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Beating Your Airline's Frequent Flyer Program

by Jack Penning

Posted on June 4, 2007 at 8:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:39 PM

Today American Airlines announced it would join many other airlines by cutting - in half - the amount of time you get to redeem your frequent flyer miles in its "AAdvantage" program. You get just 18-months without any account activity before your miles expire. It's the same deal on both United and US Airways.

What many don't know is there are ways around the system. As long as you post some kind of activity, your miles stay in your account. So, if your miles are expiring, say, next month, you can just donate a small portion to the airline's charity, which will buy you another 18-months to use what's left in your account.

Another way to ensure your miles never expire is to use your airline's credit card. That way you're posting some kind of activity every month, even if you just charge one lunch or dinner a month. As long as your posting new activity, your expiration date stays 18-months away.

One of the most frequent complaints our viewers e-mail me about is how few award seats are available on each flight, and how difficult it is to book an award ticket. Airlines are opening fewer seats for award travel, especially to the most sought-after destinations. In some cases, certain flights have no seats available at all. On other cases, the airline will only open seats when bookings are lagging, just days before the flight departs. With all that in mind, here are some quick tips on how to get the most out of your frequent flyer miles:

1) Go When No One Else Can. I use this one all the time. Take time off in the "shoulder" season, and travel then. I like to take a week in October and a week at the beginning of December. If you fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, at these times of the year, you'll almost always find the seat you want. And if you don't use miles, you'll often find the lowest fares of the year.

2) Call Early. Call Often. Airlines beginning booking seats 11-months out. So as soon as you're 11-months from the date you want to travel, start calling your airline's frequent flyer number. And if they can't find your ticket the first time, don't give up. Seats, like any other inventory, in any other business, get moved around the airline's computer system all the time. They open new seats, and remove others, frequently. So call at least once a week, until you get the flight you want.

3) Buy the Ticket. Use Miles for the Upgrade. Airlines are a lot more easygoing when it comes to letting you use your miles if you've already spent some money with them. It's a good idea to buy a coach ticket for your trip, then call and use your frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business or first. This is especially fun when the ticket is cheap in the first place.

Every airline's frequent flyer program is different. It's important to know your airline's rules before you book. Listed below are links to the frequent flyer programs of each and every airline serving PDX.

Air Canada: Aeroplan
Alaska Airlines: Mileage Plan
American Airlines: AAdvantage
Big Sky Airlines: MVP Club
Continental Airlines: OnePass
Delta Air Lines: SkyMiles
Frontier Airlines: EarlyReturns
Hawaiian Airlines: HawaiianMiles
Horizon Air: Mileage Plan
jetBlue Airways: trueBlue
Lufthansa: Miles & More
Mexicana: Frecuenta
Northwest Airlines: WorldPerks
Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards
United Airlines: Mileage Plus
US Airways: Dividend Miles

Happy flying!

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