Monday, September 13, 2010

How to fly for free?

I never understood the importance of frequent flyer miles until I became an airline employee. I have missed opportunities for free airline tickets for myself and family. I want to share with you the mistakes that I have made in the past so that you may benefit.

My first  airline ticket overseas trip to Paris, France was a gift from a friend. He spent spent $600 for for an excursion ticket for me. He believed in my dream of living abroad and purchased the ticket to help me achieve my dream. I did not sign up for frequent flyer miles. For example, a roundtrip ticket From Chicago to Paris is about 8,000 miles.

After meeting my ex-husband in Paris we traveled on the international basketball circuit for about six years. Basketball teams paid for our airfare. We traveled from country to country with our babies in tow. We lived out of suitcases.
Sometimes we would live in a country for a month, four months, six months or a year. We never knew how long we would be in one place. We lived between the U.S. and Belgium (twice), Venezuela (twice), Argentina (once), and Turkey (twice).
We never signed up for any mileage programs. We logged thousands of miles over the six years of traveling and living abroad. Eventually we ran out of money and had to return home. We always thought the free tickets would keep coming.  If had we signed up for the frequent flyer programs we could have continued globetrotting the world.

Even if you don't think that you will ever use the miles, sign up anyway. The frequent flyer programs are free. Always, always get credit for your miles. For example, if you purchase your ticket through www.aa.com, you can receive frequent flyer miles. If you purchase your ticket through Priceline or another online booking engine you do not receive miles.

The value of frequent flyer miles struck me while I was working as a Customer Service Representative checking in passengers for Apple Vacations flights. I met a family with an infant. They wanted to verify that they were receiving their frequent flyer miles. You have to verify that your frequent flyer number is on your ticket or itinerary before flying your trip to get credit. It is harder to get the credit after you have flown. The couple shared with me that their infant had a million miles. Although the family traveled extensively, the infant had not actually flown a million miles. The father had gifted his baby frequent flyer miles. That baby was set for life; a life of free luxury travel with status. WOW! That was my ah moment. My children could have had the same thing, had I known to sign up for the miles.

Many passengers dismiss the value of miles. Cheap tickets are more important.

Frequent flyers learn the mileage game. There are websites for tips on how to accrue miles without flying. There are miles fairies that donate miles to others for free flights. There are frequent flyers who sell miles, although this is not legal.

There was another couple who used to accrue miles through the airline credit card. They made all their purchases with their airline credit card and paid in off in full every month. Even though the wife worked for an airline and had flight benefits. They played the mileage game to accrue free confirmed seats. They charged their mortgage payments, car notes, college tuition payments, utilities, dining out in restaurants, buying groceries, gas, etc. They were always traveling on vacations flying in first or business and staying in luxury hotels. Some hotel loyalty programs allow you to accrue airline miles and hotel points, so sign up for hotel points too.

Airlines offer special promotions such as double or triple miles for flying to certain destinations.

So if you are planning of life of travel, try learning to play the frequent flyer mileage game.  It could lead to a life of free airfare and upgrades to fly business or first instead of coach.