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Pile Up Miles with Holiday Shopping

Although Christmas is almost upon us, it’s not too late to put a mileage spin on holiday giving and getting.

Whether your holiday plans revolve around a plane trip to Grandma’s or are strictly stay-at-home, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s offers a bounty of opportunities to earn frequent flyer miles, and to use them.

More Miles at the Mall

The halls may be decked with holly, but the malls are decked with miles.

The malls in question aren’t the brick-and-mortar variety, with their choked parking lots and seething crowds. More of interest to frequent flyer program members are the mileage malls—those networks of online retailers that award frequent flyer miles for purchases.

In the run-up to Christmas, mileage mall promotions abound as merchants dangle bonus miles to lure consumers into their digital domains. The combination of extra miles and hassle-free shopping makes for an especially rewarding shopping experience.

Delta‘s SkyMiles mileage mall, for example, boasts more than 500 participating merchants, ranging from Fortune 500 retailers to smaller specialty stores. You’d be hard pressed to think of a gift that couldn’t be purchased from one of them. And through January 15, 2010, a host of retailers are offering a 50 percent bonus on miles earned for purchases at the SkyMiles mall.

But this season, the most compelling shopping bonus is from US Airways. Through December 30, Dividend Miles members can earn up to 250 percent more miles for purchases made at more than 20 participating program partners, including, Barnes & Noble, ShareBuilder, 21st Century Auto Insurance, Netflix, Bose, SkyMall, and the Dividend Miles Shopping Mall.

Although not as lucrative as the US Airways promotion, most of the major airlines have shopping bonuses on offer through December.

Plastic Most Fantastic

Shopping online requires a credit card. And while many credit cards award miles for charges, some are particularly generous.

Virgin Atlantic is offering 45,000 bonus miles to new cardholders after using their frequent flyer credit card for the first time; up to 20,000 more bonus miles for charging $25,000 and adding additional cardholders to the account; and 1.5 miles per dollar spent for most purchases. (Virgin’s offer is a response to a particularly generous credit card promotion from arch rival British Airways, which ended on December 11. It remains to be seen how long this bonus will remain in place.)

Here in the U.S., discount carrier Spirit has rolled out a MasterCard that rewards users with enough Free Spirit miles for three free round-trip award tickets after the first purchase.

The Gift of Miles

When the giving impulse extends beyond Christmas gifts, there are many options for donating miles to charities, or earning miles (or teddy bears) for making cash donations.

The larger programs all offer their members easy ways to donate their miles to selected charities. While that option is available year-round, there are typically extra incentives during the holiday season.

For example, when members of United’s Mileage Plus program donate $50 or 7,500 Mileage Plus miles to the American Cancer Society by December 31, a limited-edition 14-inch Gund teddy bear will be given to a hospitalized child with cancer. Anyone contributing $250 or more will receive his own teddy bear as well.

Also in the spirit of both giving and getting, American AAdvantage members can earn one mile for every dollar donated to UNICEF, through January 15, 2010.

The Gift of Travel

Finally, it’s always worth remembering that frequent flyer miles can be cashed in for award tickets issued in anyone’s name. So, if you have miles but neither the time nor inclination to use them yourself, giving the gift of travel is a sure way to induce Christmas smiles.

The accompanying card might read: “Happy Holidays. Enjoy the Trip.”

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