Turf wars: Bonus miles when an airline invades another’s territory…

Background info.  You can skip down a few paragraphs if all you want to know about is the mileage opportunity: As you may know, most major airlines operate on the “hub and spoke” system.  In other words, if you want to fly to A to B, just about any major airline will be able to get you there, but you’ll likely have to connect in that airline’s “hub,” which is a city that the airline dominates.  Delta’s major cities are Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis (among others) so, for instance, a passenger traveling on Delta from Boston to Los Angeles would likely have to connect in one of those cities.  United controls Chicago, Newark and San Francisco (again, among others), while American has a significant presence in Dallas, Chicago and Miami.

It’s rare that a major carrier invades another carrier’s hub.  It’s an uphill battle to win business anywhere, but to challenge an airline on its own turf, where it has a loyal customer base, all its resources and a ridiculous number of flights is costly and almost never works.

Which is why it is so interesting to see Delta’s assault on Seattle, an Alaska Air hub.  Alaska Air is known as the prostitute of the airline industry: It’s not in a monogamous alliance but has partnerships with just about everyone, including Delta.  Delta lacks its own true presence on the west coast, although it did just announce a Los Angeles-San Francisco shuttle, similar to its east coast product.

Delta figures that its size and financial strength will allow it to win share from Alaska in Seattle, but I don’t think the battle will be particularly easy.  First, Alaska Air is well known for its high quality service and ability to connect passengers in Seattle.  Delta won’t have those same advantages.  Likewise, Alaska Air has a very profitable business flying people between the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  Nobody else could put up the infrastructure to challenge Alaska Air on these routes.  So be prepared for a very interesting fight.  And when airlines have large turf wars, they buy off their customers with mileage opportunities.

The Mileage Opportunities

Alaska Air: Sign up here to earn double miles and double elite status miles (known as elite qualifying miles) for travel between now and May 31, 2014 on seven routes out of Seattle.  Double miles is not uncommon, but double elite qualifying miles is an excellent deal that we don’t see as often.  Alaska’s deal is very similar to Delta’s (below).  You must register for the deal at the deal above.

Delta Airlines: Register here.  Delta’s is the most interesting of the three from my (i.e., a mileage geek’s) perspective.  Delta is offering double miles and elite status (known on Delta as Medallion Qualifying Miles) miles to six cities out of Seattle, including Anchorage and Portland, two Alaska Air strongholds.  Interestingly, Alaska Air did not feel a need to offer doubles to either of those cities, indicating its confidence in its strength in those markets (and it’s probably right).  But what also makes Delta interesting is that you must book the flights by December 31, 2013 to fly by October 31, 2014.  So why is this restriction so interesting?  Well, for a couple of reasons.  First, booking by December 31 for flights as far out as October will appeal to leisure passengers, since business travelers tend to book closer to the date they fly.  But Delta needs the business traveler if it is going to succeed, since business travelers pay much higher fares than leisure passengers do.  The double MQMs will appeal to the business travelers, but they’re not going to be in a position to earn them in 2014 if they have to book in 2013.

United Airlines: Wow, a three-some!  With Alaska Air and Delta both offering bonuses into Los Angeles and San Francisco, United has been forced into defense mode to defend its turf.  Since it’s playing defense and not offense, it’s offering the worst deal of the three, which you can register for here.  So why is United’s deal lacking? First, you only earn double miles for redemptions, not for elite status.  Second, like Delta’s you must purchase your travel before the end of the year but you have to fly by May 31.  That won’t help the business travelers who will be flying next year but don’t know when.  But, more importantly, the deal is only good for those booking tickets going forward.  In other words, if you booked a ticket last week, before United launched its deal, you won’t get the bonus,

The Bottom Line: It’s free to register for the bonuses, so you might as well do so, even if you don’t think you will fly qualifying flights.  But if the bonus is important to you, be sure you understand all the restrictions.

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Earning miles with credit cards

First, I should note that earning miles with credit cards is one of the easiest ways to rack up a lot of miles quickly.  I’m also going to point out that the amount of information regarding credit card miles is so vast that it would be a blog in and of itself, so I’m going to start with the basics and get more involved as we go.  There are two primary ways to earn miles with credit cards.

First, most credit card companies have sign-up bonuses.  The bonuses can be as low as 5,000 or 10,000 miles and as high as 100,000.  They often come with caveats, such as spending a certain amount of money on the card within a certain period of time.  Some cards give you elite status if you spend enough, others give you free checked luggage.  Just read the terms and conditions, as well as the advertisements that are plastered all over the airlines’ pages.

Second, you generally get one mile for every dollar that you spend.  Often, you get bonus miles for spending on the airline itself.

Note that these credit cards often have annual fees (occasionally waived the first year) as well as punitive interest rates if you don’t pay your full bill at the end of the month.  There’s not much you can do about the first, at least according to the terms and conditions of the card, but a call to customer service will often get the annual fee waived.  The second is easy: just pay your bill on time.

For now, be aware that credit cards are an easy way to generate miles and I’ll discuss more in-depth strategies as we go.

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What is a “mileage run?”

It’s usually around this time of year that newspapers will write articles about the crazy things that mileage addicts do to bump up their accounts at the end of the year.  Often, it’s in regards to people who are only a few miles (or thousand miles) away from the next tier of elite status and want to make it over the hump.  And since only miles that you fly count toward elite status (also known as “butt-in-seat” miles), they need to get on a plane.  The problem is, they have no plans to take trips before December 31.  What to do, what to do…

In this case, some people will take what is known as a “mileage run.”  The concept is simple: For a mileage run, you don’t care where your flight takes you.  You simply need a certain amount of frequent flyer miles.  For lack of a better term, it’s a trip to nowhere that usually involves choosing a cheap destination, boarding the aircraft, arriving at your destination and then hopping back on the same plane and returning to your origination.  For a mileage runner, the only thing that matters is getting a certain amount of miles as cheaply as possible.

Example: Let’s say you’re a New York resident and have 23,000 miles year-to-date on American Airlines.  You know that getting 25,000 miles for the year will earn you elite status for 2014, so you decide to do a mileage run.  Since Florida always seems to be a cheap destination (not a lot of business travelers on this route), you check out a couple of the flights to Florida.  Bang!  A round-trip flight to Palm Beach is only $218 and earns 1,035 miles each way!  You book a flight that leaves out of La Guardia at 7:30 am and arrives at Palm Beach at 10:40.  The return is only 45 minutes later, at 11:25 and gets you back to New York at 2:10 pm.  It probably uses the same plane, so you don’t need to worry about a late arrival.  You’ve earned elite status and have the whole afternoon left!

The above example is about as simple as it gets.  A non-stop flight in an inexpensive market is every mileage runner’s dream.  Often, you simply have to go to your airline’s website and keep trying destinations until you find one that meets your criteria.  It can take a few minutes, but leisure destinations such as Florida and Las Vegas often have great fares.

If nothing else, mileage running leads to great stories.  Often, you will see the same crew on the return as you had on the outbound.  Since mileage running has become so common, they’ll know exactly why you’re there and everyone will have a good laugh.  Other times, you’ll find yourself on a flight from New York to Boston.  By way of Los Angeles.  Even the customs officials are in on the game.  I once did a mileage run to London and the woman at customs thought it was suspicious that I had only spent a few hours in the country until I explained what I was doing.  After that, she shook her head, rolled her eyes and stamped my passport.

Bottom line: There’s little that a bit of ingenuity and fun can conquer.

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Cash back for shopping online

If you are at this site, you’re visiting either because A) I begged you to do so or B) you’re interested in learning about frequent flyer miles.  Possibly both.

One of the methods I mentioned to earn miles was shopping through the airline sites.  But there’s one thing that’s better than miles: cash.

Cash is generally king.  It’s hard to put a value on miles, but I generally consider them to be worth 1-2c per mile (although they can be worth significantly more if you use them for premium tickets).  On the other hand, most cash back shopping sites pay up to 50% back for purchases, although the vast majority of orders give you back 5-15%.  It works the same was as the airline sites, although the cash back sites are much easier to navigate than the airlines’ sites.

Here’s how it works: Sign up at a cash back shopping site (I’m recommending a few below.) and do a search for what you want to buy.  When you shop through their site, you get cash back.  Simple.  Want to buy something at Macy’s?  Get back up to 6%.  Under Armour?  8%.  FTD?  20%.  You get the impression.  With only one major exception (Amazon), you can get cash back for just about any store you can think of.

Example: You need to do a little shopping at Nordstrom.  If you went to Nordstrom’s site directly, you’d get nothing back.  But if you go to my favorite cash back site, Mr. Rebates, you’ll get 7% back.  Simply go to the site, type “Nordstrom” in the search box and then click on the little box.  It will take you to the Nordstrom site and credit you 7% on any shopping you do.  And that’s it.

[warning]Word of warning: Before using any of these sites, be sure to clear your cookies, which is a simple way to get rid of all the bits of data that previous sites have left on your computer.  I do it each time I access the sites, just in case.[/warning]

There are literally dozens of cash back shopping sites out there, but here are four of my favorites.  Please note: I may get something for referring you to the site, which could be a few dollars or a fraction of a percent of what you spend.  Anything I get comes from the company, not your cash back, so I appreciate it if you use my links.  Thank you!

Mr. Rebates is my favorite cash back site.  It is the easiest to navigate, pays back more than most others and has excellent customer service.  You can cash out every month.  I often use them in lieu of other sites that pay a few percent more but aren’t as consistent.

Big Crumbs is my other favorite site.  The site is also easy to navigate, the rebates are good and customer service is good.  Every once in a while, I have a rebate that doesn’t get tracked, but if I email them, they always credit my account quickly.  It takes up to 60 days before you can cash out.

Ebates.com is the best-known cash back site.  It’s a high quality site, but the others often have slightly higher commissions.  Ebates pays once per quarter.

Finally, there’s topcashback.com.  TCB is almost always among the highest paying, but purchases often don’t track (meaning the site doesn’t record your click-thru and you don’t get credit) and take up to 90 days before they post to your account.  If you’re willing to track purchases diligently, you can make money here, but I’d recommend one of the first two sites that I listed, even if they pay a slightly lower amount.

And that’s it!  For those of you who prefer cash to miles, your holiday shopping just got a little more lucrative.

 

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And now, for something completely different: Mega extrabucks at CVS

As many of you know, around black Friday, CVS offers a huge number of items as free after extrabucks, e.g., but something for $5 and get $5 in extrabucks back.  I did my run this morning for all the free stuff.  It’s an annual tradition for me and I find a lot of amusement in it.  Note: Your CVS may have different items for free after extrabucks (FAE) than mine.  The object is to assemble all the items that are FAE and divide them into lots so that you can use the EB from the previous lot to buy the next lot.  Any items you don’t actually need can be donated to a local charity.

In Boston, this year is a highly efficient run, which means that you will have almost zero dollars out of pocket* if you do it correctly.  Your instructions, based on my local CVS ads, are below.  You’ll need a copy of the ad to follow this email.  The FAE items are on pages 2,3 and the back cover.
The target price is $12.99, which means that the most expensive item on offer for FAE is $12.99.  We’ll call it $13 for the sake of simplicity.  All items you purchase must be bought in lots of $13, so you can use the EB from the previous lot for the next lot.  At the end, you should have about $13 in EB, which equals your input.  Here is the order in which I’d recommend shopping:
1) Buy the glucose reader for $12.99 and receive an EB coupon for $12.99
2) Use the above coupon to buy Rescue and Mycratine and get your EBs
3) Use those EB to buy the Probiotics and both Starbucks cans
4) Use those EB to buy Advil, Total Home, Anti-Diarrhea stuff, toothbrush and Somnapure
5) Use those EB to buy everything else, which total about $13
*Okay, here’s the difficult part.  Not every CVS has every product.  So the instructions may not maintain their integrity if your CVS is missing a couple.  Thus, you should be prepared to change things around on the fly to minimize your out of pocket (OOP) costs.  For instance, my CVS didn’t have some of the medical stuff, meaning that my $13 target price didn’t work.  So my target price became the next highest item, the Rescue at $7.79.  Using that as the target, each lot ended up being about $8 and I ended up with my last lot being $5, so I also bought the $3 toothpaste, which gives back $2.50 in EB.  In total, my OOP came out to just over a dollar, which includes the extra $.50 for the toothpaste.
What you’ll need to bring:
A pen and scrap paper to redo calculations and lots if your CVS is out of any items.
Several copies of the circular, since you will mark up multiples as you rejigger your lots
A sharpie to cross out items, since ballpoint pen ink doesn’t show up well
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A list of SkyTeam alliance members

If you are reading these posts in chronological order, this is the last of our alliance lists.  SkyTeam is the third major alliance and the North American partners are Delta and AeroMexico.

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A list of oneworld alliance members

Here is a list of the airlines in the oneworld alliance.  Note that certain affiliate carriers (airlines that provide service as partners of the larger carriers) are listed separately.  The major US airline in OW is American, although US Airways may join after their merger.

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A list of Star Alliance members

One of my readers gave me a great suggestion, which was to post a list of the members of the various airline alliances on the site.  And while traveling on multiple alliance partners is not quite as seamless as traveling on a single airline, it gets the job done.  The major North American Star members are United, US Airways and Air Canada, although US Airways may depart for the oneworld alliance after its merger with American.  Here are the Star Alliance members:

 

 

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Up to 1,500 free United miles (including an easy 500 for free)

Today, I’m introducing a category that I am going to call “gimmes.”  A “gimme” is an offer where you have to do virtually nothing to get free miles.  The mileage amounts aren’t huge, but they’re free and they add up.

United Airlines has partnered with an organization called MyPoints.  MyPoints gives you their own proprietary points for clicking on ads, making purchases, etc.  They often have very good offers for buying gift cards (e.g., buy a Cheesecake Factory or Applebee’s gift card and get several hundred points).  Points are worth just under a penny per point and can be traded in for anything from gift cards to frequent flyer miles.

Here’s the gimme: Just by signing up at this link, you get 500 United Airlines miles.  That’s it.

If you do make a purchase through MyPoints (There are generally better sites out there for shopping.) within 30 days, you’ll get an additional 1,000 United Airlines miles.  The extra 1,000 isn’t as strong a deal as the gimme because you can generally do better elsewhere for online shopping, even with the bonus miles thrown in.

Note: MyPoints sends several emails per day with points opportunities.  Many of them are simply “Click on the ad and get five MyPoints points,” but if you don’t want to get all their mail, set up a separate email account that you check less frequently.

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Welcome to Milepoint readers!

A hearty welcome to those readers who found me through Milepoint, where I just posted my link.  About this site:

  • This site is set up primarily for novices in the format of “there’s no such thing as a silly question.”  I wanted to be a teacher at one point in my life and, although that didn’t work out, I’ll have my chance here.
  • I hit a number of topics on the blog.  Some are about the programs themselves and some are simple ways to earn a few (or more) extra miles.
  • I try to explain the basics in detail.  I know how frustrating it is to read about ten strategies to get elite status if you don’t even know what “elite status” means.  I’ve been there.
  • I’ll still try to have something for everybody.  For instance, if an offer comes up for free miles, both novices and experts can take advantage of it.
  • If you have an idea or need help with something, please ask.  There’s a “Contact Me” button as well as a comment section for each post.

In short, I’m a little different than your typical blog, since most of my readers are people just getting started.  I look forward to continuing our journey together.

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