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Getting started: joining mileage programs and keeping track of them

A few years ago, when I shopped for airplane tickets, I usually just went for the cheapest option. Sometimes that meant spending an entire night in an airport between connecting flights. However, once I started accruing miles and booking award flights, I quickly realized that free was much, much better than cheap and usually quite a bit more comfortable. But the very first step is signing up for mileage accounts with airlines. This is, of course, free. Sometimes you will even get bonus miles just for signing up. Focus on airlines that fly out of the airport that you live nearest to, but consider airlines across all three major alliances (Star Alliance, SkyTeam and OneWorld). You never know when a few miles in a program can come in handy or when some promotion will allow you to quickly accrue miles in a particular program. In some cases, you can even transfer miles between programs and perhaps, receive a bonus. I usually fly United and have premier status (lots of extra legroom in Economy plus seating, not having to pay to check bags, not having to wait in long security lines and a number of other perks), so I’m primarily concerned with my MileagePlus balance, but I also have accounts with the programs of: Air France, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Continental (which will soon become United), Delta, Frontier and Hawaiian Airlines among others. I’ll explain my reasons for membership in each in more specific posts later, but the main ideas are: whenever I fly, I earn miles somewhere and whenever I shop, I also earn miles somewhere (and usually two somewheres).

I keep track of all my mileage balances and those of my boyfriend with Award Wallet and it is quite possibly one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It’s like an interactive, alphabetized bibliography of my points programs. Award Wallet puts the annotated bibliography I once wrote on the interpreters of the Thyestes myth to shame. I can keep track of our mileage balances AND our points with hotel programs and credit card programs.  I only have to go to one place to see my balances for my amtrak points, Thank You Points, Ultimate Rewards points, Expedia rewards, etc. I don’t have to remember all the passwords of each program as I can log in directly from Award Wallet by clicking on the name of the program. I can update each balance whenever to see if they’ve changed (and I do this sometimes several times a day out of sheer excitement) and I can get that same info through their iPhone app. Recently, American Airlines disallowed Award Wallet from letting users log in through them, so that no longer applies to my AAdvantage miles (I’m still fuming) and I have to find out my balance by logging on directly to my American account. Award Wallet is working on how to get around this.

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