Secrets of Frequent Flyer Success

Airlines push aggressively for flyers to enroll in their frequent flyer programs, hoping that even a small percentage of them remain loyal in exchange for miles earned, usually to the tune of one award mile per mile flown.

For business and leisure travelers who spend significant portions of the year globetrotting, this quickly results in the accrual of tens of thousands of miles, which can be redeemed for free flights, upgrades and even fully-paid vacations. If you’re a flyer of the not-so-frequent sort, however, a few hundred miles here or there might not seem like enough of a tradeoff for you to stick to the same airline.

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The secret is that reaping the full benefits of any airline’s frequent flyer loyalty program almost never revolves completely around flying one airline, let alone frequently. Even better, flying free is only the beginning of the perks you’ll enjoy once you learn the ropes of the frequent flyer game.

Airline Alliances
These days, most major airlines operate as members of larger airline alliances, so even if you only enroll in one airline’s frequent flyer program, you can accrue miles on flights operated by sometimes dozens of other alliance members around the world. If you’re a member of United’s MileagePlus program, for example, you’ll earn miles when you fly EgyptAir, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and other members of the Star Alliance network of which United is a member.

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Codeshare Agreements
In other instances, two airlines that are not part of the same airline alliance are part of a so-called codeshare agreement, which allows each to sell seats on the other’s flights. In most cases, frequent flyers of either airline can also earn miles when they fly the other. Although Delta Air Lines, for instance, is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, you can earn Delta SkyMiles on flights from non-SkyTeam carriers such as Alaska Airlines, GOL Brazil and Malaysia Airlines.

Trains and Car Rentals
You don’t even have to be flying to earn miles as you travel. If you travel by train in Germany using the Deutsche Bahn rail network, for example, you can earn miles in American Airlines’ AAdvantage program between each Hauptbahnhof. Likewise, all major U.S. airlines allow you to accrue frequent flyer miles on selected cars and trucks rentals from companies like Alamo, Dollar, Enterprise and Hertz.

Credit Cards
The biggest detractor of signing up for an airline credit card is the annual fees banks assess for their use, usually around $100 per year. To smart travelers, this fee simply incentivizes frequent use of the card. Maximize rewards from an airline credit card by using the card to pay for a majority of your purchases, then pay the card off in full every month. That way, you avoid finance charges while you earn a mile for nearly every dollar you spend – potential tens of thousands of miles per year.

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Elite Status
The most immediate benefit of racking up frequent flyer miles is free travel in the form of award tickets, available for a certain number of miles. A lesser known perk is what’s known as elite status, a special designation you earn after passing a certain flight mile threshold during a given calendar year. Whether you earn gold, silver or even platinum elite status, benefits include priority boarding and security, free checked bags, and even free first- and business class upgrades.


About the author

Robert Schrader is a travel writer/photographer and editor of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, your source for destination information, travel photos, practical travel advice and inspirational travel essays. Robert’s writing and photography has been published on websites such as CNNGo, Tripping and Shanghaiist and in print publications like That’s Shanghai and East & West magazines. Robert’s travels have thus far taken him to more than 40 countries and to all six inhabited continents. Follow the Twitter feed, “Like” the Facebook page or add Robert to one of your Google+ circles.


Updated: November 17, 2014