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How to score a frequent-flier ticket

| Sunday, June 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Frequent-flier programs are supposed to take the sting out of some purchases. Leisure travelers are finding it easier to accumulate award points, thanks to credit cards, a boon if you're not a business traveler. The ease of accumulating points is the blessing and the curse of loyalty programs: You can earn points without getting on a plane. But so can everyone else.

Chins up, points people. Our frequent-flier-points gurus say you can still get an awards ticket for almost nothing. Here are three rules they shared with me:

• Pick up the phone and call, says Tim Winship, publisher of FrequentFlier.com, which offers news and advice for frequent fliers. You may be charged a fee, but, Winship says, it's important that travelers “don't allow themselves to be stymied by the inability to book on the airline's website. ... Airlines have done a masterful job of discouraging us from picking up the phone and calling, (but) you may well find that a reservations agent can figure out something for you.” Getting people from Point A to Point B is what agents do, he says. Their expertise and itinerary creativity will cost you, but in the end, it can also end up saving you big bucks.

• Not getting an answer you like? Hang up and call again. (You won't be charged the fee unless you book.) This bit of wisdom comes from Brian Kelly, whose ThePointsGuy.com counsels people on finding ways to outwit what stands between them and an awards ticket. He reminded me that one should remain calm, be polite, say thank you and then hang up and call back. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but Kelly and others say they often do get a different result; it's the repeated phone calls that may make you crazy.

• Book early or late but not in between. Try booking the minute the tickets become available or at the last minute, which is when Kelly says he has the most success. If you have the flexibility or you're a gambler at heart, this could work well.

Most of all, patience, flier friends. Airlines for America, an industry trade group, says 210 million of us will take to the skies between June 1 and Aug. 30, a six-year high. Crowded, expensive and uncomfortable? Yes, yes and yes. But a free ticket might help ease your pain.

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