With airlines expected to pocket $36.1 billion in passenger fees and upsells this year, according to IdeaWorksCompany, consumers should try to maximize the miles they already have in order to boost their status before the end of the year.
Short of becoming mileage runners—i.e., people who make a sport out of earning the most miles for the least amount of money—Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, says there are three things consumers can do:
Sign up for a co-branded credit card. " In the past, the only way to get miles was butt-in-seat [actually flying], but it's gotten a lot easier," Kelly says. "Each of major airlines will give a co-branded credit card. But they usually have higher annual fees, so do the math and make sure it makes sense." People new to the points game will be pleased with Delta: "You can get top-tier status on Delta just by getting one of their cards and using them," he says. What's more, their points never expire.
Buy miles directly from the carrier. Yes, you can do this, says Kelly, although it will cost you more now that the year's almost over and airlines are hiking their prices. "The airlines know people get desperate, so they increase the price of those elite miles as the year goes on," notes Kelly.
United's Elite Maximizer program charges 3 and a half cents per mile, while American is sweetening its deal between now and Nov. 15 by throwing in 2,000 bonus miles for every 6,000 miles purchased. It's easy to rack up these miles without flying, but be smart: The costs add up quickly and you might be better off buying rewards points from your card issuer and transferring them to the carrier instead, as Kelly points out in his blog.
Have a friend "gift" you status. It pays to know the right people, Kelly says. Some programs like American's AAdvantage let fliers gift Gold status to a friend, while United's MileagePlus will let you share them with friends and family.
See if it's included in your company's benefits. Working for a large company might mean you're among the elite, says Kelly. Be sure to check your contract or contact the airline to find out for sure.
Now that you've racked up some points, meet the greatest mileage runners of all-time >
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