Ten ways to prevent your frequent flier miles from disappearing

After reading the story of Scott Kelby, you may be interested in some tips that can help keep your airline mileage account alive. Thankfully, not everything that earns miles has to involve taking a flight.

Mileage expiration dates vary from airline to airline – some provide a relatively generous 18 months between activity, others only give you six months.

So, here are ten tips that will save your miles, and prevent those hard earned points from going to waste. Many of them are really easy to accomplish, and some may keep your account alive without spending more then ten bucks.

[Photo from: Joshua Davis/jdavis.info]
Always add your frequent flier number to your flights

This really is the most important one. Always make sure you provide your frequent flier number when you book your tickets. When you book through the airline site, this is almost always automatic. But booking through a travel agent or a third party booking site is where it is easy to forget adding the number.

If you have a ticket without your mileage account included, head over to the airline site and add your flight itinerary to your profile. In most cases, you’ll only need to supply your confirmation number. When you get your boarding pass, always make sure your number is printed on it. If it isn’t, check with a gate agent and have them check the system.

Don’t forget partner airlines

If you are not flying your usual airline, this doesn’t always means you can’t earn miles on your regular mileage account. With so many partnerships, airlines participate in all kinds of reciprocal mileage programs. For example – United Airlines lets you earn partner miles on 33 different airlines.

One big advantage of using partner miles is that it prevents you from spreading miles around between too many accounts. And the more you keep on one card, the quicker you’ll be heading towards a free ticket.

Miles for dining out

Do you regularly eat out? The Rewards Network offers miles for eating at thousands of restaurants around the nation. To enroll, you provide the site with the credit and debit cards you use – and when you present those cards, you’ll earn miles. It is that simple. You don’t need to carry your mileage card, and before you know it, you’ll have surprise miles showing up in your account a few weeks after you’ve had a nice dinner.

Be on the lookout for mileage shopping promotions

Shopaholic? If you are making online purchases, always check to see whether the online retailer has a mileage mall. You’d be surprised to see how many companies have partnered with shops to offer free miles in exchange for purchases. Big retailers like Best Buy, The Home Depot and JC Penney participate.

One word of advice – always double check that you enter the store through the mileage shopping portal of your airline. If you don’t, you’ll lose the miles and there will be absolutely no way to reclaim them later.

Open an airline credit or debit card

If you are worried about losing your miles, and you are not regularly flying the airline, consider an airline branded credit or debit card. Even if you only use it once a month for gas, the purchase will create mileage activity, and will keep your account alive.

If you really don’t want yet another credit card, consider one of the new airline branded debit cards. These usually link to your checking account, and when used for purchases (when no pin is entered), they earn up to 1 mile per Dollar spent. Fees on the debit cards are also lower, around $25/year.

Always read airline emails and turn on alerts

When your miles are forfeited, most people will probably be completely taken by surprise. Don’t be one of those people. Airlines may be strict, but most of them do send out warning emails when miles are set to expire. You can prevent nasty surprises by making sure your email address on file is up to date, and giving ten seconds of your time to all emails from the airline. Not all of it is junk.

Check your account regularly

Just like in the previous tip, regularly checking your mileage accounts is very important. Make a habit out of a weekly glance at your activity, and try to keep records of flights you took and whether activity is missing. Despite all the technology that keeps these programs running, airlines regularly “forget” to apply miles.

Use online and mobile tools to monitor activity

If you are too busy to log into your airline or hotel site once a week, consider outsourcing the job to an online or mobile tool. To monitor my accounts, i use PageOnce software. This iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry application is free, and can monitor almost every airline and hotel site out there. The application lets you know when miles have been added, and can show account balances in an instant.

Another handy tool comes from UsingMiles. This new service combines mileage management with online award booking tools. With this free site, you can not only keep an eye on your miles, but you also get a great amount of tools to help use the miles. UsingMiles is currently invite only, but if you use this link, you should be able to get in right away.

Always keep boarding passes and tickets

I’m just going to go ahead and say it – airlines can be really mean. When the time comes that you realize you forgot to add your mileage account number to a ticket, the airlines will want a crazy amount of information about your trip. Even though THEY are the ones that issued the ticket, and somewhere in their computer systems are all the records about your trip, they want to know exactly where you flew, when, your airline code and your ticket number.

If you have lost any of these, some airlines may be able to help, but most just don’t care. To prevent this – always hold on to your boarding pass and other ticketing paperwork.

Oh, and once you add the information, actually adding the miles may take 6-8 weeks, because somewhere in the world is a large building where people use adding machines and telex printouts to manually add those miles. Anything to inconvenience their customers!

Find recurring mileage promotion earners

Do you read a newspaper? Sucscribe to magazines? Use phone service? Register domain names? These are all mileage earners that could turn into recurring promotions for your account. The number one advantage of these is that they earn miles for you without having to do anything (other than check that the miles actually appear in your account).

As usual, head on over to your airline web site and check for all their mileage earning options.