Anyone who has traveled a lot for business or pleasure inevitably learns the secrets to flying and getting rewarded for it. Below are some things we have learned over the years trying to optimize our frequent flyer miles. So whether you travel every week or only once a year, you’ll want to remember these pointers to get the most out of your miles.

  1. Register for bonus mileage promotions   Check for frequent flyer mileage promotions prior to purchasing and flying. A good site for aggregating these promotions is MileMaven.com. Alternatively, you could go to each airline’s “special offers” section to find these promotions. Make sure to register for promotions (if applicable) ahead of time to maximize earning miles for your flight.
  2. Earn miles through car rental bookings    Most large rental companies have partnerships with certain airlines so you can earn valuable frequent flyer miles with your car rental. So find out which airlines are applicable to your rental, and make sure to provide the rental company with your frequent flyer membership number at the time of booking or rental pick-up. In addition, you can earn double or triple miles if you search on the airline’s “special offers” section for those promotional and corporate booking codes. Southwest Airlines often runs double and triple credit promotions with Hertz, Alamo, and Budget where you not only earn you bonus miles, but will also get you a corporate discount on your car rental when you enter their specific corporate code.  There is one caveat: car rental companies now apply a surcharge (i.e. – $1.00/rental day) for earning miles for rentals.  So if you don’t earn enough miles (i.e – 100 miles roughly equates to $1.00 value) to offset the surcharge, you may want to ignore this tip.
  3. Earn miles through hotel bookings   Many large hotel chains have partnerships with airlines as well.  If you are staying at a hotel like Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, or Hyatt, you can earn miles for your stay.  Depending on the hotel program, you may be able to earn both hotel points and miles (i.e. – Hilton).  So if the program does not offer both, it’s up to you to decide which one you would prefer.
  4. Earn miles by shopping online   Several airlines award miles if you shop online, such as Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping and United Airlines Mileage Plus Shopping.  You have to first register your frequent flyer account number and click through a link provided by the airline, which will track your purchases and award your account when you complete an online purchase.
  5. Earn miles dining out  Another way to earn miles is registering for dining programs provided by airlines, such as Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Dining and United Airlines MileagePlus Dining. Once you register your frequent flyer account number, you can add credit cards that you frequently use when you dine out.  Miles will automatically be credited to your frequent flyer account when you use that credit card a participating restaurants.
  6. Keep your frequent flyer account active    Many frequent flyer programs will zero out your account if you do not keep your account active.  This means if your account does not have any miles earned or used for a certain amount of time (varies by airline, but usually 18 to 24 months), all the miles in your account will expire.  A good way to keep your account active is to either use your miles for anything your can (flights, magazine subscriptions, etc) or earn miles in various ways (enrolling in online shopping programs, dining programs, or other ways to earn miles for car rentals, hotel stays, etc).
  7. Sign up for multiple airline credit cards    This is fairly obvious, but using airline credit cards are a great way to earn frequent flyer miles, especially if you can pay off your credit card bill every month.  However, one thing frequent flyers often overlook is signing up for both a personal and a business credit card with the same airline and getting the bonus sign up promotion.  Anyone can apply for a business credit card regardless of if you have a company, but you may have to wait 3 months between applications.  It’s a great way to boost your account with miles, especially if you fly Southwest Airlines, because this is the easiest way to earn your Southwest Airlines Companion Pass by earning 50,000 bonus points for each card you are approved for.
  8. Use frequent flyer miles when it makes sense   It is natural to want to save up your miles, but often it makes sense to use miles rather than purchasing. In order to determine whether or not to use your miles, find out (1) the price of the flight you’d like to take AND (2) how many frequent flyer miles it would take to get that exact same flight. Then, calculate the price per frequent mile for that flight by dividing the price of the flight by the miles required. For example, if a flight from New York to Los Angeles costs $500, and alternatively, you could use 25,000 frequent flyer miles to get an equivalent flight, the value of that flight would be $0.02 per mile. In this scenario, you should consider using your frequent flyer miles since the value is greater than a penny per mile ($0.01/mile) as a general rule of thumb.

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