Top Tips for Using Frequent Flier Miles

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With summer travel season in full swing, many vacation-goers look to make the most out of frequent flier miles. Condé Nast Traveler has advice for anyone with miles to burn — check out their 17 top tips here and read more at Concierge.com.

1. Evaluate

A mile is worth about 1.2 cents, so, multiply that by the number of miles required to determine the "price" of an award ticket. For example, a trans-Atlantic economy seat that requires 75,000 miles effectively costs $900 — better to buy a round-trip coach fare and use miles to upgrade instead.

2. Consolidate

Experts agree that the best strategy is to focus on one mileage program with the airline you fly most often. By traveling on multiple carriers, you might deny yourself the opportunity to earn elite status.

3. Identify Your Earning Pattern.

If you're an occasional flier and earn most of your miles from credit card purchases, one expert recommends switching to a "cash back" card such as Discover and putting the rebate into a fund for purchasing tickets "without the difficulty of redeeming miles."

4. Learn Which of Your Airline's Partners Allow You to Redeem Miles on Their Flights

It can broadly expand your options.

5. Use the Phone

Most people book their awards online, but speaking to an agent who has both the training and the tools to find alternative routes, flights and dates can be worth the time and trouble — even if there's a fee.

6. Book Very Early or Very Late

Booking early will always increase your chances of snagging a seat. Among the Big 6, booking is permitted as early as 352 days in advance on Northwest and 329 days in advance on American. Conversely, some award seats open up within two weeks of departure, so booking late can also have its advantages.

7. Be Flexible

Try to avoid the bottleneck of weekend travel; adjusting your itinerary by a day or two can help win you that hard-to-get award. Midweek travel is often the best time for cashing in miles.

8. Consider a Stopover

Make the most of your award ticket by adding another city to your itinerary. The stopover won't cost extra.

9. Be the First

When your airline announces a new route, use miles to fly there, since there are sure to be empty seats available.

10. Make Elite Status a Priority

The right big-ticket purchases or a few extra flights could bring shorter lines, easier upgrades and superior service within reach.

11. Are Your Charge Cards Working for You?

If they're not, they should be. Consider these first: American Express Starwood (31 partners), Diners Club (21 partners), and American Express Membership Rewards (14 partners).

12. Don't Squander Your Miles

Save them for special trips or expensive flights — don't waste them on tickets you can buy for a few hundred dollars.

13. Save Your Upgrades ...

... For flights on which premium class is truly premium. Use them on long-haul routes or to upgrade to first class on a three-class airplane.

14. Be a Contrarian

Travel in the off-season or at off-peak times of the day.

15. Know Your Carrier's Other Partners

Particularly the hotel and car rental companies — and stay loyal to them as well.

16. Buy Miles Only to Top Off Your Balance

At about 2.75 cents a mile, you're paying more than twice the accepted value.

17. Log on to the Experts' Web Sites

You'll find invaluable up-to-the-minute news, insights and advice on webflier.com, frequentflier.com, firstclassflier.com, and yapta.com.

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