Learn how airline miles work and the steps to get started with collecting travel rewards.
If you are not utilizing some sort of travel benefits program, you are missing out on free money, free travel and hotels.
Earning airline miles and using travel benefit programs is how to go on vacation for free.
You can also use airline miles to upgrade your tickets to fly in premium cabins, get free rental cars, and get free and discounted hotel accommodations. Before long, you’ll be redeeming miles for flights and hotel rooms too.
Ready to get started? We’ve broken it down as simply as possible. Just take a few minutes to read this guide and you will be on your way to earning miles for your next vacation.
What are Airline Miles?
Airline miles are sometimes also known as frequent flier miles. Airlines host these programs to reward you for being a frequent flyer. The more you fly with with a specific airline, the more miles you earn. You can then redeem them online for a free flight or upgrades. Many travelers may not participate in these programs because they assume that they don’t travel frequently enough. I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
You don’t have to travel to earn airline miles.
You can earn them many ways, making the purchases you normally make. More detail on this later.
How do Airline Miles work?
When you have racked up enough miles with an airline, you can trade them in for a free flight. This is called an award seat.
Award seats have limited availability. On every flight, there are only a certain number of seats allocated for those buying with points at any given time. It’s best if you have date and time flexibility. Just like with a regular flight book in advance for the best deals.
There are several different ways airlines calculate mileage:
- Zone based: This is when there’s a set number of miles to go from one region to another. For example, from North America to Europe; or domestically within a country. So it doesn’t matter where your starting and end points are. If they’re within the region, it’ll be the same number of miles required. The best value is on long haul flights.United, American, Delta all have zone based award charts. Most airlines operate on this model.
- Distance based: This is when the miles needed depends on the actual distance flown between destinations. For example, New York to Europe would cost less miles than Los Angeles to Europe. This can be better value depending on where you live (someone from New York going to London will be better off with a distance-based program than zone-based). This also works well for short haul flights.British Avios, Iberia Avios, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles use distance based charts.
- Cost based: This is when the number of miles needed is directly related to the cost of the flight. JetBlue and Southwest have cost based programs.
How to earn Airline Miles
Join the airline’s loyalty program and fly:
Every time you fly sign up for that airlines loyalty program. You will collect mileage directly from the airline into your member mileage account. These are free programs and don’t require application for a credit card.
Do not forget your children! Sign them up for the mileage programs too and collect miles on their flights. This can really add up over time. (I’m thinking family vacation!)
For each flight you may get credit for mileage flown or it may be calculated based on dollars spent. You can also earn through various airline partners. This information changes frequently so check your airlines website for deals.
Here are links to the top 10 Airlines Frequent Flier Programs:
(In no particular order)
For extra points, check out the airlines online shopping partners and dining rewards programs.
Earn transferable airline points through credit cards:
The next way to earn airline miles is to collect transferable airline points through the use of credit cards.
This is by far the fastest way to earn points.
There are many credit cards that award general travel points. These points can be transferred to airline and hotel rewards partner programs. Many of these credit cards offer very generous sign up bonus points so you can redeem for travel rewards if not immediately, almost. The best thing is you don’t have to travel to earn points. You are earning rewards on all of your everyday purchases. This works extremely well if you pick a favorite rewards program and charge all of your expenses on that card, paying off monthly.
General travel reward credit cards:
This type of credit card gives you universal travel points. When you are ready to redeem you do so for a credit statement to cover your travel and travel related expenses. Since you are not booking travel through the program but receiving a credit on your credit card statement there is no limit to availability or blackout dates.
Next time we will be back to share our favorite travel and airline credit cards. Subscribe to my blog to get the latest travel tips!