How to fly high using frequent flyer programs

Posted at 03/24/2014 12:09 PM | Updated as of 03/25/2014 9:26 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Summer usually coincides with travel planning for a lot of families and friends. The quest for budget saving travel tools almost always includes frequent flyer points. But are you one of those who haven’t really figured out how to use them? And then the points expire and are lost to you forever?

Make sure this does not happen again. Using frequent flyer points is definitely a good way to cut travel costs. You can get to fly for free or upgrade your seat, or redeem a free companion ticket, get free lounge access, plus discounts to hotel rooms, tour packages, transfers, and even car rentals.

There are different ways to accumulate frequent flyer points. The main route is to purchase tickets from the airline itself or any of its partners in an airline alliance. Another way to accumulate points is through the purchase of goods and services from the airlines’ partners in its frequent flyer program, which may consist of hotels, shops, or credit cards.

Different frequent flyer programs have various ways of letting you accumulate points. Some programs have different classes of membership, with those who have accumulated more points qualifying for a higher class status that confers them more privileges. Frequent flyer programs also differ in the manner by which they allow you to redeem miles. It is therefore important to understand how to maximize the use of your frequent flyer programs and mileage points.

Here are some points to help you optimize your frequent flyer program.

Are you on the right program?

The good news is that membership for nearly all frequent flyer programs come for free. The bad news is sometimes you sign up for too many, and as a result end up with points in several, but never enough to redeem. Analyze your travel needs and plans. Do you often travel to a certain place? Which airline do you use most often and why? By answering these questions, you would be able to find out which frequent flyer program is most appropriate for your needs.

Loyalty has its rewards.

Stick to one or two frequent flyer programs based on your travel requirements and plans. While you can join the frequent flyer programs of multiple airline alliances, it is best to accrue mileage on your main or two key programs. Use the services offered by the airline and that of its partner companies to earn miles faster. Even spending on your credit card can earn you miles. Using the card that offers the best conversion points to your program/s, and push to upgrade your program membership to a higher classification or status, which may translate to better benefits.

Make airline alliances work for you.

Most large airlines are part of alliances made up of domestic and international airlines. If your main airline does not fly to your planned destination, check out if its partner airlines do so. This is particularly true when you are flying domestic routes. By staying within the same alliance or program, you are able to accumulate more points.

Stay informed.

Frequent flyer programs continuously expand their list of partners to include a wider range of retailers. Their service offerings are also continuously updated. Subscribe to your program’s newsletters or read its website to acquaint yourself with these partners, whose services you can use to avail of more mileage points. For example, affinity credit cards allow you to accumulate points without flying. If you are a frequent traveler, the points from the affinity credit cards can help you cut on travel costs. Make use of promotions as well. Sometimes, free travel or perks are available at much less points so take advantage.

Skip the crowds.

Most airlines limit the use of award tickets during their peak season, and this usually includes holidays and weekends. If your schedule permits, try to schedule your trips to the middle of the week or during off seasons in order to use your frequent flyer points.

Plan in advance.

By planning early, you can schedule the use of your mileage points and get the booking you want, which may not be possible if you are making your booking too close to your scheduled travel date. Advance planning also allows you to better plan which hotels and other services you can use during your travel.

Take note of expiration dates.

Some frequent flyer points have an expiration date. If you have no travel plans before the scheduled expiration date, see if you can spend a few points from making any purchase at the airline’s program partners. This will reactivate your status. Alternatively, you may also transfer some of the points to the account of another person, if the program allows this. Some credit cards allow you the option to park your loyalty rewards points in the card, and only convert to frequent flyer miles when you are about to use them. This is another good way to ensure none of your miles go to waste.

We suggest treating your miles like cash savings. Consider where you can best make use of your miles. While it is tempting to use your miles on budget airlines, check if you can save more by using these on more expensive flights that you are scheduled to take anyway.

For instance, you might be able to save more by using cash to buy a budget ticket to a regional destination like Singapore or Hong Kong, and instead use your miles to complete the requirement for travel to the Americas or Europe.

Do the math before redeeming the tickets based on your actual usage and travel plans. Safe travels!

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Grow Your Money is an editorial partnership between ABS-CBNnews.com and Citi Philippines to promote financial education and provide helpful information to Filipinos on how to better manage their personal finances.

Visit www.citibank.com.ph for more information.