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I tried to cancel my Chase British Airways Visa but was lured to wait

Just a quick note — last May I got in on the crazy 100,000 BA miles sign-up bonus for the Chase British Airways Visa ($95 annual fee), and I still have a ton of unused miles from it. I’ve stopped using the card because I’m not crazy about the program switch to Avios miles that took place last November and I feel like I earn more valuable (and more) points with the Chase Sapphire Preferred (with which I earn Ultimate Rewards points. Those also transfer 1:1 to British Airways, so should I ever feel the need to top off my BA account, Ultimate Rewards gives me the flexibility to do so). So I called Chase and declared I was canceling my card, but the agent said she’d give me 5000 Avios points (posting to my account within the next 30 days) to not cancel quite yet. She justified that my annual fee wasn’t up until May anyway. So I didn’t cancel. Yet. Yay! Free miles!

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How to keep miles from expiring

You don’t need to fly to keep your mileage account current, you just need to exhibit some activity, some sign of life. Each of the ways (purchasing or transferring miles works too) listed in this post counts as activity and can reset your mileage clock for however long a particular program sets it. With each promotion adding bonus miles to your account, the lifespan on your account is extended. The same goes for purchases, no matter how small.

For instance, since apple.com partners with travel programs such as American Airlines, Amtrak, Choice Privileges, Delta SkyMiles, Hawaiian Airlines, Marriott Rewards, Priority Club, Southwest, US Airways and United Airlines, buying a single song off iTunes can reset the clock on any of those accounts. Plus you earn an extra point or mile for buying through the associated shopping portal. You MUST make the purchase through the portal.

Even if you live in a cave and have never heard of iTunes, surely you could find something worthy of purchasing from the myriad of retailers that partner with AAdvantage eShopping, MileagePlus shopping, etc. For example, Groupon (leave your cave and take a cheap salsa dancing class or streamline those neanderthal whiskers with some discount laser hair removal while earning 8 AA miles per dollar) or drugstore.com (I love how I get cash back on purchases and avoid having to drag myself to one of Philly’s remarkably depressing chain drugstores. I also just spent $12.15 in cash back on motion sickness remedies. It was mildly thrilling.).

The same logic applies to using a credit card associated with a specific airline or program – your mileage clock would reset every month, as miles from purchases are posted to your mileage account.

However, while jumping on various promotions is a good way to keep your mileage account healthy and active, if your miles are close to expiring, miles from purchases (or dining through an airline dining program) post to accounts a lot faster. Miles from promotions can take 6-8 weeks to post. The 1500 bonus miles I received from a first Gilt Groupe purchase I made on Dec. 1 have JUST posted to my Continental account.

American Airlines, US Airways, United Airlines and Hawaiian Miles have clocks that are set for 18 months. Your miles do not expire so long as you exhibit some activity in an 18-month period.

You can also worry less about your miles expiring if you use AwardWallet.com, as it tracks the expiration date for each program you put on there.

This all applies only to redeemable miles, as elite qualifying miles usually reset at the beginning of each year. Explanation of United Airlines’ new and old mileage programs here.

To reinstate expired miles is not impossible, but plan ahead and you won’t be caught in such a situation.

Keep your miles from expiring so that this does not happen to you. This is only funny if you know Cantonese.


Quick primer on racking up airline miles

Accepting that flying is not the only way to earn airline miles is usually the first hurdle in playing the miles game, so I thought it would be helpful to post a short review on ways to rack up airline miles. First of all, elite qualifying miles (EQM) are a different animal from redeemable miles (miles you trade for free air tickets). EQM earn you elite status on airlines (and thus give you perks). For the most part, you can only really attain elite status by having your own butt (not somebody else’s butt, even if you pay for their ticket) sitting in an airplane seat (hence the term “butt-in-seat miles”). So I’ll focus on how one earns redeemable miles for now.

1. Flying. Duh.

2. Credit card sign-up bonuses and spending money on credit cards.

3. Dining out, having registered for an airline-associated dining program. See explanation here.

4. Shopping online through an airline-associated shopping portal. See explanation here.

5. Converting credit card points or hotel points to miles (or earning miles for booking hotels through airline sites).

6. Free miles through social networking. Sure it takes dedication to constantly update one’s Facebook status or check-in on Foursquare, but I like it. It’s like a real life video game. Sort of.

7. And here’s the grab bag. Promotions! For example, sign up for Gilt.com and get free miles, sign up for MyPoints and get 750 United Miles (mine just posted, I signed up in September but had to email them asking why it was taking so long. As a warning, you get a lot of emails from them) and so on. You can get miles from opening certain investment accounts or doing online banking through Bank Direct. You can also get one bonus United mile for every dollar you spend when you book a tour package through Viator.com, but you have to spend at least $200 in a single transaction. See the explanation here.

I’m digressing but I had a great experience with Viator in September when I booked me and my boyfriend on their Haleakala sunrise tour. They picked us up from our bed and breakfast in Lahaina in the middle of the night, plied us with coffee and pastries and after watching the sunrise and looking around the crater, we were delivered safely back to Lahaina. Our tour guide / bus driver was super, super nice and enthusiastic about everything. At one point I overheard him telling a couple tourists whose picture he was taking, “Cameras are great!”

We got to sleep on the (long) ride and didn’t have to worry about navigating our way up a strange mountain in pitch darkness. Also I don’t know how to drive and I’m not much of a navigator. You do need to book tours in advance because they don’t run every day. Essentially, by booking a tour you’re really submitting a request and they’ll get back to you within a day about whether the tour is running. If not, they’ll give you alternate dates. Plan in advance!

Finally, the greatest thing about playing the miles game is that you can combine so many different ways to earn miles in a single transaction or trip. For one flight, you can earn miles for having your butt in the airplane seat, paying for a ticket using a credit card, checking in on Facebook at the airport, etc.

If I’m missing anything and if you have other ideas, let me know.

Here are some photos from our Haleakala tour (which I didn’t feel compelled to make prettier, for once):

gathered to watch the sunrise over Haleakala

It was REALLY cold. The guy in front of me was wearing a mattress pad.

crater

above the clouds and on the way up to the observatory

 


Tweeting and Liking

I was fairly resistant to twitter for a long time until recently, when I started to see how following travel bloggers and airlines and reading their tweets was just as beneficial to me as playing Words with Friends. Interpret this as you will, but as my grandpa says about his crossword puzzles, “Keeps the mind sharp.”

(My grandpa also complains to no end about the young guys on the golf course messing up his game and generally being rascals. When I asked him how old these “young guys” were, he looked at me and said, “75.” But that’s another story.)

I’m eventually starting to see twitter as a really useful tool in finding out about flight delays (airlines tweet a lot and this could be helpful for those of you traveling during bad weather. Twitter also gives you another outlet to complain to the airline directly. Seriously, tweet them) and about promotions, especially time-sensitive ones.

Here are a few ways Twitter can enhance your life:

1. Follow airlines on twitter. @AmericanAir, @united, @cathaypacific, @delta, @USairways, @KLM and so on and so forth. Flight delays out of O’Hare? You’ll be the first to know.

2. Follow travel bloggers / sites to hear about promotions, news, etc. (and this is in addition to @flyingnerdily). @boardingarea is a one-stop shop for most, but I recommend following @frugaltravelguy and @thepointsguy as they’re always tweeting helpful info.

3. Link your HawaiianMiles account number to your twitter account and get 500 miles here.

Now what sort of promotions you might be asking and how time-sensitive?

Well, twitter often leads to Facebook  — like ___ and get ___, as in this post I noticed on Oct. 26. And quickly jumped on to get 5,000 Club Carlson points. I also learnt of the 50,000 points Club Carlson was giving to the first 50,000 registrants in a sweepstakes and signed up for that, although that required staying in any Radisson hotel through the end of the year. I debated over this particular deal for a while. 50,000 points on anything is kind of a lot, but I didn’t have any need for another hotel room anywhere and it didn’t fit into my schedule. Also, there’s no Radisson in Hawaii. So I figured I’d just have 5,000 Club Carlson points to do nothing with and oh well. Until I noticed this email in my inbox today.

Dear Flying Nerd,
You have 5,000* points and we have rewards for you.

Redeem some of your 5,000* points now.

*As of December 15, 2011

Turns out Club Carlson partners with a number of airlines that I fly: United, KLM, Cathay, Delta, Japan and more. The exchange rate isn’t at all fantastic, as you’ll see below, but considering my Club Carlson points were free and pretty much only required a Facebook like, I can make off with a few hundred miles to be put to good use elsewhere.


Dining out for miles

Just as you can earn extra miles on top of whatever you spend through online shopping, you can also do so through one of Rewards Network‘s dining programs, which are associated with specific airlines. Focus on which airline(s) you want to increase your mileage account at and register for their dining accounts (sometimes there are bonus miles to be had just by signing up. Have your mileage account number handy. Currently you can receive 1000 miles as a sign-up bonus):

AAdvantage Dining

MileagePlus Dining

SkyMiles Dining

Dividend Miles Dining

All you have to do is eat at a restaurant on a dining program’s list and pay with a registered credit card. You can register up to five credit cards, but be aware that since these programs are all run by Rewards Network, you can’t register the same card in two different dining programs. Therefore, I have my Chase Sapphire Preferred registered with MileagePlus dining, so I can’t go and register it with AAdvantage Dining.

After the payment is processed a few days after you dine, you’ll receive an email from the dining program telling you to fill out a review. Fill it out. It’s short and multiple choice. About a week or so after that, your miles should post to your mileage account.

A surprising number of restaurants are part of the dining program and they’re not just crap ones. I take advantage of getting extra miles by defaulting to dining program restaurants in my neighborhood, but I’ve also been surprised by receiving miles for going to places I just plain wanted to go to and didn’t realize they were part of the program. For example:

1. Tiki’s Bar and Grill by Waikiki Beach. Okay, there was a certain amount of shame involved in my coming here, but I had a strange and powerful urge to drink something fruity out of a snarling head that was likely to cause much intoxication. And so I did.

sometimes tourists get a little wild at Tiki's

2. Lulu’s Lahaina Surf Club and Grill on Maui. They had some great happy hour specials and I was so depressed after eating at Aloha Mixed Plate (They serve their lomilomi salmon in tiny little thimble-sized containers! There was barely any mac salad! They gave a tiny spoonful of poi! The ono was dry!) that I needed several beers. Getting several miles helped, too.

Mixed plates at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina.

3. McGarry’s Pub in Midtown Manhattan. The Neurotic Nerd and I were waiting in the rain for the megabus. It didn’t come. I needed to pee. Solution: We went to the nearest bar. We ordered two shots of vodka. And then a few days later, I got an email telling me I earned United miles.

Anyway there are plenty of restaurants that are registered with the network and I was quite upset at first that some I went to frequently were. All this time I could have been earning extra miles. Plug in your zip code or whatever city you’re traveling to into the search box and a list of nearby restaurants will pop up. There is also an app you can download to search for restaurants while you’re on the move. Bonus points for you (literally) if you can organize a school or conference dinner at a registered restaurant, for which you can put on your registered card and will be reimbursed for. (I did this. It was a huge bill that also helped me make a minimum spend. I got a boatload of United miles.)

How many miles can you earn? You get 3 miles per dollar spent (that’s including tip, tax, etc) as an online member and 5 as a VIP member (after you’ve completed 12 dines in a calendar year).

You may be thinking, oh Flying Nerd, that is a heck of a lot of dines to get to VIP status. Yikes. But worry not! I made it to VIP status faster by simply splitting the check between 2 cards that were both registered under the same account. So if you split the check two ways each time you dine, you’ll make it to VIP status in 6 dines. I guess you could be a jerk and split a check onto three registered cards, but I am not a jerk. “Dine” simply means transaction — that includes a single drink at a registered establishment. Get drinks at the bar. Settle up. Then sit down at dinner, split the check, etc.

There are always ways to earn bonuses in addition to this basic miles earning, you just have to register for them. Once registered for the program, you’ll either get an email about bonuses or you can log into your account and click on the bonuses tab at the top of your screen. Right now, the Sweeten the Deal bonus is running until the end of the year. After you spent $125 at program restaurants, you’ll receive an extra 3 miles for each of those dollars. So if you’re a VIP member, that means 8 miles per dollar spent.

Last week, we went to our usual BYOB pizzeria and split the check, which meant I finally made it to $125 to qualify for the Sweeten the Deal bonus for my MileagePlus Dining account and the boyfriend was closer to making the $50 spend required for his 1000 mile sign-up bonus for his MileagePlus Dining account. The only unfortunate aspect to this was that we ran out of wine and respectable craft beer to take along to dinner and I had to sheepishly smuggle in some errant PBRs in my purse and pour them into our glasses when the server wasn’t looking. Oh yeah and when I tried to fill out our separate online reviews, I forgot the password I had set up with his account, entered the wrong one too many times, got his account locked and then unsuccessfully tried to impersonate him on the phone with MileagePlus Dining. Lesson here: add self as authorized user to every account you to control.

Shopping through portals to earn miles 101

Isn’t “portal” a lovely word? Sure it just comes from L. porta but it still makes me think of Delphic oracles or something. Mystique has been loaded onto the word, I believe primarily through the constant usage of the term in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It also just so happens that more wonder can be added onto the word “portal” in regards to airline shopping mall portals. Now the airlines don’t run these online malls themselves, other companies buy miles from the airline and then the mall encourages you to shop through them and then you earn those miles. Sometimes it is the same company that runs multiple malls and if you register your card through one shopping mall (to get some discounts at retail locations), you can’t have it registered with another mall. But if you’re just shopping online, then you don’t have to worry about this. Anyway, essentially you can make so very many miles so easily just by 1. participating in your favorite airline’s mileage program, 2. signing up for an account with the mileage program’s associating shopping mall portal, 3. when you’re going to buy something, logging into that shopping mall portal and then clicking on whatever store you want to shop through.

You can generally make around 5 miles per dollar spent (again, this is on top of whatever miles you get from spending with a mileage earning credit card), and oftentimes a lot more. Miles amounts are not uniform, so it’s worth using evreward.com to compare the deals at portals.

The portals I use most frequently are the United MileagePlus Shopping and AAdvantage Shopping, as I am most committed to those mileage programs. Since I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I also try to shop through the Ultimate Rewards mall, but you need a Chase credit card that earns Ultimate Rewards to access it and pay for purchases through it. There are also Delta’s Skymiles Shopping and US Airways’ Dividend Miles Storefront, among others. The Points Guy has a post that explains holiday bonus deals at these places and more.

I haven’t had much of a problem increasing the miles I earn for online purchases as the places I shop at most often are represented at these portals: drugstore.com, Sephora, Apple (I made a ton of miles with this laptop), Amazon (see below with Hawaiian Miles), Vision Direct (this nerd wears contacts), Steve Madden, Best Buy and so on.

Unless I’m shopping for groceries or on a trip outside the States (I don’t shop for clothes in the States much. It’s next to impossible to buy pants here.), I’ll restrain myself from buying stuff in stores and just wait to get the same items online. This is usually not too hard to do as shopping in Pennsylvania can really stink and the malls here can be some of the most depressing and frustrating places on earth. I can usually find a free shipping coupon somewhere or I’ll stock up to meet the free shipping requirement.

In anticipation of the weight I’ll gain over Christmas and Chinese New Year, I bought a $25 Groupon that will get me ten Pilates classes at a nearby gym (I hate gyms, I’ve never belonged to one and I refuse to ever actually join one). Since the Ultimate Rewards mall is offering 15 points per dollar spent (in addition to the 1 point per dollar I’ll get by using the card), I’ll garner 400 points from a single purchase. These points I’ll eventually convert to United miles.


evreward.com and earning Hawaiian Miles on Amazon

As I mentioned before, you should definitely be earning miles by with each dollar you spend on a credit card. But you can earn even more miles on top of those same dollars spent by buying through the shopping mall portals of various award programs. I kept a post-it list on my desk of which portals to shop through that matched the portals up with my favorite online stores until I stumbled upon evreward.com. Basically, when you get to the front page, type in your store (Sephora, Amazon, whatever) into the search box below the question “where are you shopping?” and out pops a list of associated deals and coupons and where you can shop through to earn miles or points. I pretty much buy everything I need for school through Amazon since if you’re not careful, school bookstores will rob you blind and then try to rob your sweet old grandma, too (the last time I bought a book at a school bookstore, it was to photocopy a part of it and then immediately return the book). Unfortunately, Amazon isn’t a partner with the shopping portals I usually shop through (MileagePlus or AAdvantage). It is however, and as evreward.com will tell you, a Hawaiian Miles partner and you can earn one Hawaiian Mile per dollar spent. And this is regardless of whatever credit card you’re paying with. No, it’s not a super generous deal but that’s one Hawaiian Mile more than nothing. You need to log into your Hawaiian Miles account, go into their eMarket, click on the Amazon link there and then proceed to shop as normal. As with shopping through any portal, make sure cookies are enabled in your browser. Evreward.com isn’t perfect and it doesn’t really update extra miles that can be earned during shopping portal promotions, but it’s a good place to start.

I cringe at the thought of all the Hawaiian Miles I missed out on before this discovery. So about a week and a half ago, I decided my road to recovery would begin with doing some Christmas shopping on Amazon through the Hawaiian Miles eMarket. So far only 6 Hawaiian Miles have posted to my account and I am anxiously awaiting the others (I guess miles accrued for different items post individually?). I had ordered up a whole range of spy gear for my nine year old godson. Night beam goggles, sunglasses that allow you to see behind you and a spy watch (not sure what makes the watch a spy watch). Rather unsurprisingly, once I mentioned this to my nerdy boyfriend, he immediately demanded that I duplicate the order and get him the same things for Christmas.