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With holiday shopping around the corner, it's time to address one of the recurring tragedies of the season. (No, not your Aunt Sadie's annual fruit cake). Today I'd like to address the calamity of those millions of frequent flyer miles that people forgo each year because they forget to buy from their favorite online merchants via links at the airlines' shopping mall websites.

I'm one of those sad cases. Before I got wise, I would simply go to Apple's website (www.apple.com) to buy a new $3,000 iMac or a $3,000 sectional from Design Within Reach (www.dwr.com). But don't make my mistake. Right now, if you visit Continental Airline's shopping site, for example, you can get 4 OnePass miles for each dollar spent at Apple and, of course, an extra mile if you make the purchase with a frequent flyer credit card. So if you shop smart, your $3,000 iMac also comes with 15,000 miles, the equivalent of half a free round-trip domestic flight. A $5,000 purchase would get you enough miles for a free flight.

Is there a catch? No. The price you pay for a new iMac via Apple's website is exactly the same as the price via the airlines' sites.

Literally hundreds of online merchants participate in these mileage offers.  Here are some current deals from various merchants and airlines, all of which are subject to change:

Delta Airlines

  • 2 miles/$1 at Crate and Barrel
  • 2 miles/$1 at the Container Store
  • 3 miles/$1 at StarbucksStore.com
  • 2 miles/$1 at iTunes.
  • 7 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com plus new customers get $10 off their first purchase of $50 or more
  • 4 miles/$1 at Overstock.com
  • 100 miles for a Costco membership

Doh! I interrupt this article to shamefacedly confess that, in researching it, I just discovered I could have earned 2 Delta miles for every $1 spent at finestationery.com (www.finestationery.com), where I recently made a $200 purchase. Grrrr!

United Airlines

  • 9 miles/$2 at Nordstrom
  • 7 miles/$2 at Sephora
  • 3 miles/$2 at Apple
  • 4 miles/$1 at Avon
  • 3 miles/$1 at Circuit City
  • 9 miles/$2 at Brookstone

American Airlines

  • 4 miles/$1 at Old Navy
  • 2 miles/$1 at Walmart
  • 10 miles/$1 at 1-800-Flowers.com or 11 at FTD
  • 5 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com

Continental Airlines

  • 4 miles/$1 at Apple
  • 8 miles/$1 at Target
  • 20 miles/$1 at Godiva
  • 6 miles/$1 at Gap
  • 30 miles/$1 at Magazines.com

Everyday purchases, not just holiday gifts, qualify for miles, too. Do you regularly buy your contacts from 1 800 Contacts (www.1800contacts.com)? Why not get 10 miles for every dollar spent? Are you a frequent buyer at Drugstore.com (www.drugstore.com)? If you buy via their site directly, you get no miles; get there via an airline shopping mall page and you might get as many as 10 miles per $1 spent. Same thing with purchases at Petco (www.petco.com). And keep in mind that airline mall shopping is a painless way to keep your frequent flyer miles from going stale, since each purchase, even a 99-cent song at iTunes, extends your miles' expiration date.

It's important to shop around, however, because one airline might offer more miles with the same merchant than another airline. For example, currently United is offering 3 miles for every 2 dollars charged at Apple whereas Continental is offering 4 miles for every dollar. And offers can change from time to time, so if your purchase can wait, jump when your favorite airline is offering a double miles deal.

And if you've been visiting an online merchant's site directly through their URL recently, it's a good idea to clear your cookies and then enter the site through the airlines' links to avoid any potential confusion as to where you came from.

For your shopping convenience, you can find links to the airlines' mall sites all in one place here.  

Bookmark these sites and before you buy anything online, then see if miles are being offered for your purchase.

Have a great time shopping this holiday season, and please be sure to gift yourself a gift, too, in the form of extra frequent flyer miles.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.

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