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Online resources for mileage-earners

SmarterTravel

Access to information was always the great promise of the Internet. Among the beneficiaries of this abundance of information are those who participate in mileage programs. Here, arranged roughly in order from the general to the specific, are the online resources that I use myself (and to which, in some cases, I contribute), as well as those I find myself repeatedly recommending to others.

Travel portals

Back in the early days of the World Wide Web, there were two species of websites: niche content sites (tips for efficient packing, how to get the most out of a laptop on the road, etc.), and portals. Since there was (and is) no master registry of websites, it was the job of portals to do for subject matter and websites what the telephone book does for individuals and their phone numbers. While there are far fewer portals today, the function they perform is as important as ever.

JohnnyJet.com
JohnnyJet.com bills itself as “The Ultimate Travel Portal.” It’s a compendium of travel-related links, categorized by “Airport Info,” “Aviation,” “Bored In Your Hotel Room,” and so on. If you’re looking for a specific site and don’t know the URL (the web address), or you don’t know whether there is a site devoted to a particular topic, this is a good place to begin the search.

TheTicket.com
This is a travel portal with a geographic focal point: Atlanta. But while the links are deepest for Atlanta?and of course, for its two hometown carriers, AirTran and Delta?they range far and wide as well.

Yahoo!
Don’t forget the old stalwart, Yahoo! A keyword search on Yahoo! is always a good first step. Or visit their Travel and Transportation section and let your fingers do the walking from there.

Frequent flyer sites

With more than 70 million travelers participating in frequent flyer programs worldwide, it stands to reason that the programs would attract dedicated Internet coverage. The following three sites feature news and offers, links to the major programs, commentary, and advice.

SmarterTravel.com
SmarterTravel.com (the very site you’re currently logged onto) is a general travel site, with several specialized content areas, including one dedicated to frequent flyer programs. That’s where you’ll find the “Joy of Miles” series, as well as a comprehensive FAQ (frequently asked questions) section.

InsideFlyer
This is the online version of the print magazine of the same name.

FrequentFlier.com
FrequentFlier.com is the website published by the author of this article, Tim Winship, who covers frequent flyer programs for SmarterTravel.com and several other online and offline publications.

Forums

The forum, or online bulletin board, is one of the Internet’s most bountiful offerings. Forum visitors can post questions or comments, or simply “lurk,” following the conversational “threads” of other posters. Because forums focus on very specific topics, they generally attract an audience with substantial expertise in that subject.

Before jumping in with queries or recommendations, be sure to read the forum’s guidelines and spend some time observing the focus, etiquette, and style of veteran participants. Old-timers can be intolerant of those rehashing old topics or straying “off topic.”

There are two such forums dedicated to mileage-related discussion.

FlyerTalk
FlyerTalk is not only the largest mileage forum, it is probably the largest travel forum overall. In the frequent flyer area, you’ll find a sub-section for each major airline and hotel program.

The FrequentFlier Forum
If FlyerTalk is the megamall of mileage forums, the FrequentFlier Forum is the boutique?intimate, friendly, relaxed.

Newsletters

Online newsletters share two notable (and desirable) characteristics with forums. First, unlike print publications, which require days or even weeks of pre-delivery production, an e-mail newsletter can be written and distributed in hours, collapsing the time between newsworthy events or announcements and their coverage. And secondly, e-mail newsletters?presumably because it’s simply a matter of hitting the “Reply” key?are interactive to a degree that their counterparts in other media could never be. That means that readers can often expect to respond to an e-mail newsletter, and in turn receive a response, in a matter of hours.

For the mileage set, there are three e-mail newsletters worth considering. All are published in conjunction with established travel websites, and feature late-breaking program news and special offers, advice, etc. And all are free.

Mile Alert
Mile Alert is the twice-monthly e-mail newsletter from SmarterTravel.com.

The FrequentFlier Crier
The Crier is the companion newsletter from the FrequentFlier.com website, published every week.

MilesLink
MilesLink, the e-mail newsletter of InsideFlyer, alternates between frequent flyer program topics one week and general travel content the next.

Complaint sites

The Internet has made it possible for anyone to disseminate his personal views for all to see. One manifestation of this democratization of publishing has been the proliferation of websites dedicated to complaining and, more positively, to petitioning for change.

In the travel arena, such sites have allowed individuals with a common interest (and complaint) to combine their voices to communicate their complaints and suggestions to airlines, and to the media.

Having served on several occasions as an unofficial mediator between consumer groups and airlines, I can attest to the fact that such sites do indeed get the attention of airline executives. (The same is true of online forums, incidentally: Airlines monitor them as a way of taking the temperature of their customers.)

Because they’re driven by current events, such sites appear and disappear as consumers’ moods swing between sour and sanguine. A couple of the more enduring examples are:

SaveSkyMiles
As the name suggests, SaveSkyMiles is a website created in direct response to changes made to Delta’s frequent flyer program. The complainants are mostly Delta elite-level customers, according to the site’s pointed profile: 3,890 members who collectively have earned 2,239,750,013 Delta miles (as of this column’s publication date).

Untied
“Untied” is, of course, “United” with two letters transposed. The site began life as a chronicle of the efforts of a single United frequent flyer to receive a satisfactory response to a 1996 complaint letter. It has blossomed into a robust source of United news (with a notably critical slant) and a repository of unresolved complaints.

Mileage managers

Many frequent travelers participate in more airline and hotel programs than they can effectively manage. The solution: mileage-management software, which tracks earnings in multiple programs and provides users with a consolidated, comprehensive picture of their various mileage accounts.

MileageManager
For $14.95 a year, MileageManager gives subscribers consolidated statements, automatically pulling together mileage balances, recent transactions, and other up-to-date data from all active program accounts.

MilePro
MilePro’s pricing is similar, but it takes a different approach to data acquisition. Rather than being Web-based?and potentially insecure?MilePro runs on the user’s own computer.

Other miles-and-points resources

AwardGuard
AwardGuard is insurance for frequent flyer miles, protecting miles in most programs, up to a value of $7,500, for $119. (As of this column’s publication date, AwardGuard is temporarily suspending the AwardGuard benefit to new members.)

MileDonor.com
For anyone considering the donation of frequent flyer miles to charity, MileDonor is a must-visit site. There’s information on donating through the programs’ own channels, as well as tips on assisting charitable organizations with no formal affiliation to a mileage program.

Points.com
Points.com allows users to convert miles and points among participating programs, including those of Air Canada, Alaska, American, America West, Delta, Midwest, and Priority Club. (As we’ve pointed out elsewhere, however, beware of the high cost of such conversions.)

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