John and I are getting to ready to book our next trip with our airline reward miles. This is our fifth free flight in the last year and a half.
We are always surprised at how many travelers we meet who don’t take advantage of air miles. Studies have shown that about 50% of the people who fly are not affiliated with frequent flyer programs. I’ve always wondered why? I can understand the reasoning behind someone who only flies once or twice a year, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the expats and long-term travelers that I meet over here who don’t collect air miles, and I’m not just talking about a few. The majority of people that we meet over here do not take advantage of these programs. We’ve talked at length with several friends about this, and while they are interested, they never seem to get around to signing up.
John and I take full advantage of these programs, and the rewards definitely pay off. There are two ways to get more bang for your buck when it comes to frequent flyer programs. It’s easy to enroll in a program and start collecting air mile points for each flight you make. I joined Air Canada’s Aeroplan program back in 1990 just to cash in on frequent flyer miles for my trip to South America. After that, I got my own air mile reward card which I used to gain more miles. It became a matter of using my card at affiliate shops and services, and before long, I had racked up a lot of points.
Every trip we make home and back earns us an easy 16,000 miles. We have never used our reward miles for flights from North America to Asia. We don’t want to miss out on collecting more miles! We have, however, used our miles to upgrade on our intercontinental flights. We almost always use our miles for short flights within the US and Canada. Continental flights within the U.S can be purchased with air miles for as little as 25,000. As for Asian flights, just last year, we were able to fly from Taipei to Japan on free reward miles.
When I met John, we started collecting on his United Mileage Plus Visa. We quickly realized the benefits of using his credit card everywhere it is accepted. We earned extra miles with each purchase and continued to build up our miles. By 2005, we were using our miles to purchase tickets for expensive flights between Minneapolis and Ottawa and saved ourselves $700 every time we flew to visit each other. We’ve always been careful to make purchases that we can afford and have never had any payment problems.
There are pros and cons to each program. The first danger lies in being able to pay off your balance in full each month. No reward scheme is worthwhile if your interest payments outweigh the rewards. However, if you do avoid the interest, you will essentially earn by spending. It’s also important to check whether or not you can pay cash to go further than your accrued points will allow. Most programs will allow this, but some airlines apply restrictions, such as where you can fly to. Some cards offer discounts at partner stores. We’ve taken advantage of this by staying at hotels that offer triple reward miles or a discount on room rates. Hidden costs can also be added when claiming free flights. Usually, this involves applicable taxes and surcharges. For example, the flights that I mentioned above charged us tax, but we paid less than $100 for a $700 flight.
Another thing to be aware of is instant cash transactions. Interest starts adding up as soon as you make a transaction, so we almost always avoid taking out any kind of cash advance on our credit cards. You’ll also want to check to see if the card you are using has an annual fee. There are lots of cards out there with no yearly fee. We pay an annual fee on our card, but we get great miles out of it. However, on my Canadian credit card, I don’t pay any annual fees at all and I’ve still enjoyed free flights.
Today, with a conglomeration of major airlines across the world, frequent flyer programs are becoming even more beneficial to regular flyers.
Chris Guillebeaue, author of The Art of Nonconformity has made an art of traveling on air miles. Check out his impressive stats and helpful hints to find out how he manages to flee for free almost everywhere he goes.