Frequent-Flier Programs

When American Airlines invented frequent-flier programs in 1982, the

concept was simply a new twist on traditional "loyalty marketing"

schemes like S & H Green Stamps and the Dunkin' Donuts punchcard.

Today, such programs are one of the airline industry's most successful

marketing toolsódespite the fact that most passengers never accumulate

enough miles to qualify for free travel.


To benefit from frequent-flier programs, you need to observe these

simple but important rules:

1. Pick an airline that you can use regularly. If you live in a city

or hub where one airline is dominant, use that airline whenever

possible (all other things, including fares, being equal). If you

have several major airlines to choose from, determine which

airline has the most flights to places you're likely to visit.

2. Pick the most generous frequent-flier program. Look for a

program with reasonable award goals, such as from 20,000 to

25,000 miles for an off-peak domestic ticket. Next, check the

program's mileage expiration policy. (The better programs, such

as Northwest's WorldPerks and Continental's OnePass, let you

accrue miles indefinitely.)

3. Look for alliances that match your travel interests. Today

more than ever, airlines are working together with code sharing

and other marketing alliances. This makes it easier to rack up

miles and claim awards while flying more than one airline.

[Example: Delta lets you earn and redeem SkyMiles on 14

international airlines (subject to various exclusions). This makes

SkyMiles a good bet if you live near a Delta hub and plan to

travel overseas.]

4. Check the fine print. International partners of U.S. airlines

may not award miles for discount fares. This means you could

fly from Tupelo to Paris and earn credit only for the

Tupelo-New York leg of your trip. If that's the case, you may

want to fly on another airline that awards full mileage to

discount travelers, assuming that you can get a comparable fare.

5. Take advantage of non-airline partner offers, but don't be

obsessive. Credit cards, long-distance phone services, car rental

firms, and hotel chains are just a few of the businesses that

award frequent-flier miles. If such partners offer the services

you need at competitive prices, then by all means use them. But

remember: An overpriced hotel or a credit card with a 1.75

percent monthly finance charge is no bargain, even if it does

reward you with frequent-flyer miles.


To read the Web's most detailed advice on frequent-flier programs,

go to:


Randy Peterson has been tracking frequent-flier programs since the

mid-1980s, when he started InsideFlyer magazine. His WebFlyer

site has reviews of frequent-flier programs, news of bonus awards,

and a form that lets you enroll in up to five airline programs with a

single click.