1. Eat out often. One of the fastest ways to a free trip is to skip airline food and go straight to your favorite restaurant. With several airlines participating in mileage dining programs (even Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards), your favorite restaurant might offer from one to three to 10 miles for every dollar you spend there and there are over 10,000 restaurants in the program -- over 600 in New York City alone. Simply register your credit or debit card, the rest happens automatically. Dine out at a participating location when miles are being offered and use your registered card to pay. There are no additional cards to carry, coupons to print, or numbers to remember. Best advice: Join several airline dining programs such as the United MileagePlus Dining or American AAdvantage Dining programs by Rewards Network, registering a single credit card with each program. This dining activity will keep each account active. 

2. Donate miles. Have miles you cannot use? Give them to a charity. Virtually every airline and hotel program can funnel miles and points to a variety of organizations such as Americares, CARE, Make-a-Wish, National Children's Cancer Society and the United Way. And we can answer a question before you even ask it: We are sorry but the IRS has determined that donating your miles to a worthy and charitable cause is not tax deductible. 

3. Educate yourself. Read the fine print instead of just the headlines and become a true mileage expert. Know when you can and cannot earn miles for elite qualification. For example, mileage earned on some special promotional flights, some code shares and even some partner flights may not accrue toward elite status. Conversely, some credit card purchases now qualify toward elite status credit.

4. Learn how to stretch your miles. If your two-year stash is about to expire, tap a small partner such as a car rental company or a dining program to keep those miles active. No need to fly or stay at a hotel. Just use your knowledge of how to stay "active" for another three years.

5. Respect others. Several loyalty programs administer employee recognition programs to reward those who provide great service. Do yourself and them a favor by participating. When a recognition program is offered, you will receive a recognition card to present to the employee who then submits it for reward credit. Sometimes you will even get small ribbons to hand out to deserving airline or hotel employees.

6. Do not forget to backup. This advice is not about computers. It is a reminder to always carry your complete list of frequent- traveler program numbers around with you in case you are ever bumped from a flight and end up flying on another carrier. You will have the right frequent flyer number at hand and will not have to send in for missing credit. The trick? Make a complete list of all your program numbers on a small sheet of paper, have it laminated and carry it in your wallet. 

7. Do not lose sight of any opportunity. When your mileage balance reaches a high level, you may think you have perfected the art of accrual or you may think some promotional offers do not merit your attention. Not so in either case. Keep reading newsletters. Periodically review all the ways you can capture miles to make sure you have covered all the bases.

8. Splurge. How about attending the British Open, the Super Bowl or any number of unique events? With a wealth of auction packages from which to choose, consider bidding on the special events and unusual vacations offered by airlines and hotel programs. In the past, United MileagePlus has even allowed members to bid their miles for a part in a TV sitcom. Auctions vary by loyalty program. In the past, other programs such as American AAdvantage only had auctions for elite members but today they are open for anyone with enough miles. Auctions are not only conducted by the airlines. Hilton HHonors sponsored recent auctions allowing members to attend the Academy Awards, and in a variation, American Express recently gave members the opportunity to redeem their points (as little as 5,000 of them) for a Mercedes Benz.