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Even if you never fly or use an airline-affiliated credit card, you can easily protect the miles you've already earned
By George Hobica
A couple of years ago I got a nasty surprise: my hard-earned JetBlue miles had "expired" due to "inactivity" in my account. It happens to thousands of people every year, usually with no warning.
Keeping track of the airlines' policies concerning the expiration of frequent flyer miles is a full time job. And while Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines miles don't expire for now (that is, unless the member expires first, most airlines will wipe out your account if it's inactive for 12 to 18 months. There are some exceptions: British Airways points expire after 36 months. Air Canada's miles expire after 7 years, whether or not there's account activity. Spirit Airlines' miles now expire after a paltry 3 months of inactivity. True, some airlines let you re-activate expired miles, but it will cost you.
But for most airlines, there's absolutely no excuse to let your miles expire, even if you don't fly or don't have an airline-branded credit card. You probably already do things that you could be earning miles for, as well as protecting the miles you have, but you're not aware of the possibilities. Do you make charitable donations? You could get bonus miles and extend your current miles for doing so. Planning on signing up for Netflix? Don't do it without going through your airline's website. About to have your taxes done by H&R Block? Do it through the US Airways website and you'll get 4 bonus miles for each dollar spent. Even a 99-cent iTunes purchase will earn you two Rapid Rewards points over at Southwest Airlines, extending your points for another 24 months.
Here are the top ways of adding activity to your account without flying and without using an airline credit card.
1. Dining for miles
This is one of the easiest ways. Although the restaurants participating in the airlines' dining for miles programs may not be Michelin 3-star establishments, there's probably at least one spot near you that you'd be happy eating at. In addition to generous miles per dollar awards, there are sign up bonuses. American and US Airways, for example offer 1000 miles after your first meal.
Do you shop? Of course you do! But if you're not getting bonus miles, you're throwing good money away and failing to protect your frequent flyer account. Over 400 online merchants—Walmart, Drugstore.com, PETCO, JC Penney, Ann Taylor, Nike, and on and on--participate in the airlines' shopping mall programs. Even if you don't use an airline credit card, you'll get anywhere from 1 to 12 bonus miles for each dollar spent (sometimes more). And while it used to be that you had to shop online to get the miles, increasingly merchants such as Sunglass Hut are offering miles even for shopping in store or by phone. See links to the airlines' malls.
3. Renting a car
Never rent a car without giving the rental agency your frequent flyer number. You needn't fly in order to get the miles. Just be aware that you might pay a small fee for collecting the miles.
4. Staying in a hotel
Most hotel chains participate. Stay in a hotel, give your frequent flyer number when you make the reservation or check in, get new miles, and protect the miles you have. (Some discounted hotel rates don't qualify for miles, so check before you book.)
5. Sending flowers
Valentine's Day looming? Mother's Day? Just because? You'll get 20 United miles per dollar at FTD Gifts and Flowers. Most other airlines participate.
6. Taking a cruise or vacation
Airlines offers big mileage bonuses on these when you book through their sites.
Transfer $100,000 into a Fidelity investment account and you'll get 50,000 United miles; $25,000 earns 15,000 miles. TDAmeritrade offers up to 25,000 miles for a new account. Other airlines offer similar perks.
8. Taking out a mortgage
Earn up to 50,000 United miles, for example, with a mortgage from Chase bank.
9. Signing up for Netflix
You'll get 1,500 American Aadvantage miles when you do. Other airlines participate. Planning on extending your Verizon or ATT Wireless contract for another two years? Do it through your airline's website and get bonus miles.
10. Donating to a charity
Give to the USO, Unicef, or cancer research (up to 10 miles per dollar donated) and you'll get American Aadvantage miles; you might help save lives, plus extend the life of your own miles.
How soon will your miles expire if there's no activity in your account? Click here for a handy chart showing the airlines' various policies.
Follow @airfarewatchdog on Twitter to learn about the latest unadvertised (and advertised) airfare sales.
Posted by Ricky Radka on Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Fare of the Day: Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) $457 RT, including all taxes. SWISS is the carrier on the international leg of the flight.
This fare can be found on select dates in February and March on Vayama.com. You must be flexible with dates to find this price, but it is mostly availble for midweek departures.
Categories: Airfare Tips
Posted by Peter Thornton on Monday, January 16, 2012
It’s been nearly nine months since the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that airlines and travel agents, including online travel agencies, would be required to advertise and display airfares with all mandatory taxes and fees included. After a few extensions, that rule will finally go into effect. On January 26, 2012 all airfares must be shown with taxes and fees included. That means the price we report for domestic flights will appear to have suddenly gone up by $20 to $40. Here's the background.
On international flights, this is a big win for consumers, because international taxes can sometimes be more than the base fare and this can be quite the sticker shock when the final price is displayed.
As you can see in the example below, flights from Boston to London are being advertised on American’s main page at $250 each way. On the next few pages, you see a fare of $41 from BOS to LHR and $458 returning from LHR to BOS for a total round-trip fare of $499. However, on the final page, your total trip cost after the taxes are added is $697, which is almost $200 higher than what is initially shown. You'll also see on Orbitz the difference is even greater, with the screen showing an $81 round-trip airfare in bold print with $616 in taxes and fees making up the rest of the actual $697 total price.
This is why we at Airfarewatchdog have always displayed international fares with taxes included. For domestic flights, these mandatory taxes and fees usually add up to about $21 round-trip for nonstop flights and typically range within a few dollars of $40 for connecting flights (depending on which airport you are connecting through). For flights that have a stop, but keep the same flight number and don't change planes, taxes tend to be around $30 round-trip. Since we currently post most of our domestic fares as just the base fare, we want to give you a heads up that although fares will appear to go up $20 to $40 later this month, they will now include taxes and fees.
For example, below are two Airfarewatchdog-verified fares for nonstop flights from Detroit to Chicago-Midway. These fares are both the same price, with the Southwest fare showing $98 RT pre-tax and the Delta fare showing $119 RT including taxes. We found the Delta fare on Orbitz, which shows tax-included fares on its flexible search, and the Southwest fare on Southwest.com, which shows only the base fare initially. So, even though it looks like the Southwest flight is cheaper, remember that after taxes they are the exact same price.
Another example on a connecting flight from Minneapolis to Ontario shows the Southwest fare at $268 RT pre-tax and the United fare at $309 including taxes. Once again, these are basically the same price in the end, with Southwest.com giving us the base fare initially and Orbitz giving us the tax-included fare initially. Also, please note that the outbound flight on Southwest has no plane change, which results in a lower tax total, and on Orbitz the taxes differ slightly depending on the airline due to different connecting cities. Starting Jan. 26, 2012, all sites will be including taxes for all fares.
So, why haven’t we done this all along? Based on the way airlines release fares, our methodology includes searching over a 330-day travel period to find the lowest fare we could recommend on a specific route. Our searches typically brought back only base fares. As long as the airlines listed fares the same way, we were able to give an apples-to-apples comparison on the base price. At the same time, we provided as much guidance as possible on what to expect for additional taxes and fees. In an effort to search as many routes as possible and include all airlines selling a particular fare, we opted for displaying the base fare only for domestic airfares. It would be significantly more time consuming, and reduce the number of fares we could find and share, to find the taxes for each airfare on each airline since the taxes would differ slightly between airlines depending on connecting airport and how many connections. Though the displayed fares may appear to be higher, the upside to the new rule is you will know right away exactly what you’ll be paying for your flight.
As for baggage fees, that’s a different story. Since checking baggage is not technically required for air transportation, the rule doesn’t require baggage fees to be included in the advertised airfare. However, there will also be a new requirement for airlines and travel agencies to display the specific baggage fees for all potential classifications in the confirmation email after booking. This means that they can’t just give a range of fees, but must include the specific fee for the customer purchasing the ticket or a list of every possible baggage fee that could pertain to the customer (online purchase, at airport, elite status, etc.). This info can be displayed with a hyperlink directly to a specific location on the airline website listing all baggage fees. Most airlines have already provided such pages listing optional fees and we’ve compiled all the links for you here. Of course, finding out the baggage fees after your purchase may make you decide you don’t want to purchase that ticket anymore. Along with these new regulations, there will be a 24-hour grace period for all airline ticket purchases so you can cancel your reservation and get your money back within 24-hours of purchasing.
We will continue to pass along the best fares we find and link you to where we find that price. With the new rule beginning January 26, all sites should be initially advertising all their fares including taxes and that will be the price that we pass along to you.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Friday, January 13, 2012
Fly from Los Angeles to Rarotonga, Cook Islands for $937 round-trip, including all taxes, as part of the current sale from Air New Zealand.
This fare is valid for Saturday/Sunday travel in April and May.
By George Hobica
Will there come a day when your pilot speaks those words over the PA system?
Although few industry observers, analysts, and pundits are willing to predict when that might happen, I say, why not? Why not consolidate and rationalize the global commercial aviation industry and allow airlines to merge across international borders? Why not let Singapore Airlines buy American Airines if it wishes, or United Airlines own 100 percent of an Asian-based carrier?
After all, the auto industry has globalized, as have the banking, oil, and mining industries, to name a few.
Let's take the global auto industry as an example. People no longer ride around in Studebakers, Plymouths, Packards, Saabs, and Saturns. The smaller players have all gone out of business or merged with larger manufacturers. Today, we basically have a dozen or so large conglomerates--Volkswagen, Ford, Fiat/Chrysler, GM, Daimler, Toyota, Renault, etc.--that trade, invest, build and innovate across international borders. There are no broad restrictions on auto makers investing in each other or buying a rival (e.g., the purchase of Chrysler by Daimler and subsequent investment by Fiat in Chrysler). But it's illegal for a foreign airline to own more than 25 percent of a U.S. airline, and E.U. law prohibits a non-European airline from owning more than 49 percent of a European carrier. Fine, but in the same way that they can't economically sustain domestic automobile brands, how can Poland, New Zealand, or even Canada, justify supporting a national flag carrier?
Why? The old argument had something to do with war time readiness. We'd need to commandeer commercial airline fleets, went the thinking, in order to move troops to foreign shores. But a bigger explanation has to do with something much more silly: national pride and entrepreneurial ego (even Donald Trump tried his hand at running an airline). While we're perfectly happy riding around in Toyotas built in the U.S., we're not quite ready to fly from Washington to Dallas on British Airways or a multi-national airline named SkyTeam or OneWorld. Or are we?
I'll go out on the proverbial limb and suggest that in 20 or 30 years the current airline alliances--Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and OneWorld--will morph into real airlines. Sure, there will always be niche players, just as there are in the auto industry (Volvo, Telsa, Jaguar/Land Rover, etc.). But as the domestic U.S. airline industry continues on its path of breathtaking consolidation and Chapter 9 filings (so long Northwest, America West, Continental, Eastern, Pan Am, TWA, Aloha, ATA, Airtran, Midwest, etc.) it might open the way for unfettered foreign ownership, trans-national mega mergers, or at least increased permission for foreign airlines to fly domestic U.S. routes and vice versa.
What do you think? Should the global aviation industry rationalize in the same way other industries have? Should foreign airline companies be allowed to fully own U.S. airlines and vice versa? Should foreign airlines at least be able to fly domestic U.S. routes?
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Friday, January 13, 2012
Afraid of losing all those hard-earned frequent flyer miles? Please refer to the following cheat sheet for mileage policies listed by airline:
Remember, even if you have no plans to travel, you can preserve your miles by making an inexpensive purchase online. Generally, these online shopping partners offer at least one mile per dollar spent, but sometimes they award 10 miles or more. And if you use your airline affiliated credit card, you get an extra mile, but the credit card miles pale in comparison to the shopping miles you can earn.
Scores of well known retailers participate in these airline malls, including Brooks Brothers, Circuit City, The Container Store, Dell Computer, Drugstore.com, Sears, Target, and Walmart, to name but a few. See our guide to preserving miles.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Thursday, January 12, 2012
Fly from New York to Vail, CO for $186 round-trip, including all taxes, on Continental Airlines. This fare is available for travel over Valentine's Day, as well as other dates through October 2012. Travel is valid on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Tickets require a 14-day advance purchase. Seats are limited.
For booking info, see our fare details.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Fly from Kansas City to San Diego for $161 round-trip, including all taxes, on Frontier Airlines.
This fare is valid for travel through early September, 7-days a week, with a 14-day advance purchase. No minimum stay required.
See our fare details for booking info.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Alaska Airlines has released their latest batch of Web Specials. Valid travel dates vary by route, so check our fare details for more info. Seats are limited and may not be available on all flights or all days. Some markets may not operate daily service. All fares require immediate purchase.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Fly from Washington DC to Spokane for $241 round-trip, including all taxes, on Alaska Airlines.
This fare is valid for travel in February only, any day of the week, with no minimum stay.
For booking info, see our fare details.