Rule #1 in frequent flyer land: Always sign up for the free program

It’s been one of those weeks, so today’s post is going to be short…

On the subway home today, I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen for a few months.  While catching up, she mentioned that she had just come home from a business trip to China.  Most normal people would ask her what she did, where she ate, whether she had time to do touristy stuff, etc.  Not me.  I jump right to the good stuff: Who did you fly and where did you stay?  She told me that she stayed at a new Hilton, but when I said that I hoped she had gotten a lot of points, she gave me a look that I have come to dread: she hadn’t signed up for the Hilton program.

After they revived me and I had revoked her Thanksgiving invitation (Just kidding, I didn’t really pass out.), I explained to her the error of her ways.  She had broken the sacred Rule #1 of frequent flyer miles/hotel points: Thou shalt always sign up for the free program, whether it’s a hotel program or a sandwich shop (proven to me after my wife whipped out a sandwich card that she had gotten five years earlier at a restaurant in Arizona that had just opened a store in Boston).  Always.  Virtually every loyalty program is free to sign up for.  In fact, I can only think of two that charge: AMC Movie Theaters and Qantas (and the latter only charges Aussies and New Zealanders).  You never know when you will use or want the points.  Don’t let the thought that you never stay at that brand or fly that airline keep you from joining the program, since you don’t know what kind of offers they will send you or what goodies you will get (and that applies double at casinos, who often use demographic, rather than past play, data to make you offers).  Virtually every rental car program will let you skip the counter by signing up for the program.  Certain hotel programs, such as Wyndham and Kimpton, will give you added benefits for just being a member.  And with airline miles, you can always redeem for magazines.  In a worst case scenario, you can always exchange them on  Here are some options for small mileage balances:

  • American Airlines will let you redeem 1,200 miles (just about any roundtrip) for a year of Time magazine.  2,700 miles will get you 39 weeks of the Wall Street Journal.  Only got 500 miles?  Even that will get you 12 issues of American Horsemen… Okay, admit it: you looked.
  • Delta’s even better.  They have a whole shopping mall where you can buy goodies with miles, starting at 1,700 for a “Mark Messier Night Pin” to a Sony Home theater, clocking in at just over 2.6 million miles.  There are just over 5,000 items you can buy, but if anyone is looking for a present for me, I’m partial to brownies.
  • United can get you gift cards, starting at 8,000 miles.  Not a great exchange rate, but better than losing the miles.
  • Those Hilton points that my friend failed to obtain?  Could have been used to exchange to airline, rail or credit card partners here, in addition to the standard rewards.

The list goes on and on, but every program has one.  And if you made the mistake of forgetting to give your rewards number (or getting one in the first place), just give the hotel a call and get a copy of your receipt.  Airlines may want to see a boarding pass, but a phone call can’t hurt, either.

It’s never too late to start.  14 years ago, I met a woman who flew tens, or even hundreds, of thousand miles per year for work but never bothered to get the hotel points.  But I forgave her and married her shortly thereafter, anyway (and many would argue that she was making a bigger mistake than forgetting to collect hotel points, but that’s a story for another time…).






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    • Mike on October 26, 2014 at 11:39 pm
    • Reply

    @bac_guy: As usual, you are correct. There is a $25 fee. But truthfully, most people flying El Al would be better off putting their miles on a partner.

    @Danny: I agree with you 100%. In fact, I am a paying member. I just don’t like paying for a movie program when all their competitors offer something similar for free, but if AMC is your most convenient theater, it’s still a good deal.

    • Danny on October 26, 2014 at 11:02 pm
    • Reply

    Even the charge AMC program is a really good deal if you go to the movies more than 2-3 times per year. It’s a 12 dollar fee per year. For every 100 you spend, you get 10 dollars back, so it’s effectively 10% off everything there. You get free upsizes (buy a large, pay the medium price) on soda and popcorn. And if you want to buy online at a site like Fandango, having AMC Stubs means the fees are waived. the 12 bucks pays for itself easily as long as you see at least 5-6 movies a year.

  1. Actually, I “think” LY charges to join Matmid Frequent Flyer Program (off the top of my head).
    But, I heartily agree, join everything you can (well, maybe not the sandwich shop!)

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