Traveling is a part of any successful business. Small business owners may dread the cost of a ticket, however, knowing that the expense account comes right out of their bottom line.
Yet, travel they must: In a survey by the American Small Business Travelers Alliance, 30 percent reported flying more than five times annually for business. Almost a quarter took an international business flight in the past year.
The best way to save on tickets is to take full advantage of frequent flier miles. First offered in the eighties, mileage programs constitute a huge gift to returning customers -- if you know how to use them.
Here are some tricks to racking up miles and earning discounted trips:
- Know your bonuses. 12,500 miles may be good enough for a free domestic flight. 25,000 is the minimum for a round trip to Europe.
- Get a credit card that earns miles. Credit cards, like airlines, offer major perks to stand out from the competition. A good mileage card, like the American Express Starwood, gives your a point for every dollar you spend. Some cards have sign-up bonuses of more than 25,000 miles.
- Pick your favorite airline and stick with it. Mileage programs are designed for returning customers, so naturally the payoff is best when you return to the same airline. The most important factor in choosing an airline is location. You should choose the one with the most flights out of your local airport.
- Sign up with your airline's Rewards Network program (such as usairways.rewardsnetwork.com). Get paid up to three points per dollar when you eat out at one of thousands of participating restaurants.
- Buy everything through your airline. If you really want to rack up miles, you should start at your airline shopping portal and click through to almost any online retailer. Blogger Gary Steiger has a good list of portals here.
- Keep track of your miles. The trillions of miles go unclaimed each year, and others are let expire. A good tool for keeping track of various mileage accounts is the free website Mileport.
- Aim for a status upgrade. The first upgrade typically comes at 25,000 miles in a calendar year, and it applies to the following year. Becoming Silver or Gold (or Platinum, etc.) lets you skip lines, claim upgrades, and save money on small duties like checking bags. Best of all, you start earning new miles at a premium rate, making it easier to earn free tickets and get to the next status upgrade.
- Buy your miles. If you're just miles away from a free flight, close the gap without leaving your next. Getting those last miles used to require taking a mileage run -- buying a cheap ticket to Bolivia and returning home without leaving the airport. Now you can just buy the miles from your airline for a good price.
- Master the bump. Try this trick the next time you are flying on a loose schedule: Go up to the gate agent right away and offer to wait for the next flight if this flight is overbooked. No need to mince words. If the airline is overbooked, which it frequently is, the agent will be glad to book you on a later flight and give you an free ticket for your troubles.
- If you want more tips, dive into the ultimate frequent flier forum at Flyertalk.com. As Flyertalk's 230,000 members know, becoming a mileage hound is profitable, addicting, and fun.