Fly the Friendly Skies of United

United Airlines Boeing 737
Credit: United Airlines

When United Airlines and Continental Airlines merged operations back in 2010[1], the two companies also combined their frequent flier programs, United MileagePlus and Continental OnePass, under United's name. Industry analysts believe that the merger of the two programs resulted in one group of somewhere around 100 million members. What many of those members didn't realize at the time is that the terms of service for the newly constructed version of MileagePlus had changed somewhat. Prior to the merger, neither program automatically expired unused miles - unlike American Airlines and Delta, among others.  After all the merger dust had settled, more than one MileagePlus member found him or herself faced with a new quandary: how do you keep all those hard-earned miles alive, especially if you don't fly all the time?

That's because once the programs were combined, a new rule gave the mileage in the account a short lifetime, just a mere eighteen months. The claiming rules are different from a lot of other frequent flyer programs, however: if you manage to deposit any miles to your MileagePlus account during that eighteen months, the expiration clock will automatically reset to eighteen months once more. In other words, all you need to do to save your miles is to figure out ways how to make the occasional deposit without ponying up for an airline ticket. Even if you don't plan to fly any time in the eighteen months, there are a lot of different ways to put miles into your account. Here are five of them - and you need not darken the door of your local airport for any of them:


Use Hotel Loyalty Programs

Earn with hotel staysCredit: wikimedia commonsAlmost every hotel frequent guest program gives you the option to deposit miles in a frequent flyer account instead of accumulating points with the hotel. You don't have to stay at the Waldorf Astoria or another high-end hostelry, either: loyalty programs that include budget properties like Motel 6 and Super 8 or medium-priced lodging like Best Western or La Quinta will put miles in your MileagePlus account. Even if you don't have a membership when you check in, most hotel programs allow you to open a frequent-stayer account during your stay and give you credit on the spot. Just make certain to provide your MileagePlus number and choose the frequent flyer option when setting up the account.


Earn with rental cars
Credit: wikimedia commons

Whether at the airport or the body shop, that car rental joint just might give you miles for your rental. Ask...

Other Transportation

Many car rental companies will also deposit miles in your account with each rental, as do airport parking programs (though if you're not flying, you're probably not using airport parking…). Amtrak, for those of you who live near major rail corridors, also awards miles for certain ticket purchases. If you're planning a cruise or other vacation, check with the MileagePlus program to see if your resort or cruise line gives miles. You can earn miles while relaxing!



Earn by earingCredit: wikimedia commonsMileagePlus has established in a program called MileagePlus Dining. This is a network of thousands of restaurants all across the country. All you need to do is sign up, link a credit or debit card, and occasionally have lunch or dinner - or even breakfast - out. You can earn up to five miles for each dollar spent on your entire bill. The network also has mobile apps so if you're hungry, you can find a nearby restaurant that's in the program. Each time you earn points, the expiration date for your miles goes back to a year and a half. A word of warning: lots of loyalty programs are part of this Restaurant Network, and if you're in one already you can't "double-dip" - a credit card can only earn points for one program.


e-Miles Program

earn with e-Miles and e-RewardsCredit: United MileagePlusAfter you've signed up, the e-Miles program program sends you informational emails almost every day about programs and charities. All you need to do to earn earn a few points is to watch their advertisements and fill out a survey. You can pick up a few miles a week by doing nothing, and get more miles by "biting" on some of the offers. Once you accumulate 500 points, you can deposit them into your MileagePlus account. Presto, change-o: you've got the full time period again. An associated program called e-Rewards awards allows you to earn "currency" for answering surveys, which you can then deposit in your e-Miles account.


Earn by shoppingCredit: wikimedia commonsMileagePlus also operates a "marketplace" where you can buy items and earn points. Some of the items in the marketplace you're going to buy anyway - things like auto insurance. There are other partners, too, such as power companies (Reliant and Gexa Energy). All kinds of merchandise is available through e-Miles, including Groupon and Living Social. You can get miles from Direct TV, Sephora, FTD florists, and a boatload of other merchants by logging into the website before visiting your favorite merchants (J. Crew, Nordstroms, Macy's…)

If you have any questions about any of these methods for earning points, there is plenty of information at the MileagePlus website, where you can also monitor the expiration date of your miles. By the way,  if you don't see a any way to save expiring miles or if you don't think you have enough to buy a flight, why not donate them to charity? Or, you could always transfer them to me...