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How to get the most out of your miles card

A mileage-earning credit card is an asset to any dedicated flyer, but only if it’s used correctly. You may think you’re on top of the game because you’re gaining extra miles for charges, but you can lose money on the deal if you ignore the fine print. Take a few moments to review your credit card strategy—you may find you can make that card work harder to earn you miles.

Don’t overpay for miles

Most mile-earning credit cards come with an annual fee, ranging from about $40 to $100. The annual fee is effectively the price you pay for miles because you could just as easily have signed up for a card with no annual fee that did not earn miles. In order not to lose money on your miles, you should make sure that you earn enough miles to make the cost per mile a good price.

There are two ways to assess this. The first is to figure out the cost per mile. The industry standard values a mile at two cents. If your annual fee is $50, you’ll need to earn 2,500 miles per year for your miles to be worth two cents. The more miles you earn, the better the rate at which you’ve purchased those miles. If you do not earn enough miles per year through your credit card, you’ll overpay for the miles. In that case, you’d be better off with a different credit card with no fee.

The second is to figure out how much you spend on a free ticket. If it takes you four years to accumulate 25,000 miles from your credit card, enough miles for a free ticket, and your annual fee is $50, you paid $200 for that ticket. As long as you book an award ticket that would have cost more than $200, you’ve gotten a good deal. If the cost in annual fees ends up higher than the dollar value of your award flight, you are not making the best use of your credit card.

Charge everything

The more you use your mileage-earning credit card, the better value it becomes. To get the most miles possible, you should try to charge as much as you can on your miles card (without carrying a balance from month to month). Most retailers will let you charge even a few dollars, which can add up to many miles in the end. It’s smart to inquire if you can pay bills with your credit card or even to put a restaurant bill on your card and get your friends to reimburse you in cash. If your mileage-earning card is your secondary, seldom used card, you will not maximize your mile-earning potential.

Do double duty when dining

Sometimes, credit card use can earn you miles twice for one transaction. For example, if you sign up for Rewards Network through your airline’s frequent flyer page, you will get extra miles every time you eat out at affiliated restaurants and pay with your registered credit card. If that card happens to be a miles card, you’ll earn miles per dollar spent both through the credit card company and through Rewards Network.

Take advantage of promotions

Sometimes airlines offer special deals that are only available to affiliated cardholders. For instance, Delta offers “Always Double Miles,” an ongoing promotion that allows SkyMiles cardholders to earn double miles for groceries, stamps, Delta flights, and other items. On top of that, American Express will from time to time offer double miles on every purchase for SkyMiles cardholders. It’s good to sign up for these promotions and try to time big purchases accordingly, so you can maximize your miles.

In addition, certain airlines, such as American, offer award discounts on certain routes to cardholders. These offers let you book free tickets for fewer miles, saving you both money and miles. The best way to find out about these promotions is to receive the credit card’s targeted mailing and e-mail newsletters. You also may want to check the credit card’s website once or twice per month, as well.

Ultimately, it’s up to you how hard your mileage-earning credit card will work for you. But by following these simple tips, you can squeeze a few more miles out of your card.

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