Strategies for maximizing frequent flyer credit card points

The best strategies for getting a free airline ticket with the help of your airline rewards or frequent flyer credit card boil down to this: seek out all the incentives that have been created for specific airlines and their partners, including those provided by your airline credit card issuer.

Airline credit cards basically come in two flavors. Either a card is issued in partnership with a specific airline, or the card is a generic miles card, where the miles earned can be used on numerous airlines.

Airline-specific rewards credit cards tend to offer special incentives in conjunction with their hotel and rental car partners, allowing you to earn significantly more miles if you put those purchases on your credit card. You can also buy packaged vacation deals to help yourself rack up significant miles and get past that average 25,000-mile threshold to earn a free ticket. One problem: these cards also tend to charge an annual fee.

Generic airline and frequent flyer credit cards offer the advantage of the cardholder being able to apply accumulated miles to a purchase with any airline. When using a generic airline card, the bank actually takes the cash value of your miles (approximately 1-2 cents per mile) and purchases a discount ticket on any airline you choose.

Once you reach a mileage redemption threshold (say 20,000 miles) and wish to book a flight, the bank will convert your earnings into cash value and buy the ticket through a travel booking agency. The availability of discounted fares on the dates you wish to travel may be limited, but at least you can choose any airline.

The quickest route to free travel is to fly as often as possible and charge the tickets on your airline rewards credit card, since this can potentially generate tens of thousands of miles in a year. Business travellers are able to leverage this activity at no personal cost and tend to be the recipients of the most free travel awards (assuming they want to get back on an airplane after all that work-related travel).

Leisure travellers can also take advantage of everyday spending opportunities such as charging groceries, gasoline and setting up automatic recurring payments on their card to add up their miles.

Published June 27, 2008

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