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Talk your way to 10,000 bonus miles with telephone partners

If you’ve been putting off calling your great aunt in Texas or your college roommate in Connecticut, here’s a reason to pick up the telephone: five frequent flyer miles for every dollar you spend on phone calls. Sprint, MCI, and AT&T all have partnerships with airlines that entitle you to earn miles for switching your long distance phone service and dialing away.

If you’re going to talk on the phone anyway, you’ll get extra value out of your calls if you’re earning miles at the same time. Talk enough and you could earn a free ticket to visit your faraway friends and relatives so you can finally chat face to face.

The plans

If you’re a frequent flyer with Alaska, America West, Midwest, United, or US Airways, consider switching your long distance service to Sprint. Sprint offers 5,000 miles for signing up and another 1,000 if you apply online, as well as five miles per dollar spent on phone calls. Sign up with MCI and earn 3,000 miles on Northwest plus five miles per dollar spent, or three credits on Southwest plus one credit for every $150 spent.

AT&T partners with American, Continental, and Delta. New customers can earn 5,000 miles for signing up and five miles per dollar spent, while existing customers can earn 2,000 miles for adding AT&T local service to their long-distance plan.

Mileage-earning strategies

Our first strategy is simple: Sign up. If you aren’t earning miles for phone service, switch to a plan that allows you to continue your quest for a free ticket while you chat away. Most of these offers are for new customers, however; if you already use the long-distance plan of the company that partners with your preferred airline, consider switching to a different carrier for six months and then switching back. Note that no airline partners with multiple phone companies, so you can’t keep switching back and forth to repeatedly earn bonus miles.

Our second strategy is less intuitive: Be patient. Although the airlines and phone companies advertise thousands of bonus miles for signing up, you don’t receive the bonus miles immediately after switching your service. In the case of AT&T and Sprint, you will receive 1,000 miles after each monthly bill, and those miles may take six to eight weeks to post. Therefore, you’ll need to stick to the same phone service for up to seven months before all the miles will be deposited into your account. If you switch providers too early, you won’t be entitled to the full bonus. Similarly, all of your MCI miles or credits will be deposited six to eight weeks after your second month as a customer; therefore, you need to stay with that company at least four months before you’ll earn the full miles.

Our last strategy looks at the big picture: Don’t be seduced by bonus mile offers. We always recommend earning as many miles as you can, but don’t sacrifice savings and quality of service for miles. If one carrier has a better plan for your location and calling needs, it may not be worthwhile for you to switch to a different provider just so you can earn miles. You can easily calculate the difference in costs and determine just how much you’re spending for those miles. If you’re paying more than two cents per mile, you may want to reconsider your choice to switch carriers; with the money you save on phone bills, you could always buy a plane ticket.

Going wireless

You can also earn miles if you want your phone to be as mobile as you are. Sprint PCS partners with America West and United; AT&T Wireless partners with Alaska, American, Continental, and Delta; Cingular Wireless partners with Continental; Nextel partners with Delta, Northwest, Southwest, United, and US Airways; and T-Mobile partners with Continental. Most wireless phone companies offer 5,000 miles for signing up for specific plans. Nextel has the best deal, offering 5,000 miles when you purchase a phone, plus another 5,000 miles when you sign up for a calling plan. Again, because most plans require a year’s commitment, and bonus miles do not appear in your account right away, be sure you’ve chosen a plan you’re willing to stick with for a year before you make the switch.

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