If there's anything I'm good at, it's racking up hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles every year. From credit card sign up bonuses to shopping online, I take advantage of every opportunity to increase my mileage balances. Here are my tips on how to pad your frequent flyer accounts to get you closer to a first class award trip.
Stick with one airline or alliance: This may be obvious, but focusing all of your travel on one airline is the easiest and quickest way to accrue enough miles to redeem for award travel. In some cases, your preferred airline might not fly to a destination you're headed to. Check with alliance partners and ensure miles flown on that carrier will post to your account.
For example, US Airways is a member of Star Alliance along with United Airlines . As such, miles earned by flying on US Airways are eligible to be deposited into your United MileagePlus account and vice versa. The other major alliances tied to U.S. carriers are oneworld (American) and SkyTeam (Delta).
Credit cards: All the major airlines have partnerships with credit card issuers and they frequently offer large bonus miles for new applicants. United partners with Chase and currently has a card offering up to 40,000 miles — 25,000 after your first purchase, 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user and 10,000 for meeting a minimum spend theshhold. Similarly, American Airlines and Citi offer a card bestowing 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 within three months of account opening. I use an airline card for all of my daily spending and pay off the balances in full each month.
Hotel stays: Hotels also have their own loyalty programs, but many offer a choice of whether you'd prefer to have your stay credited to an airline instead. The amount of miles earned is typically either a flat rate per stay — such as 500 miles — or depends on your total bill. In the latter case, a formula is used to determine the amount of airline miles accrued, such as one mile per dollar spent. Hilton even has an option to "double dip," meaning you can earn both hotel credit and airline miles during your stay.
Online shopping: All the airlines have a portal built into their websites that will take you to popular online retailers and even places like Amazon and the iTunes store. Here, you earn either a flat rate or a fixed mile-per-dollar amount. While a few miles here and there might not seem like much, they add up over time and can bring you closer to an award trip.
Special offers: We all hate email spam, but allowing your airline of choice to send you periodic emails with special offers just might pay off. Just yesterday I received an email from United offering 1,500 bonus miles if I purchase a set of Bose headphones. And earlier in the week they sent an offer for 50,000 miles for mortgages through Chase. If you're not interested in an offer, it takes only a second to delete the email.
Finally, if you're close to an award level, but a few miles short, each major U.S. airline offers the ability to purchase miles. I don't recommend purchasing tens of thousands of miles as earning miles the old fashioned way tends to bring a greater value for your dollar. But if you're a couple thousand short, it's the quickest way to top off your balance as most miles post within 24 or 48 hours.