Guest Author - Christine Wilcox
Whether or not you're a frequent traveler, you have one option that gives you a benefit if you play your cards right: frequent flier miles.
Collecting miles with one airline can be a huge benefit, since they can be used toward so many different things now - like hotels, rental cars and merchandise, aside from the fact that they can still be used for flights. You can also earn miles by using a credit card that allows you to earn miles when you make qualified purchases, by registering other credit cards and using them at qualified restaurants and businesses, by belonging to hotel programs and even with renting from certain car companies.
So is it worth it?
Loyalty can be a great benefit, and if you have the luxury to have latitude in your airline budget, it can be worth it. My game plan is always the same. First, I check sites like Expedia.com and Travelocity.com for flights across the board. They will show flights without prejudice, generally speaking. Then I will go check directly with my preferred airlines. I don't take for granted that the price shown on any site is the best deal.
All things considered, unless I find an amazing deal where my ticket is $75 or more less than one on my preferred airline, I book where I can get miles. Why $75? Because if I'm booking on my preferred airline, that $75 extra can buy me 1,000 to 2,000 extra frequent flier miles, depending on where I am going.
If the deal is just too good to pass up, I book the flight without consideration of the miles. It's that simple.
Frequent flier programs seem like a maze of confusion, but if you stick with one group of carriers that all work together, you can amass miles that may not get you to Europe, but could get you a weekend in San Diego or Boston. Consider frequent flier miles to be an investment of sorts. As long as you stay active with a program, your miles expiration date will keep rolling forward, even if you fly infrequently. Book one or two trips a year and that's really all you need to do. If you use a rewards credit card, your miles can stack up faster.
Even if you fly infrequently, I highly recommend joining the mileage programs for any airlines that you fly. You never know when they'll come in handy, and it's free!