Who says traveling has to be expensive? Competition among credit card companies and upcoming mergers between airlines means that many companies are eager to...

Frequent Flyer TipsWho says traveling has to be expensive? Competition among credit card companies and upcoming mergers between airlines means that many companies are eager to get you to switch your loyalties to their programs with double miles and other sign-up bonuses, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. That’s good news for customers, especially those who have made “more traveling” part of their 2011 resolutions. Here are a few tips on airline miles program that come from my own experience and research :

Dig through your files: Sometimes we join frequent flyer programs, and then forget about them. Go through your email records and paper files to figure out which frequent flier programs you have signed up for and then contact the companies to see whether they are still considered active accounts. If you are like me then maybe you have several accounts that you opened and then left on autopilot. January is a good time to check in on how those are doing and to take note of pending mileage expiration dates.

Make strategic purchases and credit card alliances: Credit cards will often offer frequent flyer bonuses just for signing up. Check to see if there are any annual fees and don’t forget to comparison shop, too. In my own case, my plans to buy a house last year through LendingTree also meant I was able to rack up more than 25,000 miles with American Airlines. Learn more about that program on this LendingTree blog post on “Buy a Home (or Refinance), Then Fly to Rome.

Keep track of your mileage points: Keep your eye on how long the miles are valid, and what you need to do make sure they don’t disappear into the air. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a small purchase through partner programs, such as subscribing to magazines or ordering flowers. To prevent future angst, AwardWallet.com and Points.com are examples of web tools that have sprung up to keep track of your frequent flier points. Bloggers such as The Points Guy also can keep you up to date on mileage promotions.

Plan way ahead for trips: Even if you think you have enough mileage points to fly, that doesn’t mean you can get to your destination when you want to.  I recently looked to see what dates were available for me to redeem miles for one of my accounts and realized that blackout dates were literally blacking out the calendar. Some travel experts suggest preparing your trip with frequent flyer miles a year ahead of time.

Consider partner airlines: Travel expert Chris Guillebeau, known for his innovative approaches to frequent flyer mile programs, suggests taking advantage of airline partnerships to book flights on other airlines, such as Cathay Pacific or Air New Zealand.

By Anna Cearley, Social Media Director for LendingTree/Tree.com

Share your frequent flyer miles strategies below:

Photo: Emran Kassim, Creative Commons 2.0

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LendingTree is the nation's leading online loan marketplace providing consumers an easy way to shop and compare funding for life's matters. With LendingTree's marketplace, you can connect with multiple lenders that compete for your business. You can also find an array of credit based tools and tips on LendingTree, including free monthly credit scores to help you stay empowered financially.