Frequent Flyer Club Membership
You'll want to sign up even if you are not a so frequent flying person. Contact the airline or airlines you'll use. Most programs start giving out free domestic tickets at 25,000 miles. If you are flying from the U.S. to Asia and back, you'll come real close just by being aboard. If you fly (or one parent and one child fly) business class, you usually get extra bonus miles.
Extra Miles Through Partners
Many large hotel chains have the equivalent of frequent flyer programs and some allow you to accumulate “miles” in your airline account by staying in their hotel. Same for rental car companies. For example, the United Airlines program allows you to accumulate miles in your United account by flying on one of about twenty other airlines, renting a car from one of eight agencies, staying at one of eighteen hotels, via cruise lines, credit cards, train trips, sending flowers and all sorts of other businesses and services.
Once I even got an advertisement from Northwest Airlines offering miles if I took out a mortgage on my house through a certain bank.
Even more important is that many frequent flyer programs allow family members to exchange miles. Kids can usually have their own account if they have their own ticketed seat. This means that by combining air miles from even “short” trips from the U.S. to Europe, a family might be able to score a free ticket even on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
You can also accumulate miles through some credit cards (check with your card issuer"Ã¢â€š¬some have deals like you get one mile for each dollar charged). We have an MCI Calling Card that gives us miles for each dollar spent on long distance. Some programs also offer bonus miles just for signing up.
Also, many airlines have overseas “partners”, so that even if you do not fly say Northwest within Europe, you might be able to pick up miles by using KLM Air from the Netherlands while in Europe. Lastly, if you live overseas already, some frequent flyer programs allow your 20,000 miles that would normally get you a free ticket inside the U.S. to be used abroad, say from your home in Tokyo for a free flight to Beijing.
Recently many major airlines (United and American for sure) have changed their frequent flyer programs to allow your miles to NOT expire as long as you travel on their airline, or otherwise acquire mileage, once in about every three years. Individual programs vary, but generally this is good news for travelers who are more “occasional” than “frequent”.
Getting Credited for Your Miles
The best way to make sure you account is credited is to enter your information when you book your trip. If you forget then, you can always call the airline to add it in. When you check-in, look on your boarding pass for you frequent flyer number, almost all airlines will print it right there. If you can't find it, ask an agent to make sure your number is in the system.
Save your ticket stubs and boarding passes and verify that you got credit for the right number of miles when you get the program statement in the mail later (sigh… was it only a month ago we were in Paris honey?). Most programs have a mechanism for adjusting mileage but like marriage and auto repair, it is much easier to get it right the first time than to fix it up later.