How to Keep Your Airline Miles Once You Earn Them

I previously wrote about how I saved a ton of money using my Delta Airlines-branded American Express card, which you can read here: How Flying with Delta Airlines Has Saved Me a Boatload of Money. However, Delta Airlines isn’t the only airlines my family and I fly with. Occasionally, if a flight is substantially less with another airline, we’ll fly with them. Currently, I have airline miles with American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines. I have no plans in the next several months to fly with American or United Airlines, but you never know what may pop up so I want to keep the miles I have with them just in case.

With the exception of Delta Airlines, all miles earned with airlines in the United States have an expiration date. For United Airlines, miles expire after 18 months of inactivity; Southwest Rapid Rewards points expire after 24 months of inactivity. In general American Airlines AAdvantage miles expire in 18 months if you don’t fly with American or one of their partners, but if you have an American Airlines-branded credit card, your miles earned using that card will remain valid as long as you use the card.

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Photo by Hazyrah Mokhlas on Pexels.com

Most of us that have earned miles by flying with a particular airline have received something in the mail stating we can buy a magazine to stop our miles from expiring. Maybe you’ve even done this yourself; I know I have many years ago. That is, until I found out this isn’t really the best way to keep your miles from expiring.

It’s a pretty well-known fact that simply flying with an airline isn’t the best way to earn miles unless you fly for work and literally fly every week or you fly first class all the time. Once you accrue those hard-earned miles the last thing you want to happen is for them to expire so you can’t even use them. As long as there’s some kind of activity on your mileage account within the limit (as I mentioned above, usually it’s 18 to 24 months) your miles won’t expire.

What counts as activity? You could purchase magazines, as that indeed counts as activity on your account. You spend a small amount of your miles to buy the magazine, so the miles are deducted from your account, but it re-sets the clock on your account, thus further extending the expiration date of your miles.

An even better way is to have an airline-branded credit card that you use for everyday purchases. As I stated above, when you use an American Airlines-branded credit card, your miles earned using that card will remain valid and don’t ever expire. I use my Delta Airlines-branded credit card when I shop for groceries, get gas for my car, buy clothes, go out to eat, and pretty much everything else I can, in addition to buying airfare for myself and my family.

One thing many people don’t know about is you can earn miles simply by shopping online through your airlines-branded credit card shopping portal. For example, you can earn 2 miles per dollar spent by shopping at Home Depot with many cards, or Bloomingdale’s or Target or Macy’s, and the list goes on and on. The number of miles you earn per dollar also varies greatly, from 1 mile to as much as 15 miles per dollar but I’ve even seen some places offering many more for large purchases. Often, stores will offer limited-time promotions where you may earn say 8 miles per dollar when you normally would earn 2 miles per dollar. This only applies to online shopping, however. Still, it’s an easy way to rack up the miles simply by doing something you were going to be doing anyway if you needed to buy something online.

Many airlines-branded credit cards also have dining programs. Simply by enrolling in the program with your credit card, you earn miles by eating out at certain restaurants. If you eat out a lot, the miles would really add up quickly this way. Even if you don’t eat out that often, it’s another way to keep your miles from expiring.

It’s really not as hard as some people may realize to hold on to their airline miles. You have several options to earn miles by doing things that most of us do anyway.

Have any of you done any of these things to keep your airline miles from expiring? If so, please share your experiences below!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

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A Simple Way to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Airfare

When I first started this blog post, I thought I was going to write about planning your first trip to Europe (written for Americans), but it evolved into something else. Perhaps I’ll have to write another blog post on planning a trip to Europe, but for now, I’m going to focus here on buying airfare. I’m not going to get technical and talk about credit cards, using miles or points, or anything remotely like that. This is actually a pretty simple way that can save you hundreds of dollars for just one airline ticket.

One place I like to start is Google flights (flights.Google.com). The thing I like most about Google flights is how flexible it is with searches. You can put in any city in the US and for example, “Europe” for destination and see how much flights cost to some of the most popular cities in Europe. A map will be generated with prices for around 15 destinations in Europe. For example, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Dublin the end of June is as low as $671 round trip, but on that same day, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Rome is $1475. If you’re flexible about where you’re going, you can end up paying half or less for your flight.

Again, being flexible can help save you money if you’re flexible with your dates. You can scroll through Google flight’s calendar and see how prices fluctuate over time. That same flight to Dublin that cost $671 the end of June drops to $360 for a few dates in August, or goes to as much as $1088 for a four-day vacation the week of July 4th. I suggest you play with the dates and it could easily save you hundreds of dollars per ticket.

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Thanks to Google flights, I discovered it didn’t cost a single cent more to add on a stopover in Miami from Malta before flying home!

It seems like there are a dozen websites where you can compare airfare. You could spend hours going to them all, but in the end I’ve found they all pretty much give you the same information as Google flights, and I just prefer the platform Google flights uses. If you like Hipmunk, Momondo, or Expedia (or something comparable) better, by all means use them along with Google flights, but I really don’t feel you need to go to six different comparison sites like these, so choosing one will save you time.

Once you have a specific flight, go directly to the airline to make sure it’s the same as what you’re seeing on Google flights. So that flight to Dublin that’s $360 in August is with Wow airline, a budget carrier based in Iceland, which is notorious for adding extra fees. When I clicked the link through Google flights to purchase through the Wow Airline website, that same flight cost $199.99 to get there and $179.99 to get back for Wow basic ($379.98 for round-trip), which includes your flight ticket and one personal item, slightly more than $360 shown on Google flights. One carry-on bag costs $49.99 each way if purchased with the ticket or $69.99 if purchased at check-in. Each checked bag costs $67.99 each way in advance or $79.99 at check-in. Let’s go with one carry-on bag, so that adds another $99.98.

If you want to choose your seat, that will be another $4.99-$6.99 for each segment of your flight for budget standard seats, $9.99-$19.99 for standard plus seats, on up to $99-$249.99 for the “BigSeat- Extra wide seats with plenty of legroom and WOW premium service” with price variances based on if you’re flying to/from New York or Reykjavik. The main thing here is you’re paying extra for that seat from New York to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Dublin, from Dublin to Reykjavik, and from Reykjavik to New York. $4.99-$6.99 might not seems like that much, but when it turns out to be $23.96 for each person for all four segments, just to be able to choose a budget standard seat, it adds up. Meals are also extra with Wow airlines, with most ranging around $12-$14 for lunch items (salads, pizza, sandwiches).

Not even choosing seats or buying a meal onboard, your ticket will be $629.96 after taxes and fees with just one carry-on bag. This is a far cry from the $360 that showed up on Google flights. Still, it is cheaper than the next-expensive flight with Aer Lingus for $984 round trip. The Aer Lingus “smart” fare does include a carry-on and checked bag, complimentary meal, and seat selection.

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Google flights helped me plan my vacation to Antelope Canyon (shown here), Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas

I love playing around on Google flights and often check flights around the world (domestic and international). If I have specific dates in mind to a specific place, I’ll set up a price alert through Kayak to track the price for a flight so I can wait until the price drops and buy my tickets then. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic date you should buy airfare before flying somewhere. Generally speaking, if you buy international airfare (especially more so than domestic) several months in advance, you will pay less than if you wait a month before you want to fly. Airfare is one of the most volatile things I’ve ever seen when it comes to price increases and drops, which is one reason I like Google flights calendar so much, because you can see that volatility in pricing day by day.

What about you all? Do you use Google flights or some other search engine to research airfare prices?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

How to Stay Sane on a Long Flight

The mere wording “long flight” is a subjective one, I’ll admit. For one person, a long flight might be anything more than 2 hours, and for another it might be anything longer than 6 hours. For me, a long flight would be anything more than 5 or 6 hours, so for the purpose of the rest of this post, we’ll go with that length of time.

The longest flight I’ve ever taken was when I flew to New Zealand, which was really two consecutive long flights. I flew from North Carolina to San Francisco, California, then from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. The flight to San Francisco was 6 hours and from San Francisco to Auckland is a 13 hour flight. These were both long flights, but surprisingly, they didn’t seem that long. I’ve also flown across the United States many times including going from the east coast to Hawaii twice, flown from the US to Europe multiple times, and from the US to Chile. What are my secrets for surviving on long flights?

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12 hour flight time to get to Chile but we got views like this in return!

I always try to book direct flights whenever possible. Stay with me here. I realize this makes for longer flights than if you have a couple of shorter flights with layover(s) in between, but you get to your destination quicker with less layovers, and that’s the ultimate goal for me. If I have to pay less than $50 per person more for a direct flight versus one with a stop, it’s a no-brainer that I’ll take the direct flight. When it’s more expensive than that, it gets a little trickier. I will say that very rarely have I ever had more than two stops on a flight to anywhere I’ve flown. I avoid flights with four or (god forbid) more stops like the plague. I’d rather have one stop (or less) on a plane and drive for 4 hours in the car than two stops on a flight and not have to drive when I got there. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s how I roll.

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11 hours flight time to get to Hawaii- so worth it!

In my smaller carry-on (I never check my bags) I pack my tablet, a paperback book (I’m old-school and prefer paper to electronic books), and a magazine or two. By the end of my vacation, the magazine will be finished and recycled, and if I finish reading the book, that will either be recycled or donated before I return home (less to carry back). Between all of this I always have plenty of reading material for the plane and rest of my vacation. I always watch a movie on the plane as well, but usually one is plenty for me unless it’s a really long flight.

OK so reading material and the in-flight movie should come as no surprise. I also adjust my watch to the time zone I am flying to as soon as I get on the plane and have found this to be extremely helpful. When I flew to New Zealand I ate when it would have been dinnertime in New Zealand (versus Pacific time where I flew out of), and I slept when it would have been my bedtime in New Zealand. That way when I landed I had already given my body a head start on the new time zone.

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19 hours flight time to New Zealand!  Worth it?  YES!

I swear by my eye mask and wear it not only on long flights but every night at home as well. Ear plugs, ear buds, or noise-canceling headphones are all great for long flights as well. I’ve tried various travel pillows and none of them have really worked for me, but they are an option as they do work for many other people. I usually just crumple up my jacket and use that as a pillow. A window seat is great for leaning your head against too. All this being said, I think I’m going to try an inflatable travel pillow again since it’s been a while since I’ve used one and I’d like to see how it goes.

My daughter and I have also passed the time on long flights by playing card games, coloring when she was younger, playing Pictionary, and just goofing off being silly. My husband is a much better sleeper on an airplane than either my daughter or me so it helps that she and I can help entertain each other.

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Photo taken from the plane somewhere over the midwest en route to Colorado

I limit alcohol consumption on a plane to one small glass of wine with dinner at the most. Your body doesn’t process alcohol as quickly on a plane as on the ground so you feel the effects more profoundly and I have no intention of getting drunk on a flight. I also limit the use of sleep-aids on flights and only use Benadryl when I’m exhausted but just can’t sleep at all. Most of all, I have low expectations for sleeping on a long flight. If I get a couple of hours of sleep, that’s good for me.

Another thing to pack in your carry-on is plenty of snacks. I like to pack nuts, Kind bars, and dried fruit for just about every vacation I go on. Depending on the regulations of the country you’re flying to, dried fruit may not be allowed into a foreign country so if you bring it just be sure you finish it before you get off the plane.

Wearing comfortable clothes is also a must-do for long flights. Since airplanes are usually freezing cold, I’ll wear comfy pants and a short-sleeve shirt with a nice, soft hoodie or sweater so I can adjust if I get too warm. Compression socks are also great to have for long flights to help with circulation in your feet and lower legs. I personally like CEP compression socks and have found them to be some of the best ones out there.

The final thing that helps me survive a long flight is actually what I do when I get off the plane. As soon as I get off the airplane I adjust completely to my new time zone. If it’s time for breakfast at my destination, I will eat even if I’m not that hungry.  I don’t drink coffee but a cup of tea helps me stay alert. One of the worst things you can do is check-in your hotel and sleep for a few hours. A 20 minutes nap would be fine but any longer is just going to make it harder to adjust. If it’s nighttime then of course go to bed and try to sleep until it’s as close to your usual wake-up time as possible.

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Las Vegas is one of our “shorter” cross-country flights at 5 1/2 hours

What about you all? What tips for surviving a long flight do you have? I love to hear tips like this from fellow travelers so please share.