Correcting Misconceptions About Frequent Flyer Miles

08/12/2011 12:03 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2011
  • Brian Kelly Expert on points programs, known to confused travelers as The Points Guy. ...

Over the last several years I've used frequent flyer miles to travel the globe and explore incredible new places. In the course of my wanderings I've discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding frequent flyer and airline points programs. Now I'm here to set the record straight.

5 Common Misconception About Miles

1) You don't fly enough to make miles worth it.
Untrue. It's free to join frequent flyer programs, so there's no reason you shouldn't. Plus, sites like now let you track all your balances in one place. You can also keep track of expiration dates on your miles so you don't have to worry about losing them unexpectedly. Even if you are an infrequent flyer, you can still get in on the game. Even though I fly over 150,000 miles a year, the majority of my points and miles are non-flight related, meaning I accrue a ton via the best credit card sign-up bonuses and my daily credit card spending. I take advantage of the top promotions, which are constantly being updated. So as long as you spend money -- and we all do -- you can start stockpiling miles and points.

2) Miles expire too quickly to use.
False. On some airlines, like Delta, miles never expire and most credit card points never expire as long as an account is active. This means that most airline programs will reset the expiration date just because you bought a song on iTunes. It does take some effort, albeit minimal, to make sure your untouched miles don't disappear, but you should treat them as assets and take the one minute necessary to keep the accounts active.

3) Even if I have miles and points, I'll won't be able to use them due to black out dates.
Wrong. Most airlines don't even have blackout dates anymore. While they might charge more for traveling during peak periods like the holidays, you can still fly home for Christmas on points. Once you familiarize yourself with some key tools and methods of checking award availability (most airline websites are useless and only show you a tiny fraction of actual availability), you'll be surprised at what is actually out there. More on that in a future post.

4) The glory days of frequent flyer miles and travel are over.
Au Contraire. This has been an unprecedented year for huge credit card sign-up bonuses and many industry insiders are saying the best is yet to come. Airlines have been creeping back to profitability (thanks, in no small part to those nickel-and-dime charges for checked baggage and economy plus seating), and with the economy leveling out -- despite obvious turbulence -- airlines are competing more than ever to gain loyal customers. Many are even giving bonuses for highly competitive routes: United, American and Virgin America have been showering San Francisco to Chicago fliers with bonuses all year and Delta is offering 1,000 free miles for checking in once using their app. Now is as good a time as ever to put together a smart points strategy. A better time really.

5) The whole concept of free travel is too good to be true.
Incorrect. You should see my passport. While it is hard for many people to believe, traveling the world on the cheap is very possible for those enterprising enough to have a strategy in place. Remember: Airlines sell billions of miles to partners like credit card companies and car rental agencies every year, so they need that gravy train to continue running. Companies also know that miles motivate consumers, so they are seen as effective marketing tools. That means you can get airline miles for pretty much anything, including signing up for new credit cards, paying your phone bill, ordering flowers and refinancing your mortgage. Start paying attention to the offers that are out there and you will start racking up more miles than you ever thought possible. Send me a postcard.

My future posts will outline key ways not only to earn points, but to redeem them effectively.

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