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Airline Mile Primer

Michael Heiko An airline mileage report folded into a paper airplane.

Photo: Michael Heiko

• More opportunities to spend miles on merchandise Magazine subscriptions for miles have been available for years, but lately some airlines have begun offering more unusual products. Last year, Frontier launched the More Store, an on-line shop where members can purchase luggage and dining certificates, and can bid on concert packages such as a Bruce Springsteen deal, which included four tickets, airfare, two hotel rooms, and a rented Jaguar convertible. (This went for a mere 32,000 miles —$768 based on Frontier's standard 15,000 mile domestic ticket award price.) United has a new auction feature: adventurous travelers can bid to charter an America's Cup racing yacht or drive 10 laps at a Nascar track. United Mileage Plus members can also redeem miles for cruises. Continental's on-line auction allows customers to swap miles for items like Houston Texans tickets, a dinner party with a chef, and a Star Wars popcorn machine. On Continental's Miles for Merchandise site, frequent fliers can purchase household items, electronics, watches, or clothing with a combination of dollars and miles. Most of these options are best for members with more miles than they can use for flying; converted miles are worth even less in merchandise than they are in travel.

How to Make the Most of Your Miles

• Consider buying merchandise, but do the math An airline that charges 25,000 miles for a standard domestic round-trip ticket values your miles at approximately 1.4 cents each. To get the dollar cost, simply multiply the number of miles charged by .014.

• Monitor your program's changing rules Bankruptcies and mergers often lead airlines to revise their award ticket prices. To stay on top of the latest news, read FrequentFlier.com and InsideFlyer.com. If you maintain several frequent-flier accounts, sign up for MileageManager.com ($14.95 per year), which keeps track of them for you and tells you when you've earned enough miles for a free ticket.

• Try upgrading on new routes You'll have less competition from other frequent fliers, who tend to upgrade on their favorite routes.

• Don't hoard miles Despite the simple logic that you shouldn't squander award miles when you could buy a ticket for a low cash price, the value of your miles isn't likely to increase, as ticket prices aren't likely to rise significantly anytime soon. Use them before their value drops further.


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