frequentflier.com)

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