An email from Delta’s mileage program recently announced that you could get 3 miles for every dollar spent at Home Depot. We’d been planning to buy a new grill there anyway, so I went through the SkyMiles Mall site to get to Home Depot, where I used a coupon from DealNews.com to get $100 off the purchase. We charged the grill and some accessories it to our Starwood Preferred Amex card, earning us 723 points in that program for future travel plus 1,977 frequent flier points in Delta’s program.
It’s not enough to get a free trip, of course, but the rewards do eventually add up. In recent months we’ve used various frequent traveler programs to:
- Get a free week at the Westin resort in Maui
- Book a bedroom on Amtrak for an overnight trip
- Get two free roundtrips to New York and one free roundtrip to Maui
Here’s how you can supercharge your travel rewards:
Use your rewards program’s shopping mall. For years I avoided these “malls,” thinking they were just online boutiques with overpriced merchandise. D’oh! In reality, the shopping malls operated by most frequent flier programs are simply portals that pass you through to the online merchants you already use. But by starting your shopping trip at the mall, you earn frequent flier rewards on the money you spend. You can use online coupons and other discounts just as if you’d started your trip at the retailer. The Mileage Mall at Webflyer.com keeps track of the offers at various frequent flyer online shopping malls and singles out the 20 best deals.
Spend money with program partners. You probably know you can earn frequent flier miles by renting cars or booking hotel nights with an airline program’s partner companies. But you also can get miles when you refinance your mortgage, sign up for cell service or eat a restaurant meal. It’s worth regularly reviewing the partner offers listed on your frequent traveler programs’ Web sites, and checking in with Webflyer’s Mileage Mall before you make a big purchase or open new accounts. Right now I’m kicking myself for not knowing that Mozy’s online backup service offered 3,000 Delta miles for new accounts, since I just opened one.
Sign up for your rewards programs’ email newsletters. You’ll be alerted to special deals you might miss otherwise. Virtually every program has limited-time offers that give you bonus miles or points. Right now, Continental offers double miles for La Quinta stays; Delta gives bonus miles for stays at Marriott and Hilton hotels, while American is offering up to 50,000 bonus miles for roundtrips between JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco for first- and business-class trips, and 25,000 miles for coach tickets booked in Y, D or I categories.
Get elite status. Airline and hotel programs typically have multiple tiers of membership; the higher you go, the more rewards points you earn for the same travel. Best Western, for example, gives its most frequent travelers a 30% bonus on the points they earn; Hilton gives its top tier a 50% bonus, and Delta’s Diamond Medallion fliers get a 125% bonus on the miles they earn. If you travel a lot, concentrating your business on one airline or hotel chain can help you rack up the rewards.
Get the credit card. If you’re an elite traveler on an airline (flying 25,000 miles or more annually), it often makes sense to get the credit card affiliated with that frequent flier program. But airline-branded credit cards tend to come with hefty annual fees, so you need to either travel enough or charge enough to make the plastic earn its keep. If you have one of these cards, do an annual review to make sure that the value of the miles you earn are more than offsets the cost. Otherwise, consider your alternatives:
- Hotel-branded rewards cards are often a better deal; they typically don’t have annual fees or blackout dates for using your rewards.
- If you charge a lot and want the flexibility to deploy your points among different programs, consider an American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card (which allows you to transfer miles to 11 different airline programs) or the Diners Club International Charge Card (which allows transfers to 20 airline programs). For more, read Webflyer.com’s review by clicking HERE by Webflyer.com. Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express offers similar flexibility to transfer miles to 30 different programs.
- If you prefer simplicity, consider Escape by Discover Card, which gives you credits to offset travel purchases, and the Capital One No Hassles Card, which offers a better-than-average accumulation rate—1.25 miles per dollar spent—that can be used on any airline without blackout dates.