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How Do I Choose and Then Join a Frequent Flyer Program?

Dear Tim,

I do not have a frequent flyer card and am not really sure how to get one. Can you get a frequent flyer card without having a credit card? My new job requires a lot of travel. The company will be giving me a corporate credit card and told me to use my own frequent flyer card to get miles.

I can’t even figure out how to start. Please help.


Dear Jennifer,

This is a great question to begin 2005, since it’s all about new beginnings.

Joining a frequent flyer program is easy. Simply visit the website of the airline whose program you choose to join and look for links to its mileage program. There’s no charge to enroll. And no, you are not required to carry a credit card affiliated with the program.

Immediately after registering, you will be issued a unique membership number, both on the website and in a follow-up e-mail (just be sure to provide your e-mail address during registration). Make note of the number; it’s the key to program participation. To help me remember, I keep a list of frequent flyer program membership numbers in my Outlook Contacts section, filed under “Frequent Flyer Programs.”

Some airlines will send you a card in the mail after joining; others won’t send a card until you have activated your account by flying and earning miles; and a few (including JetBlue) don’t issue cards at all. In any case, the card is superfluous. All that’s required to earn miles is the membership number, which you should provide when making any transaction that awards miles.

Since enrolling is easy and free, you may be tempted to sign up for multiple programs in order to earn miles for every transaction on every trip. But you will discover eventually that the secret to wringing the most value from mileage programs is to consolidate your participation in as few programs as possible.

The question then becomes: In which program should I consolidate my mileage earning? The answer depends on where you will be traveling, which airline you’ll be flying, which hotels you’ll patronize, and so on.

The best program for you is the one that awards miles for the trips you make most often, using the airlines and hotels you prefer to use and allowing you to earn free tickets (and possibly elite status and the associated perks) as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Because this a new job and you’re new to earning miles, you may not know enough about your future travel patterns to make informed decisions. As a starting point, check with your colleagues at work who have similar job responsibilities and make the same business trips you will be making. Ask them which airlines and hotels they use most frequently. And if your company has a travel manager, she might be able to provide some guidance and recommendations as well. You can also read the Joy of Miles for more information on how to earn miles.

Welcome aboard!

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