Here's an idea for gift-buying time that could add value to your frequent-flier account: If you would like to rack up airline miles, consider doing at least some of your holiday shopping online through airline frequent-flier malls.
To earn these miles or points, go to your airline's website and search for "mall" or "shopping." You'll be directed to retail opportunities that are as varied as ink-jet cartridges and high-end department stores. United even has a holiday gift guide (www.lat.ms/1vaejEp).
This strategy allows you to earn perks with just a couple of extra clicks. With these programs, you can earn at least one mile or point per dollar spent and sometimes much more.
If you want to buy big-ticket items for Christmas, you often can get appliances, electronics, jewelry and more from national chains that are linked with your airline's rewards program. You can even make purchases at discount sites (often in voucher form for a service, a restaurant discount and more) such as Groupon and LivingSocial.
There are often time-limited bonus miles and free shipping offers for items purchased online.
Using airline affinity credit cards can help maximize the miles you're earning: You'll get miles for using your credit card, of course, but you sometimes are rewarded with miles for shopping online through an airline mall.
For instance, if you shopped at Nordstrom and used your American Airlines-branded credit card, you would get 200 miles for a $200 purchase. But if you click through from the American AAdvantage eShopping mall (www.aadvantageeshopping.com, registration required), you can earn a bonus of 10 miles per dollar spent at Nordstrom through Dec. 31 and receive free shipping. That would give you 2,000 miles for your online purchase, plus 200 miles for using the American credit card.
Through the Southwest shopping site (rapidrewardsshopping.southwest.com), you can earn extra points per dollar spent at various retailers, thus boosting your frequent-flier account balance.
As we get closer to the holidays, some airline shopping malls may offer bonus miles based on the amount you spend. For example, last year American offered up to 3,000 bonus miles when you spent a minimum of $250 through its shopping mall.
Besides earning extra miles for your purchases, buying through airline shopping malls is an easy way to keep your frequent-flier account active. Some airline miles expire if you don't have account activity for 18 months, so if you have an account with an airline you don't fly on frequently, making an online purchase through its shopping mall keeps the expiration wolf away from the door.
You may be buying more and spending more around the holidays, but keep in mind that you can earn points and miles throughout the year.
That's a gift that keeps on giving.