Today's big frequent-flier programs may have more than 1,000 partners ranging from movie rentals to mortgage companies, says Tim Winship of FrequentFlier.com. "The long-term trend has been the evolution of these programs from frequent-flier programs to frequent-buyer programs," he says, noting that robust partnerships present an opportunity for passengers. "Everything else being equal, you're better off participating in a program with more partners than one with fewer partners," he says.

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