Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Jetset: Managing Your Miles

Hints and tips to get the most out of your air mileage

Still dreaming about that post-retirement, first-class jaunt around the world on an award ticket? Wake up and check your airline account! Your hard-earned miles may vanish before you have the chance to redeem them for that coveted seat in the front cabin.

United Airlines, the world’s largest trans-Pacific airline, has just restricted the validity of its frequent flier miles. From the end of 2007, members of UA’s Mileage Plus program will lose all their miles after 18 months of inactivity (down from 36 months). If you haven’t used United or its mileage program partners since July 1, 2006, you’ll kiss your miles zaijian at the end of this year. So much for the friendly skies. Other major U.S. airlines, Delta and US Airways among them, have made similar moves. Watch out if you still have miles with these airlines.

Fortunately, even if you have just quit that high-flying job, you can still breathe new life into your old United (or most international airlines’) miles quite easily. Redeeming a free ticket for Mom, staying at a partner hotel for a weekend getaway, charging an airline-affiliated credit card on groceries, or even ordering some flowers online for your long-distance sweetheart through one of the partner e-retailers – any one of these activities will extend the validity of your miles for another 18 months. So check your airline’s website for a complete list of mileage-earning opportunities.

But if you do have the money and/or reason to fly, there will soon be another nonstop option from Beijing to the US East Coast. After beating out rivals and winning the right to launch a new US-China route, United has linked the Chinese and U.S. capitals for the first time with a daily Beijing-Washington flight on a Boeing 747 – and they’re offering up to 10,000 bonus miles per roundtrip to boot. Log on to UA’s website for details on the promotion.

Now, for most sane people, it would be a no-brainer to choose a nonstop flight over connecting flights – but not when you’re a mileage guru. Did you realize that by flying Beijing to Washington via San Francisco instead of nonstop, you’ll earn 1,400 extra miles one-way? That’s 2,800 additional miles roundtrip – or 20 percent more! Not too bad; and you can offset journey grumbles by stocking up on some See’s Candies at the San Francisco airport. Steven Jiang

This article was originally published on page 146 of the April 2007 issue of That's Beijing magazine.

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