Getting the most mileage on your air fare

May 17 , 2009

Once upon a time…

my friend Elliot asked via twitter, “Thinking about joining an AirMiles scheme but I honestly don’t know where to start. Anyone in the know got a recommendation?” Now because I flew a lot last year and my mom taught me not to waste money I have been keeping an eye out for deals. I have been a member of many mileage programs through the years. I see it as the same as storing things into a piggy bank.

Most of my friends have been trying to figure out new ways to maximize their benefits without spending more money. This is a good way if you are being sent to conferences or business trips on your dime or somene else’s. Your miles can get you free trips, car rentals and hotels sometimes (it all adds up).
The ones I’ve listed tend to have more benefits if your on the US side of the pond. Sorry! I had nothing to do with it. :) I’ve also flown United’s more often than anything so that’s also why there is a lot more info on United.

My tips on earning miles

I’m going to list the main ones that I think you’d use. This post is going to be rather long.

Credit Card:
Sign up for one that is free and you will get miles for spending. I charged a down payment for my car last year and got miles that way. A friend of mine did it for deposits for her wedding. The key is paying it off at the end of the month. If you have the money in the bank already then do it, if you can’t help charging every chance you get ignore this. :P

Super Shuttle:
If you are going to Super Shuttle (put in your Northwest/Delta miles). Regardless if you are flying with them or not.

Hotel, Car Rental and Misc:
Check the hotel you’ve booked, flowers for your Mom, or are going to book check to see if there is a promotion for double miles if you sign. If they do sign up for it and choose the option where you can have the miles onto your favorite airline mileage program.

If you are going to sign up, do it through United’s site or Delta’s for the miles.

Grocery Shopping:
If you go to any of the ones listed in United’s program then its a no brainer to earn miles. You just give the program your mileage number and it keeps track of when you earn it. Best if you are using the mileage credit card on top of earning the grocery points.

United Airlines

United’s program is called Mileage Plus (U.S. website | U.K. website)
There are different tiers for member levels but it can get you things like free baggage (2 pieces if you hit the premier level) and the special line where you skip everyone :P . I have even used the link that United has to get miles for my Netflix when I signed up.

Check the United promotions page:
Tip:to get the most out of the program sometimes they have offers for flying that you need to sign up for before you buy a plane ticket. There’s a United flight reward chart  to see how quickly you can fly for almost free (with the taxes that you will have to pay).

Credit Card:
I’ve signed up for the United credit card because I could get miles.It’s another way to maximize your miles on things you do every day like buying clothes, groceries, gas or pay for your flickr account ;). Every now and then they also do promotions to double your miles.

  • United Visa Mileages: US credit card You get 30,0000 miles free after $250 in purchase, $1 mile for every dollar spent. The One-way, 1,000 mile, one-class upgrade certificate, and a $25 United discount travel certificate are a pain in the butt to redeem you have to go to the airport to turn them in or find a United travel agency.)
  • United American Express Credit Card: U.K. American Express Mileage website You get free annual fee and miles. You guys totally don’t get the benefits we do in the U.S. for this. Sorry. :(

United also has a Mileage Diner’s Program, (U.S. only). You enter your credit card number (they track where you eat). Easy as long as its places you normally eat. My favorite Thai place in VA was a part of the program so it was always a bonus for me.
Just see this as a nice surprise if you get it unless you like looking up where you eat each night and if it fits within the dining program. ;)

United has a program called Grocery Miles (U.S. only, there isn’t one for the U.K.) Where you when you buy groceries you get miles the stores currently include:

  • Saveway:Earn 125 miles for every $250 you spend in qualifying purchases
  • Dominick’s:Earn 125 miles for every $250 you spend in qualifying purchases
  • Genuardi’s:Earn 125 miles for every $250 you spend in qualifying purchases
  • Pavilions:Earn 125 miles for every $250 you spend in qualifying purchases.
  • VONS:Earn 125 miles for every $250 you spend in qualifying purchases.

There’s lots of various hotel offering but the hotels also have their own hotel programs too. Sometimes you have to book via the link website.

Delta and Northwest Airlines

Delta and Northwest Airlines have recently merged so its one less air mileage program you have to sign up for.Delta’s website has a chartso you can see how long it takes for you to earn a free flight. Skymiles program also lets you have Netflix (first time members deal only).

Looks like the same program for Delta and the United deal I mentioned earlier for the Skymiles Dining program.

Delta and Northwest offer you miles for booking your Super Shuttle and giving your skymiles number.
Tip:You can earn miles even if you aren’t flying with this airline. :)

British Airways

Their air miles program is called Executive Plus (you have to choose which country you are in to get the appropriate currency and access.)

Credit Card:
So BA offers you an American Express card to earn miles. If you do want to sign up let me know so I can earn miles. ;)
They have two tiers of mileage accrual based on what card you get: BA American Express or the Premium Plus Card (£150 fee) but you get faster accrual.

BA American Express Card benefits:

  • Collect 1,000 BA miles after first purchase
  • Collect 1 BA mile for every £1
  • Redeem BA miles on BA flight and you’ve spent £20,000 on your card in one year and you will get another companion for the same flight.

BA American Express Premium Card: (You have to have a certain level of in come to get this card in addition to the fee)

  • Pay £150 fee
  • Collect 6,000 miles after first purchase
  • Collect 1.5 BA miles for every £1
  • Redeem BA miles on BA flight and you’ve spent £10,000 on your card in one year and you will get another companion for the same flight.

If you are going to use Heathrow Parking.
Holiday Extras: if you book ahead of time you’ll earn five BA Miles for every £1 you spend when booking airport parking with Holiday Extras online.


If you are going to change money for a trip, you can use Travelex. You can do it in terminal 5 or you can order it online. You have to present your card at the time you purchase or collect your currency to get the miles.

American Airlines

Their program is called AAdvantage.To join AAdvantage you just have to give your details.

AAdvantage Partners:There are tons of different offers too from FedEx Kinkos to Tmobile Hotspots.

AAdvantage Dining is the same as United, and Delta. You sign up by giving them your credit card to track.

Virgina Atlantic

Their program is called the Flying Club.Just fill out the Flying Club form.
Virgin Atlantic’s points for miles program has everything from hotels, rental cars.

Credit Card:
Virgin Atlantic offers an American Express card you can earn one mile for every £1 you spend.

I think that’s it from me. Hope all the tips helped! :)


Mon May 18, 2009 at 01.14 am

Nevin Lyne

Hilton Hotels offer HHonors which have 50 airline partners.  Nice part is you can change your airline miles earning method on the fly on Hilton’s web site.  So if you generally only spend a night or two, you can set to get a fixed 500 miles with your selection of a frequent flyer partner. If you know you are going to be spending a week in a pricey room, you can select to get 1 mile per $1 spent on your room.  Normally my stays are 1 to 2 nights, and I would earn usually about 1/2 the miles if I did the $1 per 1 mile.  So for stays like SXSW I switched right before I made my reservation at the Hilton Austin, switched back after returning to Minneapolis, and then made a room reservation for that night, it was St. Patrick’s Day after all, and the hotel is across from my favorite Irish Pub.  Maximize based on your stay :)

As a side note, the Hilton HHonor points you earn towards free stays, or special vacation packages, can sometimes be doubled or tripled if you make sure to check when you are making your on-line reservation.  Usually farther down in the rooms available, they will listed double or triple HHonor points room pricing, sometimes same price to a few dollars per night more.  If you are building up for a special trip it can speed it along ;)

Cindy, thank you for the Super Shuttle hint, did not know that :)


Mon May 18, 2009 at 02.39 am

Travis Forden

With the Virgin Atlantic American Express card, you also get 3 miles for every $1 spent on Virgin Atlantic purchases. Also as a Flying Club member, you get lots of promotional deals via email, which have helped me earn lots of points very quickly.


Mon May 18, 2009 at 12.12 pm

Elliot Jay Stocks

Thank you so much for this, Cindy! You really are a fount of knowledge and I thoroughly appreciate you taking the time to write such a great article. :)


Tue May 19, 2009 at 12.07 am

Curtis Palmer

My favorite is Delta Skymiles for eating out at certain restaurants -  No coupons, just register your cards (maybe even your United Visa <hehe>) and use ‘em when you dine out.  Sometimes there are even double miles offered.

PLUS, right now, get 1000 bonus miles just for signing up.


Thu May 21, 2009 at 11.41 pm

Ruth Kalinka

Wow! thanks, Cindy!  Awesome detailed list!  Thanks for tweeting this link, Elliot!

A tip I’d add for making the most of your miles: When booking flights using miles, check the advance booking rules ahead of time.

With NWA, this means 21 day advance purchase minimum to avoid fees.  A “free” trip I recently tried to book actually costs $85 during the 8-20 day window and even more with less notice… at which point you might be better off just buying a ticket and saving the miles!

Also, as credit card programs go, I’ve been really happy with Citi’s ThankYou Network program.  You earn points which can be cashed out for a variety of useful things, including gift cards and flights.  The points are not restricted to any airline and the “prices” (using 10,000 pts for a $100 gift card as a benchmark) are comparable to other fare search engines, sometimes even coming up as the better deal than paying for tickets.

Good luck & happy travels!



Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 03.19 pm


Thanks for a great list.

I recently started using the Tesco Airmiles scheme but after reading this it semms there are better ways to collect them.

Hoping to use them to visit Hong Kong next year so the more I can get the merrier.


Constantly, trying to learn new things, and on the way I get to meet some amazing people with my camera by my side. XOXO!

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