Frequent flyer miles was a fantastic and simple idea when it began a few decades ago. All you had to do was fly on your favorite airline and you could earn points for every mile you traveled. When you had amassed enough points, you could redeem them for free travel. And “free” is a golden word when it comes to saving money, right?
Unfortunately, frequent flyer programs quickly became a victim of their own success. One of the biggest problems is that airlines allot only a small number of seats on each flight for those using their frequent flyer miles. As a result, in order to get that free flight, travel often must be booked in way in advance to even have a chance of a seat being available. In addition, all those pesky taxes and fees still apply, so really there is no such thing as a free flight.
If the few seats available wasn’t enough of an obstacle, the airlines began imposing sunset dates. On many airlines, your miles are not good forever, so you must fly ’em or lose ’em. Your accumulated miles on a particular airline can expire if you don’t fly or redeem them in as short a period as two years. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep frequent flyer accounts active without traveling by air. Most award programs count certain car rentals, hotel stays, dining, online shopping, and magazine subscriptions as ways to keep your account alive.
Another big problem is that most people don’t fly on a single airline anymore. That means that many are members of 2, 3 and even more frequent flyer mile programs. If you do only travel using a single airline, you can probably keep track of the program requirements and the age of your miles for each individual airline you frequent, but you need to be careful. Those dates creep up and if you aren’t paying attention, many of the miles you accumulate may disappear forever before you notice.
If you travel on several carriers, you may want to try a site like
mileagemanager.com which, for an annual fee of $14.95, USAToday’s Mile Tracker which is free (thanks JintsFan) and provides a single consolidated statement and email notifications about promotions and your upcoming expiration dates. This will help ensure that you don’t lose the miles if you know you aren’t organized enough to keep track of them on your own.
And now, it’s time to put that tray table in its upright and locked position.