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Five New Year’s resolutions for the frequent flyer

Unless earning miles is your passion, you may find it easy to become complacent about it. You hand over your frequent flyer number when you purchase airline tickets, you earn miles with the credit card you’ve had for years, and occasionally you find you have enough miles to redeem a free award. But you’re not earning as many miles as you could, or getting the most out of your loyalty program.

Well, the new year is a perfect time to turn around your mileage earning. You can make 2006 the year you get your miles in order and put your travel and purchasing power to work for you. If you’re not sure where to start, here are five resolutions you can adopt in order to become the best frequent flyer you can be.

1. I will rethink my miles card

If you’re like me, you’ve had the same airline-affiliated card for years, and you don’t think twice whenever it’s time to renew the card and pay the annual fee. But with so many credit cards offering airline miles, hotel points, or credit card points that can be redeemed for flights and other travel-related rewards, your old card may no longer be the best option for you. This year, take a few minutes to review the options based on your travel and spending habits. If you’re using an airline card, you might want to see what the bank cards can offer you; if you use a bank card, but are loyal to one airline, investigate that airline’s credit card options. If you don’t know where to begin, has many travel tips on the topic of credit cards for miles earners.

2. I will focus my mileage earning in one program

The best way to earn free tickets and the highest level of elite status is to consolidate your mileage earning into one frequent flyer program. If you don’t already have a preferred airline, you should think about which airline you’ve been flying the most and where you intend to travel in the coming year, and then pick the airline that makes the most sense given your travel habits. If you already have a preferred airline, now might be the time to come up with a strategy for how you’ll get to the next level of elite status this year. For instance, if you start putting away money now, you’ll be able to take that last flight you’ll need to qualify for elite status at the end of the year.

3. I will get rid of my orphan miles

Orphan miles are the few thousand miles you have in the frequent flyer programs of airlines you only fly once every few years. These miles are useless to you if you leave them sitting in your account and do not accumulate more miles. Make 2006 the year you do something with your orphan miles. If you have close to 25,000 miles, you may want to shop through that airline’s mileage mall, switch your credit card to that airline’s Rewards Network Miles for Dining program, or simply buy the remaining miles. When you reach 25,000 miles, you can take a free flight guilt-free. If you only have a handful of miles, you still have options, including buying magazine subscriptions with your miles or donating them to the airline’s charities.

4. I won’t dump my miles just because the airline is bankrupt

With Northwest, Delta, and United currently operating under Chapter 11 protection, you may be tempted to spend your miles for fear of losing them. Don’t do it. Although most of the major airlines have been in and out of bankruptcy over the past few years, none of their recent bankruptcies have led to the dissolution of frequent flyer programs. US Airways is merging its program with America West’s, and United is very close to coming out of bankruptcy protection intact. Let this be the year we all take a calmer approach to airline bankruptcies, and not spend our miles until it becomes evident that an airline (such as Independence Air) may have no other choice than liquidation.

5. I will take advantage of airline partners

Airlines profit greatly by selling miles to their partners, so why shouldn’t you benefit from these partnerships too? Before you make a purchase, check to see if you can earn miles for the transaction. You can increase your mileage balance by buying or selling a home, activating new phone or Internet service, sending flowers, shopping online, or eating out, as well as for traditional travel activities such as flights, hotel stays, and car rentals. If you rack up as many miles as you can, you may not feel as bad about spending twice as many miles for an unrestricted ticket when cheaper award seats aren’t available. Or, you can save up for a dream trip to a faraway destination like South America or Asia.

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