After spending much of my career in the air for four years and living abroad for fourteen years, I've learned a few tricks of the trade traveling to make the layovers a little more enjoyable and how to keep using the benefits while traveling with my own children as they grow.
First things first, choose an airline.
I made the mistake of not doing this for the first year of my international trips and ended up not getting status in either of the two airlines. I earned some good miles for both companies, but in year two I stuck with United and got Silver status which means lots of free upgrades, bonus miles to get free tickets home at later dates, no luggage fees, and more. All the stuff you want when you travel but aren’t sure how to get.
Many of my friends got Gold status or Platinum or even higher, it all depends on how much you want to or have to travel. Silver worked for me as my career traveling internationally coincided with having two babies and raising newborns/toddlers, so I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) be gone all the time.
Second, get an airline credit card.
There are some easy ways to rack up miles, I love using my MileagePlus Explorer card. You can get yours here with some free bonus miles to get started. (up to 70,000 free miles! That's a free trip for you and someone else!) By using that card for all online purchases, I quickly rack up points each year.
Every time I fly with United, I earn more points. My husband and kids also have their own MileagePlus member account so as they travel more, they get points too.
Our points have sent us to Hawaii for free (read more here) and usually send the kids home for free every summer. With ticket prices usually around $800 for each of us to get from Mexico to Minnesota, that’s a lot of savings for us.
Third, the Club is totally worth it.
Being a MileagePlus member, we get two free passes to the United Club each year and can buy additional passes for $59 a person. It sounds like a lot, but once you’ve tried it and realize that what you probably spend on airport food for 4 people during your 5-hour layover is equivalent to paying for a pass or two if you need it AND it’s so worth it. The kids have space to play, unlimited outlets to charge all the things, free snacks and food available and the adults can enjoy unlimited wine and beer at the bar. Everyone is happy.
Had I not traveled so much for all those years, I never would have known what is behind the elusive blue doors at the Houston airport which is one of United Hubs, but now that I know, I definitely pay it a visit while we travel.