Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Earning Frequent Flyer Miles Without Ever Leaving Home

ABC's new Pan Am show
 I recently started watching ABC's new series Pan Am....I'd like to say that I had hopes about this show, but the truth is I expected it to be mediocre and so far it has been. I was hoping for something along the lines of "Mad Men" meets the "Amazing Race"...but it was more "Sex and the City" meets "a really boring flight I once took." I did get a few giggles out of the first episode being called "Pilot." This was pretty obviously unintentional but you know...pilot...get it... okay I'm done.

Anyway, watching an entire show about people being stuck in a airplane cabin has inspired me to share some of my tips for getting frequent flyer (FF) miles without ever stepping foot in one. As you may have guessed from my blog title I am a huge fan of FF miles. Not only can you get free flights, but if you rack up enough of them you can get special perks like early boarding and free checked luggage. In addition, being a member of an airlines loyalty program gives you a tiny bit of clout when it comes to working with the company to rebook flights, file complaints, etc. Now before I give you my tips a couple of quick notes:

1. Never, ever, ever buy a ticket for the FF miles. You should always buy tickets based on price/schedule. End of story. FF miles are just not that valuable. Once you have picked out a ticket, you should research to see if this airline is a partner of your FF program. If so they should accept your number. Otherwise, just sign up for their program. Chances you will be flying with them again in the future.

2. Miles earned in flight are often treated differently than those earned in other ways. Often times miles earned in 'deal programs' can't be used to earn elite status. So although the miles below will help you save up for a trip, they might not help you become a super special double silver diamond member.

Alright, without further here are my tips for earning FF miles without flying:

1. Get a credit card.
This is probably pretty obvious but I have noticed that some people don't take advantage of it. The key here is to calculate out your benefit. If you are getting 1% cash back on all your purchases with your current card, you will get $250 for spending 25,000. If you also get 1 FF mile for each dollar, that same $25,000 will get you 25,000 miles. Which can get you a flight to California from DC. Usually a flight to California is in the $200-$500 range, so you are often doing better than the cash back option.  But if your credit card is awesome and gives you 2% back, you are probably better keeping that option. Also, if you never fly anywhere but on the east coast, this isn't a great option. A ticket to Atlanta is only about $150 but will still cost you 25,000 miles. (See more tips on booking tickets here)

2. Dine Out
Both Delta and United have great programs that allow you to sign up a credit card to earn points at certain restaurants. The list of places isn't great, but its something you can sign up for a forget about. Whenever you use your card at one of the partner restaurants you will automatically get the points. Its that easy. I usually accidentally hit a place about once a month. You get between 3-5 miles to the dollar, so it can be an easy 75 miles depending on how much you spend. My rule of thumb stands here as well - don't ever eat somewhere just for the points. You aren't rally earning enough miles to make it worth it. But, if you were going to eat there anyway- hey! free miles.

3. E-miles
There are several online survey sites that let you earn FF miles but my favorite is e-miles. The surveys are quick and easy (no more than 5 questions each time). So its easy to knock out a bunch in a quick amount of time. You can get between 5 and 10 miles a survey. They also have special "offers" that allow you to sign up with sponsers for additional miles - but this is by no means required. Once you have 500 you can add them to your FF mile account. They don't have all carriers, so double check that yours is available before taking a ton of surveys.

4. Shop Online
Pretty much every major loyalty program has an online mall. The basic concept is that you head to their web site, click on a link to a store you want to shop at, and make your purchases. You then get miles for every dollar you spend. Amounts varry, but I've seen as much as 10 miles to the dollar. You can pretty much find any online retailer from J.Crew to Target to Groupon, so its a great way to get the most bang for your buck on things you planned to buy anyway. You also should check out the 'deals' section of your provider, usually things like signing up for netflix or direct TV will also give you a miles bonus - as long as you do it through your carrier's web site.


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