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Cheap ways to keep flier miles active

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
I've heard that buying iTunes through Apple is an inexpensive way to keep frequent flier miles active but don't know how to do it. I'm trying to keep my kids' miles active. Please advise. -- Dianne

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Dianne,
Reactivating points and miles by buying a song on iTunes is a popular trick because it's one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reactivate miles on the verge of expiring. For dollar-store pricing, you can click and buy a song. Let's face it: There is always another song you need to add to your collection -- and this is doubly true for your music-obsessed kids. You'll make them happy and keep their miles active in one fell swoop.

The key to keeping your miles alive by buying a song is to connect to iTunes via the portal for your frequent flier account. If your miles are with Delta, that would be the Sky Mall. If they're with US Airways, it's the Dividend Miles Storefront. If they're with Southwest, it's Rapid Rewards Shopping. Virtually every major airline has an online shopping portal for its frequent flier members.

By the way, while you can't beat a $1.29 purchase, any purchase you make by connecting to a retailer through your airline's portal will serve the same purpose. It's easy and doesn't cost a penny extra to connect to Best Buy, Sears or Pottery Barn by opening your airline portal and clicking on them. Any purchase you make once you're there counts as utilizing your miles account and keeps it active.

It's also a great way to top off your miles if you're just a few short of a free fare. Shopping via an airline portal can lead to some serious bonus miles. Apple offers the standard mile per dollar spent, but that mile you get for one song isn't going to get you very far. However, Sears and Home Depot offer two miles per dollar spent, Brookstone offers three miles per dollar, drugstore.com offers six miles per dollar spent and you can order magazine subscriptions for a 12-miles-per-buck kickback.

You can also find rotating, weekly deals for popular retailers on the right-hand side of the special offers page. Last time I checked, Macy's was offering two MileagePlus miles per dollar spent in conjunction with a 30 percent off shoe sale. Buy a $200 pair of boots and you not only get $60 off, you also get 280 miles added to your account.

If you do a lot of shopping online, especially before the holidays, it's a good idea to get in the habit of opening your loyalty program's shopping portals before jumping to the retail site you're aiming for. Shopping this way guarantees that your points and miles, and those of your family members, remain active. As an added perk, you can score bonus miles that will get you a little closer to some free travel.

See related: Short a few air miles? Negotiating won't work, but there are options

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Updated: November 11, 2013


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