Here’s an amazing statistic from Randy Petersen, publisher of Inside Flyer: Americans have racked up nearly 17 trillion unused frequent-flier miles.
But it’s not for lack of trying to redeem them. Airlines make millions selling mileage to hundreds of marketing partners (credit card companies and grocers, for instance)—and then make it as difficult as possible to use them.
With a little creativity, however, you can beat the airlines at their game. Airlines save their last-minute and nonstop seats for paying customers, so try to book far in advance, and consider counterintuitive routes. Want to go from Los Angeles to Hawaii on your mileage? Explore flying from L.A. through Las Vegas or even Phoenix. It seems nonsensical, but these days you have to find frequent-flier seats wherever you can.
For international flights visit your primary airline’s website to see who its partners are—Star Alliance and Sky Team, for example, each include more than a dozen airlines. You can often redeem miles with partners, giving you more flights with more seats. Instead of flying American to London, for instance, try using your miles on Finnair through Helsinki.
Another tactic: Try one of the new mileage cards, such as those offered by Capital One or American Express, that aren’t tied to a particular airline program. With Capital One’s Venture Card, for example, if you have 30,000 points from qualifying purchases, you get $300 toward any type of travel you choose. The company will pay toward your airline ticket, your cruise-ship berth, or your rental car.
Extra Travel Tip: Bring Your Hotel Home (Not Just Shampoo)
Hotels have sold bathrobes and spa products for years. Now they’re marketing home decor and lots more online. You can buy the W hotel chain’s funky faux-fur throws and acrylic tables at whotelsthestore.com, or a leopard-print dog bed from the boutique Kimpton hotels at kimptonstyle.com. Marriott offers rainfall showerheads at shopmarriott.com, and Westin sells 230-thread-count cotton Heavenly Bedding Sets at westin-hotelsathome.com.