If you fly frequently or even only occasionally, frequent flyer miles are always going to be an important artillery in your battle of wits with the airline. Airlines offer these rewards to cultivate a loyal cadre of customers who will keep on booking but they really hope you don’t use them and continue paying for your flights so as to maximize on their revenues.
Frequent flyer programs make flights less costly over the long term and they also open a world full of rewards and bonuses including free flights, no fees for flight changes, flight upgrades and plenty of savings on flight and hotel bookings. There are lots of other goodies that airlines pack for their most loyal customers who sign up for their frequent flyer programs. In many airline frequent flyer programs, you are likely to find some of these goodies for various tier levels:-
- Priority service in the customer care centres
- Special travel packages and offers restricted only to members
- Guaranteed seats, even when flights are fully booked
- Preferred waitlist priorities
- Instant flight upgrades at check-in
- Get priority check-in and boarding with some frequent flyer programs
- Get lounge access in select airports throughout the airline’s network
- Get generous excess baggage allowances
- Lounge access for your guests
- E-gate services
- Get priority baggage deliveries for certain frequent flyer tiers
- Get preferred seats or seats with extra legroom
- Get more availability for award tickets
- Free transfers with some programs
From the benefits above, you can see that frequent flyer programs are not just about the cost savings. There are plenty of perks and conveniences that come with a membership in an FF program, especially if you hold the higher or elite status with the programs. These perks will make you feel extra special and add a little luxury to the hectic business of air travel.
Because of this, frequent flyer programs can also be quite attractive for many travellers and if you are someone who flies a lot with numerous airlines, it is always tempting to sign up for all the frequent flying programs that you can find. However, this is not always a good strategy for maximizing on your airline rewards. When it comes to collecting frequent flyer miles from airlines, it is important to have a clear vision and strategy that will enable you to collect as many miles as possible and deploy them expertly to make the most savings and grab the most rewards and bonuses from the airlines.
So at the end of the day, you will need to focus on a single or maybe two frequent flyer programs out of the myriad programs available that will give you the best value. Generally, it is advisable to choose a frequent flyer program that offers generous rewards and is also suited for your travel goals or itinerary. There are numerous quality frequent flyer programs that are available in the US and globally including the Southwest Rapid Rewards, Delta SkyMiles, the British Airways Avios program, AAdvantage by American Airlines, Hawaiian Miles, JetBlue TrueBlue, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, the Emirates Skywards, United MileagePlus Explorer Card, Flying Blue by KLM and Air France and many others.
To fully maximize on the frequent flyer programs, it is generally advisable to fly within the alliance, if your airline is part of a global alliance, so that you can accrue miles on a host of airlines and partner businesses from across the globe. Here is a review of the best frequent flyer programs in the market that you can try out especially if you are flying from US and Canada.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan has consistently emerged tops over the past decade as the best frequent flyer program scoring a perfect 5/5 on a host of categories. Let’s see why.
Alaska serves mostly the United States so there are limitations when it comes to earning points on transcontinental flights. However, the airline has code-share agreements with numerous other international airlines that have global coverage such as British Airways, American Airlines, Korean Air, Delta Airlines and Air France so you could still earn miles on flights on these airlines if they are marketed by Alaska Airlines.
On the face of it, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan offers you the same perks that you are likely to find in other airlines’ frequent flyer programs such as earning miles whenever you book a flight, special privileges for various tiers and unlocking even more reward opportunities by achieving a higher “elite” status in the frequent flyer program’s membership tiers.
Joining Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Simply visit the Alaskan rewards program webpage to read more about the program and sign up. Membership in the program is free.
Earning Alaskan Miles: You can earn miles and segments whenever you book with Alaska Airlines or any of its global partners and work your way towards an elite membership to unlock more rewards. There are three elite membership tiers, MVP, MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K, and the miles and segments required to qualify for each varies depending on where you book your flights as illustrated in the table below:-
|Qualifying Flights||MVP||MVP Gold||MVP Gold 75K|
|Miles Flown on Alaska Airlines Only||20,000||40,000||75,000|
|The Eligible Miles that are Flown on Alaska Airlines and Its Elite Qualifying Partners||25,000||50,000||90,000|
|Segments that Have Been Flown on Alaska Airlines and Elite Qualifying Partners||30||60||90|
Southwest Rapid Rewards
The Southwest Rapids Rewards program holds the distinction as the easiest to redeem among the many frequent flyer programs. Unlike other airlines, Southwest does not go out of its way to obfuscate its redemption policies making them fairly easy to understand.
The mile redemption for Southwest airlines are fare based. If you are booking a cheap ticket, you will need fewer miles but there are some exemptions in some of the popular routes where you will need more miles to book even a cheap ticket.
Another big plus with the Southwest Rapid rewards is that there are no blackout dates for the award tickets. As long a seat is available and you have the miles to book it, you will get your seat. With the airlines recent merger with AirTran, you can now also earn your miles on international flights.
To make the most of your Southwest rewards, it is advisable to shop around so as to get the best value on air fares as these generally change from day to day or even from hour to hour. So even if you are using your miles to pay for your flights, you need to look for the best Southwest deals and save on your miles.
As with all airline reward programs, you will need to pay for the taxes, fees and fuel surcharges even if you are paying for your flights using your miles. While these fees are generally lower for domestic flights, they will be higher for international flights, typically costing more than $100 depending on your destination or route.
The best way to earn your Southwest Rapid Rewards is via the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. This offers 2 points for every $1 spent on Southwest and airline partners’ flights as well as on partner hotels and car rental companies and 1 point for every $1 spent anywhere else. This is a very generous reward program that will allow you to quickly amass miles that you can use for your round trips in the US as well as in the Caribbean.
Travel the World With Miles That Don’t Expire
Being the third largest airline in the US with 10 domestic hubs and 3 international hubs, the Delta Air Lines frequent flyer program is a perfect place to begin building your miles. You can use the SkyMiles on Delta airlines flights or on flights of partner airlines that are marketed by Delta. If you have a Delta co-branded credit card, you can also collect credit card miles under this program.
The SkyMiles program has the distinction as the only airline miles programs that does not expire so you could acquire your miles over a longer duration of time without worrying about these miles expiring and getting wasted. This makes it an ideal frequent flyer program with leisure travelers.
Like the United Airlines mileage program, Delta now offers a dollar-based redemption for members of its frequent flyer program. That means you will earn your miles based on the amount that you have spent on your ticket and not on the distance or even segment traveled.
If you are a high spending corporate traveler who flies business class a lot, you are going to accrue your SkyMiles more easily. On the other hand, leisure travelers who look for bargains now see a drop in their miles accrual even if they travel the same segments as in the past when accrual was based on the miles traveled. The biggest advantage with the Delta SkyMiles is that the airline has numerous international partners so you can accrue plenty of miles on your international travels.
Earning Delta Miles
Delta connects you to more than 320 destinations globally so there are boundless opportunities to earn miles whenever you travel. You can also earn Delta miles on your vacations. Whenever you book a flight along with a vacation with the Delta Vacations, you are going to earn 7000 bonus miles which really stack up pretty fast if you go on frequent holidays.
Earning Miles with Delta Partners
Delta has 25 airline partners including leading international airlines such as Air France, KLM, Aeromexico and Virgin Atlantic. So whenever you fly with these airlines, you can still rack up your Delta miles.
Along with the airline partners, you can also rack up your miles with any of Delta’s credit partners. There are numerous global credit card companies that partner with airlines and with whom you can accrue miles as well as other exclusive member benefits. You can take the Delta SkyMiles credit cards to maximize on your miles accrual along with cards such as American Express and various other international credit cards.
Do you want to earn miles while you sleep, literally? There is the opportunity to accrue your Delta miles through partner hotel bookings from around the world. Delta has exclusive partnership with many of the leading international chains such as Starwood Hotels and Rewards worldwide, Hilton Hotel, Marriott International, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Accor Hotels, Maritim Hotels, Millennium Hotels and Resorts, New Otani Hotels, Okura Hotels and Resorts, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, and WorldHotels. You can also accrue Delta miles when you book your accommodation via AirBnB. So even if you are staying in a tiny boutique hotel in a little corner of the world, you can still collect your Delta Miles.
You can Convert Your Delta Partner Miles
Delta makes it super easy to transfer the loyalty points from other partner programs into SkyMiles. These include miles from card programs, hotel loyalty programs and many more. For more information on transferring your partner miles to Delta SkyMiles, check out http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/earn-miles/convert-partner-points-to-miles.html
Earn 30,000 Delta Miles the Easy Way
If you have not signed up for the Delta credit card, The Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, it is time to do so now. This offers you the easiest way to earn lots of miles quite easily while also enjoying numerous benefits such as first checked bag free and priority boarding. Once you hit the spending a limit of $1000 with this card within 90 days, you will earn your bonus 30,000 Delta Miles.
Other ways through which you can earn Delta miles is by booking your cruises and vacations via a Delta Cruise partner, earning miles on car rentals, limousine rentals and shuttles as well as earning miles on dining, retail and specialty Delta partners.
Redeeming Delta SkyMiles
While the Delta SkyMiles are very easy to earn, redemption is not as straightforward as in the Alaska Airlines or Southwest reward programs.
The biggest hurdle is in navigating Delta’s online flight search engine which is unnecessarily difficult and to the frustration of many frequent flyers, will not always show the available award travels. To make the most of your SkyMiles during redemption, it is advisable to search for one-way fares. It is also advisable to search for these fares on Delta’s partner airlines. If you are having difficulty redeeming your miles, you may also call the Delta customer care centre for help so that they can help you figure out the best award fares that will be most suitable for your travel itinerary based on the miles that you have collected.
British Airways Avios Frequent Flyer Program
British Airways will be ideal for you if you are planning to travel internationally, a lot. However, the Avios rewards can also be used locally in the US. British Airways is also a member of the oneworld airline alliance so that affords you the opportunity to travel with a host of global airlines and still accrue Avios rewards. The main drawback with the Avios program is that airline generally charges very high fuel surcharges on international flights.
Specifics on the Avios Program
There are numerous avenues through which you can collect your Avios rewards including booking partner hotels, British Airways flights, partner airlines flights , partner credit card companies, shopping as well as car rental with partner car hire companies. Due to the multiple options available for collecting your miles, you can easily accrue a large miles cache within a very short period of time.
Collecting Avios Up in the Air: Fly with BA or any of its global oneworld airline alliance partners and collect Avios rewards on every flight. The minimum Avios that you can per flight is 125. Almost all the flights that you fly on these airlines will be eligible for Avios rewards. The following airlines make up the oneworld alliance:-
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qantas Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
- TAM Airlines
- American Airlines
- Aer Lingus
- Alaska Airlines
There are other flights where you cannot earn Tier points or Avios rewards. These include the reward flights, flights booked via travel agencies as well as on heavily discounted fares.
Generally, the amount of Avios that you will collect will vary based on the airline that you fly, the cabin class that you fly as well as how far you are flying. Other factors that will determine the amount of Avios earned include ticket type as well as your membership Tier in the Executive Club. In order to accurately work out the amount of rewards you will collect on your flights, you can use the British Airways’ Avios flight calculator.
As you go further into the tiers of the British Airways Executive Club, you will be able to accrue more miles. Here is a look at the various tier bonuses for the Bronze, Silver and Gold Club members:
Bronze Members: Earn 25% Extra Avios
Silver Members: Earn 50% Extra Avios
Gold Members: 100% Extra Avios
You will earn these tier bonuses on top of the Avios bonuses that you are already earn by traveling in the British Airways premium cabins. If you book via the BA partner airlines, you can also earn extra tier bonuses offered through their loyalty programs.
Collecting Avios on Hotel Bookings: With more than 12,000 global hotel partners, BA has countless opportunities to earn miles while you sleep, literally. Collect generous rewards with Accor hotels, Agoda.com, Carlson Rezidor Hotels, FRHI Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Group, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Marriott International, Preferred Hotels and Resorts and many others.
Collect Avios on Car Rentals: Rent a car with any of the BA car rental partners and rack up your miles as you drive around in your new destination.
Earn Avios when you book holiday packages: You will earn miles on the vacation package bookings on top of the rewards that you earn when you book flights and hotel bookings or flights and car rental bookings.
Earning on Parking and Transfers: If you will be arranging airport parking or valet parking, you can earn Avios with any of the BA partners in any of the major airports in the UK. You can also earn when you book Heathrow rail transfers.
Earning on shopping and lifestyle: Whether you are shopping on board or at the airport with any of the BA retail partners , you will earn Avios with every purchase that you make.
The possibilities for spending your Avios are as numerous as the opportunities for earning it. Even with a small amount Avios rewards, you can begin redeeming them on your flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals and various experiences at partner companies globally. You can also use your Avios to make part payments and tremendous savings on your BA flights. BA has a great tool for searching for reward availability so that you can find excellent options for spending your Avios rewards.
If your ticket price don’t amount to many rewards, you can simply buy Avios so as to boost your rewards balance. This is a perfect way to stretch your rewards and earn yourself that flight upgrade or reward flight.
You can even choose to share your Avios with members of your family or friends if you sign up for the Avios Household Account. This allows up to 6 members living at an address to pool their Avios rewards.
Avios Rewards Expiry
Avios rewards have a shelf life of 36 months so you can keep them active long enough to redeem before they expire. Even lifestyle travelers should find the 3 year time limit reasonable.
Earn 50,000 Avios the Easy Way
Want to earn 50,000 Avios easily without traveling to multiple destinations? Sign up for a co-branded BA credit card and you will earn 50,000 Avios reward points if you spend $2000 with your credit card within 90 days.
American Airlines’ AAdvantage
This is not only one of the largest but also one of the most popular frequent flyer programs. You will earn miles for flights in all the major US cities with the AAdvantage as well as for international flights.
For every American Airlines flight that you take, you earn your elite qualifying miles. You will also be eligible for these on American Eagle flights as well as on code share flights for AA and American Eagle and other partner airlines. American airlines is a oneworld alliance member so you will be eligible for miles in a host of international airlines that fly to every corner of the globe such as British Airways and Qatar Airways. Check out the list of the oneworld partner airlines above.
Apart from collecting miles on your AA and AA partner airline flights, there are various other avenues for accruing miles with the AAdvantage frequent flyer program. American Airlines has partnered with numerous travel product providers across the world including hotels, resorts, car rental companies, and cruise lines among others.
If you are the traveler who likes shopping till you drop dead, then you can sign up for the AAdvantage Mastercard credit card by Citi and you will earn miles every time you make purchases on various travel products. With the elite membership tiers in the program, you can unlock even more rewards and benefits with the AAdvantage program.
Specifics on the AAdvantage Program
With the AAdvantage, the possibilities for collecting miles and bonuses are simply endless and these can subsequently be redeemed in numerous travel purchases. You earn AAdvantage miles whenever you book an American Airlines flight, American Eagle flights or book with oneworld airline partners of which AA is a member. Additionally, there are over 1,000 partner businesses worldwide where you can earn and redeem your miles. Here are some highlights of the benefits of AAdvantage:-
- Earn miles on flights to more than 1000 destinations around the world.
- Get upgrades with your AAdvantage miles
- Earn miles on your vacations, hotels, cruises and car rentals
- Earn and spend on other retail products
Using Your AAdvantage Miles
There are numerous possibilities available for you where you can use AAdvantage miles. These include the following:-
Use on Flight Awards: You can earn AAnytime Awards that guarantee you no blackout date flights reservations and also whenever a seat is available. For more flexible travel plans with fewer miles, use the MileSAAver awards programs to pay for or subsidize your flights.
Use on Flight Upgrades: Looking for a free upgrade? You can use your miles to upgrade to the Business Class or First Class on American Airlines as well as the partner airlines in the oneworld airline alliance. The best part is that you can use your miles both for your flights and to pay for others, too!
Use on Hotels, Car Rentals, Cruises and More: You can redeem your miles for hotel stays, cruises, car rentals, vacation packages, and various other retail products with partner service providers.
Making the Most of AAdvantage
There are various ways in which you can make the most of your AAdvantage account. You can take the Citi/AAdvanatge Platinum Select Card and you will be eligible for 50,000 bonus miles if you make qualifying purchase with your card over a certain limited duration of time. Another perk that you get with this is a free first checked bag on domestic flights.
United Airlines MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Program
The MileagePlus has been voted consistently as the best frequent flyer program so you can expect some goodies here. With the MileagePlus program, you will benefit from the many innovative options through which you can earn and also use your award miles. You can redeem the miles in a variety of ways including on flights, flight upgrades, entertainment and various other lifestyle experiences.
Earning United Award Miles
There are multiple ways in which you can earn the United award miles. The primary option is via flight bookings on United and its global airline partner network. Other ways in which you can earn the United miles include via hotel bookings on partner hotels, car rentals with partner companies, rail services, on cruise and vacation partners. You can also earn miles on everyday activities through MileagePlus shopping, United’s credit card partners, via dining and entertainment partners, on retail and lifestyle shopping portals, with financial partners as well as on business products and services.
Using Your United Miles
There are also numerous possibilities when it comes to spending your United miles. You can use these on booking flights and flight upgrades, booking partner hotels, retail shopping and car rental companies as well as on United’s Cruise Awards. For additional information on all the options for redeeming your United miles, check out the airline’s frequent flyer program page.
As a MileagePlus member, you can also benefit from various other premier benefits offered under the program. These include premier priority travel offered by the airline, premier mileage bonuses, complimentary premier upgrades, as well as various premier award travel benefits.
You can also transfer, buy or donate your United Miles!
How Can You Maximize On Your Airline Rewards?
With myriad of frequent flyer options available, it can be a bit daunting for a beginner, particularly, to make the most of these programs or even know what is best for them. To fully maximize on your airline miles, you need to have a clear strategy on miles accrual and spend. It is best to sign up with a few frequent flyer programs, choosing particularly one that suits your travel itinerary. Here are additional tips that you can incorporate so as to optimize the airline reward programs for maximum savings:-
Diversification is important: Signing up for a single frequent flyer program can maximize your miles accrual and help you do so relatively quickly but it is never a good idea to put all the eggs in one basket. Choose frequent flyer programs from a couple of airlines that service your hometown. You can even segment your frequent flyer miles accrual. Choose one program for your domestic flights and another for international flights.
Sign up your spouse and other family members: If the rewards policies permit, sign up as many members of the household to a single or multiple accounts so as to ensure no miles go to waste when any of the family members travel.
Sign up with airlines operating in your preferred airport: Ideally, you should pick frequent flyer programs from airlines that service your preferred departure and arrivals airport. That way, you will never miss an opportunity to accrue miles. This will also make it easy for you to redeem your miles whenever you need to. Do the same when applying for travel credit cards.