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5 Tips For Using Your Frequent Flyer Miles

Passengers move through the terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2010.

If you get on a commercial airliner more than a few times of year, the chances are pretty good that you’re building up frequent flyer miles, either through your credit card or an airline, or an airline’s credit card. 

Whatever the case, when it comes time to redeem those miles, things can get tricky. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley has a few tips.

1. Book Early

Airlines release a certain number of seats that can be bought with mileage points. The number is even less during busy seasons — think holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and even school spring break time.

2. Look For Independent Programs

Many credit cards are no longer tied to particular airlines, which gives you more options on how to use your miles. Brumley prefers Capital One, which has no annual fee, but the bottom line is that you should find the credit card that fits your financial lifestyle.

Brumley says American Express has a good card, too. When you have enough miles to get a flight, you purchase the flight with your credit card and they simply deduct that amount from your balance, rather than charge you for it.

3. Look For Rewards Just For Signing Up

Some plans give you 25,000 or 50,000 miles just for signing up. Others have annual feed.

4. If At First You Don't Succeed...

...try, try again. If you try to book a flight on miles, and the airline won’t let you do it, try going through other destinations.

“That’s when you ask that nice agent on the other end of the line ‘Can I go through Portland to get to London? Or can I go through San Francisco to get to Auckland, New Zealand?’” Brumley said. “And you don’t have to come back the way you came. Don’t give up.”

5. Use Your Miles On The Ground, Too

Keep in mind that you can use air miles for rental cars, hotel stays and more. This is especially handy if you have miles with an airline you’ve stopped flying (say because you moved out of the hub city you were in when you signed up). If you’re not building up new miles, and you can’t really spend the ones you have on a flight, there are plenty of alternatives.


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" explores all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B, what to do once there, and in between. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.
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