THE BLOG

'Tis The Season For Bonus Frequent Flyer Miles

10/27/2011 09:28 am ET | Updated Dec 27, 2011

With holiday shopping around the corner, it's time to address one of the recurring tragedies of the season. (No, not your Aunt Sadie's annual fruit cake.) Today I'd like to address the calamity of those millions of bonus frequent flyer miles that people forgo each year because they forget to buy from their favorite online merchants via links at the airlines' shopping mall web sites.
Note that I said bonus frequent flyer miles.

No, I'm not talking about the paltry one-mile-per-dollar that many people earn by using their airline-affiliated credit cards. (I only emphasize this because when I talk about this to friends and sometimes total strangers, most of whom have no idea this is even possible, their eyes glaze over and they stop listening because their interior monologue is saying "Yeah, yeah, I already get miles with my credit card.")

No. We're talking four additional miles per dollar here. We're talking 10 miles per dollar. And talking even more with some merchants.

I'm one of those sad cases. Before I got wise, I would simply go to Apple.com to buy a new $3,000 Mac or a $1,000 piece of furniture from Crate and Barrel's website. Not a smart move. Now I get bonus miles for virtually everything I buy.

And through 11/11/11, United/Continental is offering 1,500 extra bonus miles for any purchase of $125 and 500 more if you also download the use the site's Shopping Assistant tool (Windows only at this writing, Mac OS coming "soon"). And some merchants even let you earn miles by shopping in store or by phone rather than online. You just have to register your credit cards with the store via United's site.

Is there a catch? No. The price you pay for a new Mac via Apple's web site is exactly the same as the price via the airlines' sites.

Literally hundreds of online merchants participate in these mileage offers. Here are some current deals from various merchants and airlines, all of which are subject to change:

Delta Airlines
• 2 miles/$1 at Crate and Barrel
• 2 miles/$1 at iTunes.com
• 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com 
• 2 miles/$1 at Overstock.com
• 3,000 miles at ADT Home Security
• 300 miles at T-Mobile

United (and Continental) Airlines
• 12 miles/$1 at 1-800-BASKETS.com
• 3 miles/$1 at Nordstrom
• 3 miles/$1 at Sephora
• 1 mile/$1 at Apple
• 2 miles/$1 at Avon
• 3,000 miles at ADT Home Security (conditions apply)
• 3 miles/$1 at Bluefly.com

American Airlines
• 4 miles/$1 at Old Navy
• 2 miles/$1 at Walmart
• 5 miles/$1 at Nordstrom
• 11 miles/$1 at Teleflora
• 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com
• 6 miles/$1 at The Body Shop

US Airways
• 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com
• 4 miles/$1 at Jos. A. Bank
• 2 miles/$1 at Old Navy

JetBlue
• 2 points/$1 at Nordstrom
• 1 point/$3 at Apple
• 1 point/$1 at Godiva
• 200 points/new or renewed pre-paid service at Verizon Wireless

Everyday purchases, not just holiday gifts, qualify for miles, too. Do you regularly buy your contacts from 1800Contacts.com? Why not get extra miles for every dollar spent? Are you a frequent buyer at Drugstore.com? Petmeds? If you buy via their site directly, you get no miles; get there via an airline shopping mall page and you might get as many as 10 miles per $1 spent when there's an extra bonus offer.  And keep in mind that airline mall shopping is a painless way to keep your frequent flyer miles from going stale, since each purchase, even a 99-cent song at iTunes.com, extends your miles' expiration date.

It's important to shop around, however, because one airline might offer more miles with the same merchant than another airline. For example, United might be offering three miles for every $2 charged at XYZ.com whereas Delta might be offering four miles for every dollar. And offers can change from time to time, so if your purchase can wait, jump when your favorite airline is offering a double miles deal or better.

And if you've been visiting an online merchant's site directly through their URL recently, it's a good idea to clear your browser's cookies and then enter the site through the airlines' links to avoid any potential confusion as to where you came from.

For your shopping convenience, you can find links to the airlines' mall sites all in one place online.

Bookmark these sites and before you buy anything online, see if miles are being offered for your purchase.

Have a great time shopping this holiday season, and please be sure to gift yourself a gift, too -- in the form of extra frequent flyer miles.