Live Well, Get Miles
Frequent-flier rewards are more elusive than ever. Brad Tuttle helps you score.
PAY YOUR BILLS
Everyday expenses, from buying your weekly groceries to paying monthly utility bills, can earn you some serious miles.
• Continental: 3,000 miles for signing up with Energy Plus, an energy service in New York, plus two miles for every $1 spent on your electric bill.
• Continental: One mile per $2 spent at ShopRite. But in order to collect, you have to spend at least $1,000 every three months. And you can't roll your dollars over from quarter to quarter.
• Alaska Airlines and United: 125 miles for spending $250 at Safeway supermarkets with a Safeway Club Card.
• American: 2,000 miles at sign-up with Gexa Energy, a Texas-based electricity provider, plus two miles for every $1 of your monthly bill.
BANK ON IT
It's not like you're going to open a bank account or hire a financial planner because you'll get a couple thousand miles, but many of these financial services are worthwhile in their own right, with competitive rates and online trading fees. The miles are but a bonus.
• American: 1,000 miles for opening a new account with BankDirect, 5,000 miles for signing up for direct deposit, 2,000 miles for using electronic bill pay 12 months in a row, and 100 miles per month for every $1,000 you keep in your checking account.
• Continental: 2,000 miles for opening an account with online investment service ShareBuilder, plus 175 miles per month if you subscribe to one of the site's investment programs.
• Delta: 5,000 miles for depositing $2,500 in a new Fidelity Investments account, with incremental increases of up to 25,000 miles for a $50,000 deposit.
SPEND TIME, NOT MONEY
Earning miles usually involves buying something, but not in these cases. Answering surveys through e-miles.com and other online polling outfits, for example, can earn you 10 to 1,000 miles apiece with either AirTran, Continental, Delta, or Frontier Airlines.
• Delta: 3,000 miles for attending a consultation with Ameriprise Financial.
• United: 1,500 miles for receiving a no-obligation quote on auto or home-owner's insurance from Sentry Insurance.
Some of the oldest airline partners are other travel companies, including cruise, hotel, and car-rental players. Word to the wise To get airline miles from a cruise line, you have to book through the airline's reservations system—meaning you may pay more. Confirm that you're getting a good price at cruisecompete.com, where you pick a cruise and then agents e-mail you their best offers.
• Continental: 1,500 miles for cruises lasting one to five days; up to 10,000 miles for cruises of 13 days or more. Valid with 16 different lines, including Carnival, Disney, and Royal Caribbean.
• Continental: 50 miles per day with car-rental agencies Avis, Hertz, National, and Thrifty.
• Delta: 250 miles for staying at a Best Western or Choice Hotels property; one mile per $1 spent at Doubletree and Hilton hotels; two miles at Element properties.
• Southwest: Half a credit per car rental at Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty. (But to get Southwest credits with Avis or Budget, you have to fly within 24 hours of your rental; local rentals don't count.)
Be a Joiner
Airlines always offer new promotions—extra miles for certain dates or routes. But remember: Each offer requires you to sign up separately, or no deal.
For a fee (from $50), most airlines let you pool miles with friends. Or try trading points through points.com's Global Points Exchange.
Airlines let you pay out of pocket for miles, but don't bother unless you need only a small amount (5,000 miles or less) to reach a reward flight.
NOW, MAKE THOSE MILES COUNT
1. Monitor the deals.
Subscribe to airline e-newsletters so you'll know when the mileage needed for certain flights is lowered; a trip that normally requires 60,000 miles may suddenly be available for 40,000 miles.
2. Book in advance.
Many airlines charge you extra if you reserve a reward ticket at the last minute. Continental, for example, charges $75 if you're booking within 21 days of departure. You're more likely to find better availability ahead of time too.
3. Use Yapta's award-seat tracker.
The website alerts you when a reward seat opens up on flights you've selected.
4. Trade miles for other stuff.
Miles can be exchanged for magazine subscriptions, golf clubs, electronics, and more, so take what you can get before yours expire.