If you fly only once or twice a year, it can be hard to pile up enough frequent-flier miles or points to get an award ticket. Signing up with credit card companies when bonuses are offered helps, but there are other ways to make what miles you do have work for you.
Some airlines offer plans that allow you to pool your points as a family so you can qualify for a free ticket faster. This kind of program is most common among international carriers, but domestic airlines are starting to use this plan as well.
JetBlue recently began a Family Pooling program. Up to two adults, ages 21 and older, and up to five kids younger than 21 can pool their miles.
Each member can choose what percentage of points they want to contribute to the family pool; the minimum is 10%. Those percentages can be changed once a year. When members join the program, they can make a one-time transfer of any amount of points in their account into the Family Pool. They will not incur transfer fees.
On JetBlue, you earn three points per dollar spent on tickets, and another three points per dollar if you buy online at Jetblue.com, for a total of six points per dollar. If you are a family of four flying on $250 tickets, that could earn you 6,000 points.
JetBlue round-trip award tickets start at 10,000 points, so you'd have more than enough points to redeem for an award after two family trips at that price ticket. For more details, visit http://www.trueblue.jetblue.com.
Sun Country is the other domestic airline that offers a frequent-flier pooling plan. You can pool points with up to nine other people, and they do not have to be family members.
British Airways also has a family frequent-flier plan, but there are several drawbacks with its general frequent-flier program. You earn only 25% of actual miles flown when you fly on the cheapest tickets, and you get hit with paying the fuel surcharge and landing fees on award tickets.
Other international carriers, such as ANA and Japan Airlines, have family pooling programs, but you earn only 30% to 50% of miles flown on discounted economy tickets. Turkish Airlines also has a Family Miles program, but you have to be an elite-level frequent flier to participate.
Qantas does not have a family pooling program, but you can transfer points to a family member up to four times a year. Members can transfer between 5,000 and 100,000 points per transaction, and there is no fee if you do it online. Info: http://www.lat.ms/1gnSOHJ.
Airlines are also offering paid memberships for bundled fees.
Delta has a Smart Travel Pack for $199 that is valid for flights through Jan. 5. The pack gives you one free checked bag, priority boarding, better seat assignments, discounts on Economy Comfort seats and 20% more bonus miles. Up to eight companions on the same itinerary can get the Smart Travel Pack benefits, except for the bonus miles. Info: http://www.lat.ms/1a3OqyP.
If you are traveling as a family of four or more and each person is checking a bag both ways, you're already breaking even on the Smart Travel Pack fee with one trip.
The free bag program allows you to check two free bags per flight and starts at $349 per year. Economy Plus seating subscriptions start at $499 per year, and the seats are based on availability. These starting fees are for travel within the continental U.S.; if you want to travel to other areas, you'll pay additional fees.
American doesn't offer a subscription program, but it does offer bundled perks when you buy tickets. For example, if you buy a Choice Essential ticket, you'll be paying a higher fare that includes one free checked bag, Group 1 boarding and no fee if you need to change your ticket. Info: http://www.lat.ms/108iE5o.