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Midyear miles check-up: Is it time to change your miles-earning approach?

SmarterTravel

By July, many New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Without someone encouraging you to keep up your good habits, you are likely to resort to bad ones. Consider me your cheerleader in the quest to get the most out of your frequent flyer program. At the end of 2005, I [% 280537 | | gave you some guidelines %] for becoming a better miles maven. Now it’s time to check back on your progress and rework your goals for the rest of the year.

1. I will rethink my miles card

Columnist Tim Winship has written many articles on new and improved credit cards in the last few months. At this point, you should feel quite confident in your ability to choose the credit card that’s right for you. If you haven’t done so yet, take a look at the benefits of your credit card and compare them with the other miles- and points-earning cards on the market. You may be able to get more perks by switching cards.

Once you have the perfect credit card, your job is not finished. You’ll want to make sure you’re reaping the rewards that are due to you. For example, if your credit card offers reduced-miles awards, you might consider planning your next vacation to one of the discounted destinations. If your card gives double miles for purchases at grocery stores and gas stations, make sure you always use that credit card at those retailers. When you align your spending habits with your desire for more miles, you’ll optimize the benefits you receive from your credit card.

2. I will focus my mileage earning in one program

This resolution is the toughest for me because airfares are shooting sky high this year. Neither you nor I want to pay hundreds of dollars more for a connecting flight on our primary airlines when we can book nonstop flights for less on a competitor. The key here is to be smart about your decision making. If the lowest fares are consistently on the same airline, you might want to switch your loyalty to that carrier. I fly enough that I’m currently focusing on two carriers in the hopes of reaching elite status on both. You may decide that award seats are too hard to come by, and you choose to always book the cheapest flight possible, regardless of airline. Different strategies work for different flyers, but you will succeed if you can pick a course of action and stick with it.

3. I will get rid of my orphan miles

This is the easy one—mostly because options for redeeming or transferring miles are minimal. You don’t have to agonize over your choices when only one or two exist. And if you want a choice, act quickly because possibilities are shrinking. For example, United and Diners Club parted ways at the end of April, so you can no longer transfer Mileage Plus miles into or out of the Club Rewards program. For more ideas on how to transfer miles, you can read our [% 284793 | | story %] on this topic.

For all the hoarders out there, please realize that it’s not helpful to hold onto miles in a program that you’re obviously not using. Instead, be a good Samaritan and donate the miles to that airline’s charity program, or use those miles for magazine subscriptions. If you’re close to a free award on an airline you no longer fly regularly, enroll your credit card in that carrier’s dining-for-miles program and eat your way to an award flight. Alternately, you can do your birthday, holiday, or back-to-school shopping through its mileage mall to snag those remaining miles.

4. I won’t dump my miles just because the airline is bankrupt

Luckily for the airline industry, no major U.S. airlines have filed for Chapter 11 in 2006 (probably because most of them are currently in or have recently been in bankruptcy protection). Only Delta and Northwest are still struggling for survival, and so far, liquidation is not in the cards. So your miles remain safe, though you should keep tabs on the court proceedings and union negotiations.

You may, however, want to spend your miles in the near future to avoid the devaluation of those miles. Award seats are scarcer than ever and the value of a mile is shrinking rather than growing. If you want to get the most from your miles, you should think about planning a trip rather than saving them for retirement.

5. I will take advantage of airline partners

Many frequent flyers experience buyer’s remorse when they complete a transaction and suddenly realize they forgot to earn miles. I’m guilty every time I shop online; I always forget to check the mileage malls before I click “buy.” If you’re struggling with this resolution, you need to create reminders for yourself. Make your airline’s mileage mall your Internet homepage. Put a sticky note on your computer or in your wallet that says “Can I earn miles for this purchase?” When you’re planning a trip, leave your frequent flyer membership card in a visible spot on your desk or put it in your wallet just behind your credit card, so you’ll remember to request miles for your hotel stay and car rental. Once you get in the habit of checking to see if you can earn miles for any purchase or service, you’ll never miss out on another mile-earning opportunity.

Good luck with your resolutions! Just remember that earning miles is so much easier than losing 10 pounds, giving up smoking, or sticking to any other New Year’s resolution you may have.

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