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‘Tis the Season to Earn More, Give More Frequent Flyer Miles

SmarterTravel

The holidays are a particularly good time to give and receive frequent flyer miles, affording members of airline and hotel programs an opportunity to do good and also do well.

Miles at the mall

How many of your Christmas shopping dollars do you plan to spend online? Multiply that amount by two or three to find the number of frequent flyer miles effectively lost if you don’t shop at the mileage mall of your preferred airline or hotel program.

Mileage malls are a relatively recent addition to the travel rewards scene, a logical outcome of the programs’ evolution from frequent flyer to frequent buyer schemes. All of the larger airline and hotel programs feature such malls, allowing program members to earn miles or points when shopping at extensive networks of online merchants.

The AAdvantage eShopping Mall is typical of the more mature mileage malls, encompassing more than 200 Internet retailers, including 1-800-Flowers.com, Best Buy, Gap, Lands’ End, Nordstrom, Restoration Hardware, Target, Toys R Us, and the Wall Street Journal. Just about every merchandise category is represented. The mileage payout varies among merchants, with some offering just one mile per dollar spent and others rewarding shoppers with 10 or more miles per dollar.

Smaller programs may have fewer than 200 partners, but they have enough to adequately meet most consumers’ needs. For example, Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan Shopping features more than 100 merchants and US Airways’ Dividend Miles Shopping Mall features more than 70.

The argument in favor of shopping at the mileage malls gets even stronger at this time of year, when vendors traditionally offer bonus miles or other incentives to encourage holiday purchases. For example, through December 31, members of InterContinental Hotels’ Priority Club Rewards program can earn double points for purchases at Target, Lands’ End, Overstock.com, Brookstone, Home Depot, Apple Store, Circuit City, Dell Home, and Sony Style made through the Priority Club Rewards Shopping site.

Since there’s no extra cost to earn shopping miles, there’s no reason not to. Just remember to begin on the program’s main mall page to insure that miles are tracked and awarded for all eligible purchases.

Elite perks for 2007

With December 31 just a few weeks away, the end-of-year scramble to bank enough miles to earn elite status for the following year is in full swing. There’s a small but notably gung-ho segment of the mileage-collecting community that so prizes elite benefits that they make trips solely to qualify for elite status or to reach a higher elite tier. So-called mileage runs are the stuff of such online discussion groups as FlyerTalk, where the Holy Grail of elite-seekers is the flight that generates the most miles at the lowest cost.

For flyers who covet elite perks but cannot justify spending time and money on flights to nowhere, US Airways is running a promotion that makes elite status more achievable. Through December 31, miles awarded for transactions with more than 50 program partners count toward earning elite status for 2007. The list of participating partners includes most hotels and car rental companies, plus all retailers in the Dividend Miles Mall.

The great mileage giveaway

Over and above the basic help-thy-neighbor urge, mileage collectors have multiple reasons why they elect to donate their miles to worthy causes. For mileage millionaires, it may be a case of too much of a good thing. At the other extreme, program members with orphan miles—odd lots of small quantities of miles that will never grow to reach an award threshold—recognize that donating their earnings may be their only option. And in between, legions of travelers with modest account balances collectively give away millions of frequent flyer miles for a host of personal and practical reasons.

This year, quite aside from the predictable seasonal upsurge in charitable feeling, some mileage donations are sure to be spurred by an entirely different impulse: frustration. So difficult has it become to redeem miles for free tickets that donating miles to charity is increasingly seen as the only viable option.

All major airlines and most larger hotel chains have incorporated charitable opportunities into their loyalty schemes, allowing program members to donate miles and points to select charities, usually established national organizations like the American Heart Association.

Members of Delta’s SkyMiles program, for instance, can donate 5,000 or more miles to their choice of 12 charitable organizations, from the American Red Cross to UNICEF. At MileDonor.com, a website exclusively focused on the charitable use of miles, would-be donors can cross-reference lists of charities and programs to determine their available options.

For those with more miles than time to use them, it’s also worth remembering that while miles generally cannot be given as gifts, tickets can be. Simply redeem miles for an award ticket and have it issued in the name of the intended recipient.

Whether it’s miles for charity or an award ticket for a friend or family member, the gift of travel is sure to be appreciated.

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