By Brian Kelley
There are plenty of misconceptions floating around about frequent-flyer miles that keep travelers from using them to their best potential. It's time to set the record straight: Here, I've set out to debunk five common myths about miles, and hopefully, demystify the redemption process for you. I've personally used frequent-flyer miles to travel the globe, explore incredible new places, and take trips that I never thought possible. You can, too, if you simply get past these five common misconceptions:
1. I Don’t Fly Enough
Not true. Even if you are an infrequent flyer, you can still get in on the game. It’s free to join frequent-flyer programs, so there's no reason not to. Plus, sites like AwardWallet.com now let you track all your balances in one place. You'll also be able to keep track of expiration dates on your miles, so you don't have to worry about losing them unexpectedly. In fact, while 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 credit card sign-up bonuses and promotions, as well as my daily credit card spending (which also extends the expiration date on my miles). So as long as you spend money—and we all do—you can start accruing enough miles and points to get you where you want to go.
2. Miles Expire Too Soon
False. Miles no longer expire on some airlines (like Delta), and most credit card points never expire as long as the account is active. Plus, most airline programs will reset the expiration clock even if you make just a $1 purchase through one of their online shopping portals at merchants you probably use anyway like iTunes. So while it does take a minimal effort to make sure your miles don't disappear, you should treat them as assets and take the one minute necessary to keep the accounts active.
3. Even if Accrue Miles, Blackout Dates Will Prevent Me From Using Them
Wrong again. Most airlines don't even have blackout dates in place anymore. While they might charge more miles for traveling during peak periods like the holidays, it’s still an option. Plus, once your familiarize yourself with some key tools and methods of checking award availability, like on ExpertFlyer (unfortunately, most airline websites are useless and only show you a tiny fraction of actual availability), you'll be surprised at what is actually at your disposal.
4. There Are No Good Deals Out There Anymore
We beg to differ. Last year was unprecedented for huge credit card sign-up bonuses, and 2012 promises even more lucrative deals 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 and hopefully rebounding, airlines are competing more than ever to gain loyal customers. Many are even giving bonuses for flying highly competitive routes (United, American, and Virgin America have been showering San Francisco passengers with bonuses, for example).
5. The Whole Concept of Free Travel is Too Good to Be True
That’s incorrect. While it's hard for many people to believe, you absolutely can travel the world for next to nothing if you have a strategy in place to take advantage of frequent-flyer programs. Remember, airlines sell billions of miles to partners like credit card companies and car rental agencies every year, so they want that gravy train to continue running on schedule. Companies and banks also know that people are motivated by miles, 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, shopping online, ordering flowers, and even hair replacement surgery. So start paying attention to the offers that are out there, and you'll start racking up all the miles you need (and then some) to set out on your next trip.
Fodors.com contributor Brian Kelly is The Points Guy. A former road warrior, he spent years working in recruitment for a major investment bank, traveling over 125,000 miles annually, and spending well over fifty nights a year in hotels. For Brian, getting there is often more than half the fun. His passion for travel and knowledge of the frequent-flyer miles and points system has allowed him to fund a luxury travel lifestyle, while spending less cash than he would to fly coach and stay in hostels.
Photo Credit: Two Tickets and an Airplane via Shutterstock