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Maximize your Miles

Maximize Your Miles!
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Let's talk about your expiring miles. Miles you accumulated three years ago expire December 31st on many airlines, though let's pause to thank companies such as Delta and Continental who don't impose that rule. On other airlines such as American, you can extend the life of your miles another year: Request a free ticket or certificate before the end of this year for travel anytime in 1999. Even if you don't know your travel plans, you'll at least lock in those miles until the end of 1999.

For varsity travelers who like to qualify for an airline's so-called "elite" frequent flyer program, it's nail-biting time. Time to check your account to see if you've got enough miles to reach that flyer's Valhalla. If not, you have two months to take enough trips to reach a flyer's Valhalla. You'll see these guys the last week of this year, standing in airports taking short trips to nowhere, between Los Angeles and Orange County, for example. Maybe they'll do that round trip twice or three times in one day.

Their reward, of course, is a year of easier upgrades from coach to business or first class, plus all kinds of other perks that make flying a bit more comfortable. And in case you think I'm snickering at those desperate souls, I've been there and done that.

But there are other ways to make the elite level on an airline. I had more than 100,000 miles on one airline, so I photocopied my statement and sent it with a letter to a rival airline. Make me an elite-level flyer, and I'll shift some business your way, I said. And they did.

Sometimes an airline will mail you an offer that goes something like this: Fly five segments on us in the next three months, and we'll bump you up to elite status for the next year. Is it worth it? You have to be the judge. But this month's Consumer Reports Travel Newsletter tells of an unprecedented deal American is offering but not advertising. They're calling it "Challenge." American is challenging American AAdvantage members to fly 8,000 miles or 16 flight segments in three months to qualify for gold status. Fly twice that in three months, and you become platinum.

What do gold and platinum really mean? Well, among other things, you can qualify for an upgrade in service 24 hours before a flight if you're a gold member, 72 hours ahead of time if you're platinum.

You just need to call American to see if you can play the game. And maybe I'll see you on the last day of this year in some airport, along with the rest of us mileage junkies who clearly need to get a life...and a few more miles.

Savvy Traveler on Marketplace

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