You're leaving money on the runway if you're not already signed up for the following frequent flyer programs: American Airlines, Delta, and either United, Continental, or US Airways. (These programs are free, by the way.) The major domestic airlines are all in alliances with international carriers, so you'll be covered when you travel almost anywhere in the world.
Or, put it this way: You'll get roughly $2 worth of frequent flyer miles (which can be used for variety of rewards besides just tickets) for every 100 miles you're airborne.
It's wise to be loyal to one airline to build up more points—and, therefore, earn trips faster—but circumstances don't always let us dictate which airline we fly. You might love Jet Blue but your company has a thing for United. If you don't have enough points on one airline to earn a whole flight, there are other things to buy with your miles, such as annual magazine subscriptions. When we checked, Entertainment Weekly cost roughly 1,300 miles and The Economist was about 3,200 miles.
Other Easy Ways to Earn Points
Never Rent Cars or Stay in Hotels Without Researching Airline Miles
For example, American Airlines offers AAdvantage members 50 base miles per day of car rental at Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Dollar rental services.
Earn While You Eat
Register your credit card to earn miles when you eat at affiliated restaurants. You don’t have to use the airline’s mileage card, either. American Airlines’ AAdvantage Dining program allows you to earn up to five miles per restaurant dollar. Lots of trendy, hip restaurants on the list, too.
Earn Points for Nearly Everything!
From charitable donations, to your internet bill, to registering for accounts with banks, to taking out a mortgage, you can earn miles for nearly everything. Go to your airline's website to learn who its affiliate companies are.
Should You Buy Miles?
We don’t generally recommend paying out-of-pocket for miles, unless you need a very small number for a reward flight. The cost generally runs north of $50 for every 2,000 miles you buy, so make sure that the cost is worth the savings.
Should You Get a Mileage Credit Card?
Maybe. Make sure there are no annual fees and be prepared to use your rewards on travel rather than cash back, which is more versatile. If every 100 miles is worth about $2, then you'd be making about 2% interest on your purchases. You can make similar returns on a cash-back credit card.
See how the airlines measures up:
Airline Rewards Program: Minimum Mileage Required For Round Trip Award Ticket*:
American Airlines AAdvantage _________ 25,000
Delta SkyMiles _____________________ 12,500 to 30,000
United Airlines Mileage Plus Saver Award __ 25,000
Continental Airlines Travel Rewards _____ 25,000
US Airways GoAwards _______________ 25,000 to 60,000
JetBlue TrueBlue ___________________ 10,000 points and up**
*Regular economy ticket or equivalent, departing from and arriving within the continental United States and Alaska.
**JetBlue TrueBlue points based on money spent rather than miles flown. When we searched for New York to Ft. Lauderdale flights, most fares required more than 20,000 points.