Keeping Up with the Frequent Fliers

Article excerpt

If anyone is entitled to name his book "The Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook," it's surely Randy Petersen.

The second edition of Petersen's comprehensive guide to frequent-traveler programs isn't officially sanctioned by any airline, hotel or rental-car company, or by any organization of travelers or other consumers.

It's simply that Petersen and his staff are probably the world's most knowledgeable sources of information about the immensely popular programs offered by airlines and other travel companies, which reward repeat customers with free airline tickets or hotel stays.

The credibility of "The Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook," in fact, is greatly helped by not being officially linked to any airline or travel-industry company.

Petersen offers a tremendous amount of data on every known frequent-traveler program, including stating flatly in some cases whether it's easier to earn free travel in one program vs. another. But Petersen doesn't use the book to reveal which programs are his personal favorites, and he does have some. Readers of his monthly Frequent Update magazine know that.

"There's virtually no editorializing in the book," he promised in a recent interview from his office in Colorado Springs, Colo., where his company, Frequent Flyer Services Inc., publishes Frequent Update and offers other services to frequent travelers.

Most of the guidebook's 368 pages are filled with facts about what each airline or hotel chain's program offers, telephone numbers and addresses and tables and charts comparing aspects of different programs.

But some of the most valuable advice is in the book's introductory narratives to the tables and charts. They offer practical help about the smartest ways to accumulate mileage, the rewards each program promises and how to use the rewards wisely.

"None of the other stuff about the programs matters if you can't use your miles," he said.

These introductions may appear oversimplified to the experienced business traveler who has been playing the frequent-flier game since the programs were invented a decade ago. But Petersen suggests that even the weariest of road warriors should check them out.

"In this business, we sometimes assume someone who has 100,000 miles in his account knows what he's doing, and that's not true," he said. "This book was created for someone who has 100,000 miles or 5,000 miles in his account."

An example of the guidebook's detail is the section on how to qualify for and benefit from premium-level programs.

In these, mostly designed for those who fly more than 20,000 miles a year or stay in hotels frequently, participants routinely can fly first-class on most airlines at coach prices and stay in a hotel suite for the price of a regular room. …