Finding the Best Frequent Flyer Miles Program for You

When it comes to an airline frequent flyer or miles program, most of us don’t have a lot of choice.[Check out Rick Seaney’s TV interview below]

Know the Airlines at Your Airport

It’s all about geography – and it’s real simple: our options are limited to the programs offered by the airlines that fly to the airport closest to our home. However, unless your airport is very small, you are not limited to a single program. I have some suggestions.

Hear Rick Seaney offer more sharp insights – and some hard truths:

When to redeem miles for free tickets

Sign Up with Two Programs

  • Sign up for a legacy carrier at your airport, the more routes, the better (Alaska, American, Delta, United, US Airways)
  • Sign up for the biggest low-cost carrier at your airport, or the one that has the most routes to your favorite destinations (examples include JetBlue and Southwest)

So if Dallas is home, you’d probably want to sign up with American and Southwest. However, it never hurts to sign up for the program of any airline you might fly (you never know when you may fly them again, and we’ve certainly seen a lot of mergers in the past few years).

Which miles programs are easiest to cash-in on?

Know Your Goals

Your next move is deciding on a goal – what you want from a miles program: Perks, elite status for upgrades, award tickets? The more you can refine this, the better to strategize. For example, if your goal is flying to far-flung locations, get familiar with airline alliances –¬†so you’ll know if your airline’s partners can take you where you want to go.

Consider Adding Miles via Credit Cards

You can typically earn a lot of miles in your program by using an airline-branded credit card. It should be noted that many (but not all) of these cards come with an annual fee, but they also often come with perks and bonuses such as free bag allowances.

Awards Tickets: Harder to Get

You should also know that getting your free flight isn’t always easy (and it’s rarely completely free, either). For one thing, airlines have been cutting a lot of capacity in recent years which has meant fewer empty seats for awards redemption, plus there’s more competition for awards travel. Last year alone, American Airlines redeemed five million one-way awards tickets, and that’s a lot of flying. However, some airlines give you a better shot than others, according to a recent study – particularly the low-cost carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue and others.

Where to Find Help

Become a part of vibrant online communities like FlyerTalk and MilePoint and follow bloggers like the folks who write for the BoardingArea. These savvy travelers can load you up on tips for making the most of any miles program.

I bet at this point you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and it can seem daunting, but trust me – you can make maximizing a miles program a highly rewarding hobby if you are willing to put in the effort.

And here I am speaking about miles programs on the May 9 edition of the Willis Report:


Published: May 10, 2013