Special to Airfarewatchdog.com
FEEL like going to London, but don't want to pay the tab for airfare? Easy – sign up for a credit card. Recently, we've seen several offers for up to 100,000 bonus miles from the likes of British Airways and American Airlines (as of "going to press" the best AA deal with Citibank is 50,000 miles but that could change). As airlines look for more ways to make money, they are partnering up with credit card companies and other service providers, who then use miles as enticements to sell their product. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting ways to bulk up your balance without getting on a plane.
GET THE CARD. Which one's right for you? Well, for starters, pick an airline you're going to use, or, if it's a non-specific card, that it benefits you on an airline you plan to use in the future. Also make sure that the card makes every penny you spend – on land, sea or up in the air – pay off in points. I've signed up for the Virgin Atlantic/American Express/Bank of America card which gives me 1.5 miles (rather than the usual 1 mile) for every dollar charged, plus bonus miles. The BA card is great because if you spend enough each year you get a "free" companion frequent flyer ticket (spend however many miles for one frequent flyer seat, and you get a second seat, paying "only" for the taxes and fuel surcharges, which although hefty are still far less than you'd pay for a first or business class seat if you paid cash). Check out this useful advice from Conde Nast Traveler's Wendy Perrin.
SHOP RIGHT. It's amazing how many frequent travelers still don't know how much of their shopping can be done through their favorite airline – United, for example, has an entire online mall – MileagePlusShopping.com—where every purchase is worth points. Buying a new iPad? Don't just shop the Apple Store. Shop it through United's site, and make that pricey iPad pay its way a little. If you're a member of United's Mileage Plus program, the site is really one of the very few shopping bookmarks you'll need on your browser.
BUY A HOUSE. No, really – whether buying or selling real estate, register with Miles4RealEstate.com and get 10,000 free miles from your choice of 15 different airlines for every $100,000 spent or earned. This works great if you're in New York maybe less so if you are buying a house in, say, Detroit. Getting a mortgage? Chances are good there are some miles in it for you – for example, Wells Fargo will give you 1,000 AAdvantage miles for every $10,000 financed on a new purchase.
GET A QUOTE In the market for some new insurance? Hate how they'll always take every speck of your personal information before they'll even give you any information you can use? Make them pay – a little, anyway. Delta Skymiles members, for example, get 1,500 miles when they contact Sentry Insurance for a quote. In addition, the agency is currently running a promotion to award 250,000 Skymiles to a lucky qualifying entrant. All this, without having to buy any insurance?
There are worse things.
JUST SIGN UP It might seem a little obvious, but how about just signing up for an airline's frequent flyer program directly? Sign up for Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan for example, and get 500 free miles as a thank you. There are other deals for linking your Twitter account to a frequent flyer program, checking in with FourSquare, and other painless activities. The miles do add up! And sometimes it actually makes sense to buy miles, as when there's a 100% bonus offer (buy a mile, get one free).
MAKE YOUR OTHER TRAVEL PAY. Every time a smart traveler checks into their hotel, they make sure they're triple-dipping. Are you? One, you should be using your pennies-for-points airline credit card. Two, you should be staying somewhere that benefits your hotel rewards program – for example, Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards are easy-to-manage programs to join and participate in. Three, ensure that a frequent flier number is on your reservation, in case that bumps up your balance as well. All of the above goes for rental cars too.
We're just scratching the surface here. To really get down and dirty with miles and points, check out these specialist sites: