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How to Get the Biggest Bang For Your Airline-Miles Buck

How to Get the Biggest Bang For Your Airline-Miles Buck

Everyone dreams of racking up great airline mileage points to see the world, but some find the process more difficult than expected. Need help navigating the fine-print confusion to get the most use out of your airline miles? Here are some tips to turn you into a travel master.

Use Miles on Flights with the Best ROI

Get the most return on investment (ROI) out of your miles by critically looking at the best purchase options. The general rule is this: if the ticket costs more than $500, you will usually get a better deal using your miles. If the ticket is less than this, it’s often better to simply pay for it. Blowing 50,000 airline points on a $200 ticket just doesn’t make sense, unless that’s the only flight you can use your miles for before they expire. Using the 50,000 points on a $2,000 flight is a much better spend. If you have more expensive tickets in the future, save your miles for these trips instead.

Points on Upgrades are Smart Buys

Another way to use miles to obtain a higher cost per point value is with upgrades. These give you a much greater dollar value for your points vs than the 1.2 – 1.4 cents per mile average. It is certainly worth utilizing this option on longer flights where the extra leg room and pampering will be more thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you also bank additional miles from the trip. Just be sure to ask about any surcharges or restrictions on the revenue ticket you plan to upgrade.

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Book Very Early, or At the Last Minute

Remember, the best possible prices either go to those who book extremely early (330 days in advance on some airlines) or those who snap up empty seats at the last moment. So, if you are neither a long-term planner or a spontaneous person, you will need to adjust accordingly in either direction if you want to snatch up the best ticket deals. As you accumulate your airline miles on purchased flights, it just makes sense to find the best value per ticket.

Book Through an Agent

Airlines have trained us well to book online. This lowers the amount of employee time spent on customer calls and automates the system so it’s easier for the airline. That said, calling an agent and booking over the phone can be advantageous when trying to redeem miles. Airline representatives have access to information and authority over options that you do not, so it just makes sense to use this to your advantage. Agents can often create options that aren’t available through an online site, and can also exercise their authority to bypass restrictions that limit award availability. Yes, you may pay a surcharge—typically $20—but it’s worth it if you save several hundred dollars on a better ticket or option that you didn’t know was available.

Keep Accounts Active

Hoarding your miles for the most amazing trip to paradise won’t happen if you sit on them so long they expire. Many programs allow you to keep your account active other ways. You can gain miles and add activity to your account with purchases not even related to flying. You can often go to restaurants participating in an airline dining for miles program. You can also earn miles shopping. Over 400 online merchants—Wal-Mart, PETCO, Nike, etc.—participate in airline shopping mall programs. You can get anywhere from 1 to 12 bonus miles for each dollar spent. Also, always give car rental agencies and hotels your frequent flyer number to boost points. You can even grow you mileage account through FTD for sending flowers, or stack up additional mileage bonuses booking cruises or vacations through carrier sites. Are you already an investor with Fidelity Investment or TDAmeritrade? You can earn miles investing through these companies with some airlines. Or, if you are more comfortable investing in real estate, you can earn airline miles through certain banks when you take out a mortgage. If buying a house seems like an extreme way to gain miles, you can tone things down and simply sign up for Netflix to accrue additional points over some nightly movie entertainment. New opportunities to build up miles are out there if you’re willing to invest the research necessary to find them.

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Use Sites to Manage Your Miles

If the thought of shifting through all the fine print to discover which deals work gives you a headache, you can utilize certain sites to explore the options for you. These sites take a deep dive into your frequent flier account to help you understand the best options of your miles. GoMiles.com and AwardWallet.com will warn you if your miles are about to expire and alert you to new deals and promotions. However, don’t expect all airlines to embrace the third-party intrusion, as they feel it threatens the security of your information.

Use the Right Airlines

When it comes to redeeming points, not every airline is equal. It pays to choose airlines that are more friendly to point-redemption opportunities. The Wall Street Journal did a survey of all major carriers and found that the toughest airline to utilize your mileage points was US Airways, followed by Delta. With these companies, you have a 36% chance of actually using your miles the way you intend. Southwest was the clear winner of the survey, with a 95% chance of redeeming points, followed by JetBlue at 89%.

If You Can’t Use Miles:

1) Donate Miles

If your miles are expiring before you use them, consider donating them to others instead of losing them. For example, families have pooled airline points together to send newlyweds on their honeymoon, or parents on an anniversary vacation. The gift of travel is a great present! Who knows—they may return the favor when you need some additional miles in the future.

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If you don’t have a friend or family member to share your miles, you can also donate them to charity. For example, the Fisher House Foundation’s “Hero Miles” program has given more than 40,000 tickets to injured service members and their families, and Mercy Medical Airlift has provided almost 10,000 free flights to patients. The Make-A-Wish Foundation also needs miles to send kids on their desired adventures. These charities, as well as many others, will greatly benefit from your unused mileage points, and you can feel good giving to a worthy cause.

2) Trade Miles

While the exchange rate is fairly high, you can exchange miles for gift cards to companies such as Amazon or Starbucks. You can also trade your miles from one airline for points with a different carrier.

3) Use Miles for Hotels and Car Rentals

While the frequent, elite traveler will see much better deals than the average flier, you can spend your expiring miles for hotels and car rentals, as well as other travel needs. Again, it pays to research your best options for redeeming these miles.

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The possibilities of utilizing airlines miles are numerous and differ greatly depending on the program and carrier. However, taking a bit of time to do a deep dive into the opportunities and savings offered will help you become quite the travel-savvy flyer. After all, saving money while flying first class to your dream vacation is a great reward for a bit of extra airline mileage research and points management.

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Sarah Hansen

A corporate-sales professional turned entrepreneur

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Last Updated on July 4, 2019

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless.

Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent free online education awaits on the following 25 sites.

1. Coursera

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    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education, and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups.

    2. Khan Academy

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      Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

      Among the more well known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly useable, which may make it easier to keep learning goals.

      3. Open Culture Online Courses

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        If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos and podcasts from universities around the world. The site features a lot of material found only on universities private sites, all in easy to browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses, without having to visit and search each university’s own site.

        Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales and many state universities around the United States. A very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

        4. Udemy 

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          Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

          Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top quality content. This is another site however, that mixes free and paid content.

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          5. Academic Earth

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            Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources, and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

            Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

            6. edX

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              Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics.

              7. Alison

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                Unlike the previous sites on this lists, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

                It’s a great option if users need certification for their learning as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

                8. iTunesU Free Courses

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                  A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

                  Desktop users can access  iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

                  Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos, and paid content.

                  ITunesU does include courses on a pretty wide scope of topics, but does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

                  9. Stanford Online

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                    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

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                    Stanford Online is a great site for high quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school.

                    10. Harvard Extension

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                      Like Stanford Online, Harvard Extension features free online education courses from Harvard only. This is another excellent source for top notch course material, though the course variety is less rich than multi-school sites.

                      Additionally, Harvard Extension allows you to search for courses by professional certificate. This makes it much easier if your online education goal includes certification.

                      11. Open Yale Courses

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                        Open Yale Courses echoes Harvard Extension and Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses, but learn better by watching than by reading.

                        12. UC Berkeley Class Central

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                          Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

                          13. MIT OpenCourseWare

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                            Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, plus includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

                            14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

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                              Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list, however, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics. But for the topics that are covered impressive, in-depth material is available.

                              15. Codecademy

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                                Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

                                The courses at Codecademy are well written and easy to follow and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, plus organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

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                                16. Code

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                                  Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

                                  In addition to kid friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics and Javascript.

                                  Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

                                  17. University of London Podcasts

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                                    The podcast page on the University of London website is another great source for free education. While the courses are limited to podcasts, the site features podcasts from it’s own campus, as well as eleven universities in and around London. This gives learners a wide base of topics and lectures, but still ensures in-depth material.

                                    18. University of Oxford Podcasts

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                                      Similar to the University of London, the University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

                                      The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. Another good site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

                                      19. BBC Podcasts

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                                        For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly, and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

                                        Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

                                        20. TED-Ed

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                                          Another great destination for more general learning is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all encompassing, motivational web series, comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

                                          Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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                                          21. LessonPaths

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                                            LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

                                            22. Memrise

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                                              Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

                                              Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

                                              23. National Geographic Kids

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                                                The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keeps kids interested on this site.

                                                National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

                                                24. Fun Brain

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                                                  Fun Brain is another good option for kids who want to learn online, but focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

                                                  Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

                                                  25. Whyville

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                                                    Similar to the sites for kids free online education is Whyville a destination for preteen online learning. The site includes a variety of social features, with a focus on learning materials geared for young teens.

                                                    Whyville also mixes in educational games, to make the site a well rounded option for kids too old for simple games, but too young for heavy reading based material.

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                                                    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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