Credit Card Miles Are Your Best Friendby david daly on 10/26/11
Some people go nuts for fancy cars. Others go gaga for diamonds. I am an airlines miles junkie. I will pretty much do anything for airline miles. This addiction has taken me on transcontinental flights to California solely for the purpose of earning 5,000 miles off a cheap domestic ticket. I often agree to take the online survey for a mere 500 mile bonus to my account. And most recently, I have acquired a wallet chock full of almost every airline credit card under the sky.
The airline credit card benefits are actually quite attractive and something I recommend to anyone who travels several times a year. There are several perks and awards for signing up for one of these cards, the most exciting being the instant 25,000 bonus miles credit to your frequent flyer account. This bonus is enough to take you from NY to Vancouver (a route that regularly costs over $600!) for a ski trip to Whistler. But there are more reasons to consider the airline credit card. Free checked bags is my second favorite perk. I may be the only frequent flyer who ALWAYS checks a bag. I get tremendous satisfaction from relinquishing responsibility for my bulky, heavy, suitcase at check-in and letting all of my suntan lotions, razors, and extra shoes find me at my destination (and they always do!). At $25 per checked bag each way, a family of four instantly saves $200 on every trip if they are all booked on the same itinerary as an airline credit card holder. Of course there is the VIP treatment as well. Cardholders have access to the priority security lanes and board the plane ahead of regular passengers in the second boarding group (right after first class!). For those of us who refuse to fly with anything larger than an ipod case under the seat in front of us, early access to the overhead bins is more valuable now than ever. Lastly, there are bonus miles jumping out at every turn. If you book your ticket with the credit card: Double Miles. Buy a bottle of wine onboard with your credit card: Double Miles AND save $2 off that drink! It really seems like the gift that keeps on giving.
However, one must choose their airline credit card carefully. Most people do not want to sacrifice their credit by opening a flurry of new cards (like I did). It makes the most sense to choose the airline that you fly most often- and then stick with that airline for all of your flights as long as the price is within reason. Remember, the $50 round-trip savings in baggage fees can offset the cost of choosing your credit card airline over a cheaper competitor. These credit cards are not free either. In most cases the $75 fee is waived for the first year, but after that you need to take advantage of the free bag check AT LEAST three times per year in order to cover the annual fee. Most importantly, make sure that you can use those bonus miles to your advantage. If you already have 35,000 miles in your account, the bonus will be enough to score an award ticket to Europe or South America! If you are starting from scratch, don’t waste your free ticket flying from NY to Ft. Lauderdale on a $200 flight. Use it for those more obscure routes that usually charge through the roof to destinations like Jackson Hole, Key West, Banff, or Anchorage. Don’t be afraid to cancel the card before the annual fee kicks in- you can take the bonus miles and run with no penalty!
If used properly, an airline credit card can really work to your advantage. As with all credit cards, its only worthwhile if the full balance is paid off every month. With a little planning, you can laugh all the way to Whistler while enjoying all the perks of your new piece of plastic.