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Frequent Flyer Miles

While we may not fly on the basis of how many frequent flyer miles we can accumulate they are certainly a great surprise when you realize that you may have a free rip coming to you some time in the future.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch and before you start packing your bags for your free trip you should bear in mind that there are man pitfalls and secrets that will help you maximize your frugality and minimize any extras that could end up costing you more than you might want to pay.

Tough Times

Although September 11, 2001 the airline industries have been in decline for some time, and the as the flush eighties gave way to the cautious 90's we now live in a downright perilous new millennium and getting the most out of your airline is becoming harder and harder.

The key to an airlines success is passenger loyalty.  The chances are one airline will never have the cheapest flights all the time, and cash strapped consumers now have all the tools they need, in the form of the Internet, to get where they want to go cheaply.  Frequent flyer miles are a way for the airlines to ensure that you look at them first and don't look back.

However, this has resulted in a rather Byzantine system of rules, protocol and regulations that make it near impossible to know just how many miles you will accrue on any given flight.  Not only that but, airlines have had to drastically scale back their frequent flyer programs without making it look like they have.

To really know what the game is and how to play it, you need to know the basics and here they are:

Redeeming Your Frequent Flyer Miles

The big way the airlines will try and make it hard for you to get the most out of your miles is to limit the amount of seats available to frequent flyers on the most popular destinations. 

For instance, if you were looking to fly from New Jersey to Oklahoma you would have little to no problem using your frequent flyer miles because really, not many people are looking to use their miles this way.  However if you were hoping to fly from New York to Aruba, you'd have to book your flight well in advance and that is still no guarantee that the flight would be available.  Obviously the airlines would prefer to give your seat to paying customer and therefore they will use every crafty trick in the book to ensure that they can.

The airlines have very sophisticated technology that shows them just how popular any given destination is, then they will extract a percentage of free seats on that flight. Naturally, the most popular flights will have a low percentage. In the worst-case scenarios a certain flight will be completely unavailable to folks who are looking to use their frequent flyer miles.

This may seem shocking but it is just one of the risks that airlines face while trying to stay in business.  They simply hope that they won't alienate too many customers while trying to maximize their profits.  Some are more successful than others in this precarious balancing act.

Changing the Rules In The Middle of The Game

Like a spoiled kid whose hockey nets are your only source for playing road hockey, you have to play by his rules.  Much the same can be said for the airlines.  They have all the gear and they can change the rules in the middle of the game.  Many people have found this out the hard way when it comes to frequent flyer miles.

One of the worst tricks is the ability for airlines to change the amount of miles you need to get somewhere.  You may have been saving 25,000 miles to get to Cancun, then, out of nowhere they might up the rate to 35,000 miles.  There is absolutely nothing you can do.

Other times, if you are unable to get a reservation booked they might suggest you put more miles towards it, and 'secure the booking'.  Very shady indeed.  If this all sounds unappealing, you can hire a travel agent to maximize your frequent flyer miles, but they will charge you a fee of around 40$.  So you really have to weigh your options.

Other airlines will charge you a fee simply for trying to cash in your miles.  I know it sounds ridiculous but these airlines are in a real pinch because of higher competition, and high fuel prices.

Another dirty trick revolves around time limits.  Some of the low budget airlines have started putting time limits on your miles.  So, if you don't use them within a certain time period they will expire.  This is an especially dirty trick that is catching on with more and more airlines.

Most average Americans don't fly more than a couple times a year, so their miles are effectively useless.  Be sure to read the fine print and find out if this is the case.  If it is you might want to look at another airline if you think you might be looking to accrue miles.

The Airlines Do Make Money Though

Before you get out your checkbook and start writing checks to help bailout your favorite airline, take into consideration that these airlines get tons of kickbacks from hoteliers, rental agencies and restaurants.  They make enough money that you should never feel sorry for them.

This is the free market and there will always be flights to where people want to fly.  It is in your best interest to take the cheapest flight and help realize the market forces that drive the airline industry.

Frequent Flyer Miles or Bust

It seems like every airline in the world is having some sort of financial trouble.  In many cases these airlines can fall apart overnight.  Their margins are so tight that if fuel goes up a couple dollars in price, they cannot fly.

If this happens your hard earned miles will become totally useless.  Unless of course a competitor buys the airline, but even if that happens there is no guarantee that your miles will transfer over.  It is completely up to them.  So if you think that you want to collect miles, be sure to choose a company that is in good financial standing…if there is one.

Transfer Miles At Your Own Risk

Some people, thinking that they will scrap together miles for free then pass them off as a gift could have a rude awakening.  Most airlines do not allow you to transfer you free ticket to another person.  This is to prevent the underground market that developed matching folks with frequent flyer miles and people looking for cheap flights.

The airline rationale is that the frequent flyer miles are for just that: frequent flyers. It is a system that hopes to create customer loyalty.  By selling your miles your are breaking that pact.  If the airline finds out they will take the ticket away and they could even take your account away depending on the seriousness of the infraction.

However, if you want to do that, you might as well, the airlines have no trouble screwing over customers, so a little payback seems only fair.

Make Sure You Keep Track

Don't count on the airlines to keep track of your miles for you.  If you are really dedicated flyer, you should be clear as to how many miles you are getting and what those will eventually get you.   If there is a mix-up you need to be able to present receipts that they can track, and ensure that you get ever last mile that you have coming to you.

Look To The Future

While it doesn't seem that the airline industry will be getting better anytime soon, it is almost guaranteed that as the shake-up continues, the successful companies will thrive and they will again begin to offer better incentives for lying with them Until then, all you can do is wait.