Get the most out of your frequent flier miles.
You can earn airline miles "for anything, practically just for breathing," says Tim Winship, coauthor of Mileage Pro: The Insider's Guide to Frequent Flyer Programs. But redeeming them? Not so easy. Rule No. 1: Book early—as soon as flights are posted, most often 330 days out. Here are some other pointers.
- KEEP TABS Subscribe to or download airline newsletters and request email alerts. Or surf savvy Web sites such as www.frequentflier.com  (run by Winship) and www.webflyer.com  for news, chat boards, links to air and hotel loyalty programs, and tools for managing your miles.
- DIG FOR DISCOUNTS American Airlines’ Web site, www.aa.com , sometimes offers Short-Hop Award flights—say, from San Francisco to Los Angeles—at a cost of 15,000 miles instead of the usual 25,000.
- TAKE A HINT Some airlines will tip you off to favorable routes and dates. Check the color-coded availability charts for featured destinations on the AAdvantage Hotspots page at www.aa.com . And www.usairways.com  lists best bets for award flights.
- LIVE A LITTLE Turning loose some miles can make a long flight feel shorter. For 7,500 miles, Continental Airlines will upgrade you one class on trips to Hawaii. Rules apply, naturally, so scour the fine print for fees.
- BOOK A ROOM Still can’t score the ideal flight? Go for a hotel discount. United Airlines Mileage Plus Elite members who spend 2,500 miles will save $100 on two nights at Hawaii’s Hyatt Regency Maui Resort.
- BEWARE MILEAGE EXCHANGES Shifting miles between programs can be costly. At www.points.com , expect to lose 80 to 90 percent. The mileage converter at www.webflyer.com  shows you ways to swap awards among various loyalty programs—and tallies your total at the end.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in March 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.