Air miles are a wonderful concept that can equal cheap or free flights, but to maximize your points it’s important to understand the system and play it to your advantage.
Here are 6 little-known facts to keep you flying high:
1) Your air miles can expire
The reality is that air miles don’t last forever. Even Canada’s popular Air Miles scheme has recently attached a ‘use ’em or lose ’em’ policy. Expiry dates can vary broadly.
Some schemes apply a flat date, say 3 or 5 years, while others will keep your points active so long as there is activity on your account within a set period.
Check the details for what you need to do. It may be as simple as sharing one air mile to keep your points alive. In some cases your air miles will expire regardless of activity and should be used before they disappear.
Keep an eye on expiry dates even if you’re still traveling. Photo by yourdon.
2) Air miles are different from tier levels
Although most air miles have an expiry date, they’re usually on a slower burn than tier points, which tend to refresh every year.
What’s the difference? Air miles can generally be earned in a number of ways both by flying and on the ground purchases. Tier points, on the other hand, can usually only be gained by flying and is the way to climb up an airline’s status ladder.
Moving from basic to silver to gold (or your airline equivalent) means access to increased benefits from accruing more air miles with each flight to gaining entry into lounges. If you don’t take sufficient flights each year your status will be demoted.
Although the tier rules can be complicated, it pays to understand them for increased air miles and a more premium flight experience.
Collect tier points as well as air miles for a superior flying experience. Photo by syume.
3) There is a deadline for claiming points
Vacations pass quickly and the memory can fade just as rapidly…and with it the reminder to claim your points. The best approach to ensure you receive your air miles for each flight is to purchase your tickets whilst signed into your air miles account so that they are automatically added.
If not, make a diary reminder to claim your points after each flight and before the expiry date has passed. In many cases you have up to six months to claim, though do check. The period may be shorter e.g. 3 months if you sign up to an air miles scheme after you have flown.
Don’t forget to claim your points once you’re back home. Photo by yourdon.
4) You can boosting points by banking
Last year I flew over 42,000 miles and that earned me enough air miles to take a one-way flight to Mexico from London. However, if I had signed up to a credit card with American Express through the same airline I could have earned almost the same number of points without joining a single check-in queue.
There are many opportunities to increase your air miles, and often quite substantially, if you are prepared to sign up to the airline promoted credit card scheme.
Do read the small print. The interest rates are not always favorable (they can be as high as nearly 50%) and there may be a high minimum annual spend to obtain the points. However, if you make many of your purchases on credit and are diligent about avoiding interest charges, these schemes could give you a considerable points boost.
5) Purchasing miles may not always be cheapest
Most airlines allow you to boost your mileage by purchasing a maximum number of air miles each year. In theory, this sounds like a great way to get ‘free’ flights sooner, especially if you don’t have the requisite minimum number of air miles to book a flight.
However, make sure you do the math before you buy. Many airlines allow you to purchase a ticket using a combination of points and money and it is worth calculating whether paying straight cash plus points is better, which I have found to be the case more than once.
The best time to buy points is when the airline has a points sale e.g. a 15% discount on point purchases in a particular month. Look out for promotional emails and purchase during sale periods to capitalize on savings.
Do the math before purchasing miles. Photo by HSBC UK Press Office
6) You can save by consolidating your preferred airlines
There are plenty of sites ready to hunt down the cheapest airfare and the search results listing flight prices from low to high are a compelling argument for selecting the cheapest fare on the list.
However, before you hit ‘buy’ on a flight deal, think more strategically about your travel plans in the next 12 months, or longer. By spending a little more on each flight, but aligning yourself with a couple of airlines, you can accumulate points that ultimately lead to reduced or free fares. In time, this can cancel out the savings on each individual purchase.
Try not to tie yourself to just one airline, as it’s best to have a couple of prices to choose from. I have two airlines I tend to fly with on routes to Asia and another two when heading to Europe and the US.
Consider flying with a smaller number of airlines to consolidate your air miles. Photo by uggboy.
What are your preferred airlines for collecting points? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this, you might also like: How I Almost Always Get a Flight Upgrade.
Main photo: Flying today is a lot more complex than it used to be. Photo by x-ray delta one.