19 Apr The Biggest Mistake Most (In)Frequent Flyers Make
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve taken at least one flight in the last year. Or maybe you haven’t, maybe you’re just getting ready to go on your first ever trip. Then hear this! Collecting frequent flyer miles and being a part an airline’s bonus program is the second best thing you can do. The first is using the help of Flystein for booking your flights, of course 🙂
We’ve put together a Q&A of everything to do with frequent flyer miles – how to collect them, why to collect them, and what to do with them. One thing’s for sure – if you don’t collect your miles, you’re basically throwing money away!
Q: Why should I collect frequent flyer miles?
A: Think of a frequent flyer program as your local supermarket’s bonus program. Chances are that some kind of service you use on a weekly basis gives you bonus money/points/credit for every purchase you make. The same goes for airlines. As you can use your supermarket’s bonus to pay for your weekly groceries, you can use your frequent flyer miles for upgrades, award flights, in-flight food, etc., but with a greater return!
Q: Which program to choose?
A: There are three major airline alliances in the world: Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. These three gather the majority of the world’s airlines under them.
In order to get as many frequent flyer miles as you possibly can and not be left out on any, you don’t have to enroll in every single airline’s program. If you become a member in one program per alliance then you’ll be good with every other airline in it as well.
Also, by becoming a member in one program per alliance, you’ll credit all your points to that same exact account and be on your way to an award flight much faster.
We recommend going with the airline that has the most flights out of your home/nearest airport or is the biggest in your country. For that, consult this handy map. Hover over the airline codes to see the name of the airline and the alliance they’re a part of.
Q: Which are the best frequent flyer programs?
A: Almost every airline has its own program and it’s impossible to name the best. Though, the biggest or most well-known might have some special perks with it. Usually, it’s better to choose your national carrier as it usually has some international partners but there are some exceptions. For example, the Australian national carrier Qantas has one of the worst programs and we recommend Aussie residents to go with the American Airlines program instead. In the end, you’re free to choose any program in the world as long as it partners with the airlines you fly the most.
To mention a few programs per alliance then we would choose:
- American Airlines, AAdvantage Program – off-peak awards and many non-alliance partners.
- British Airways, Executive Club Program – great for short flights and household miles pooling.
Alliance: Star Alliance
- United, Mileages Plus Program – best for frequent and infrequent flyers worldwide.
- Lufthansa, Miles&More Program – if you fly a lot with Lufthansa and affiliates.
- Delta, SkyMiles Program – miles never expire.
- Air France/KLM, Flying Blue Program – regular Promo Awards.
If you fly a lot during a year (and we mean a lot) then it might make sense to try to obtain a status with an airline. One of the easiest airlines to get a status with is Aegean with whom you need only 24,000 miles to get a Star Alliance Silver status and then the same amount for a Gold status.
Q: How to collect frequent flyer miles?
- In the air. The easiest way to collect miles is to always insert your frequent flyer number when checking in online for your flight or present your frequent flyer card at the check-in counter. And it is always a good idea to take a photo of your boarding pass.
- On the ground. Collect miles when using services of various airline’s partners like hotels and car rental, paying for utilities, insurance, etc. Just check the airline’s partners’ page.
Another popular method is signing up for co-branded credit cards. They usually come with a big signup bonus in miles/points and you’ll collect more with every purchase – travel hackers love it. To be honest, huge bonuses are a reality only in the USA, while in other countries, cards like American Express still offer a decent 15,000 miles/points signup bonus.
Pro tip: connect your AMEX card to Paypal and use Paypal if some website does not accept AMEX but accepts Paypal.
- Airlines’ online shopping sites. For example with American Airlines, by shopping at Sephora, you can earn 4 miles per every dollar spent. With United, you can earn up to 2 miles per every dollar spent at Macy’s.
It’s a great idea to keep an eye on your frequent flyer program’s newsletters as these might include more offers and tips on how to get more miles.
Q: What if I forget to add/present my frequent flyer account number?
A: No problem, most airlines let you redeem miles for trips up to 6 months after completion. Just sign into your frequent flyer account and look for the ‘Redeem missing miles’ form. Note that you can submit a retro-credit form no sooner than 2 weeks after your trip.
Q: Do frequent flyer miles have an expiration date?
A: Yes, they do. It does depend on the airline, but the average validity is 2 years. When you don’t collect new miles during that period or don’t use any of your miles, then they will get deleted from your account.
Q: Is there a way to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring?
A: Yes, there is. Basically, any transaction where you collect or use new miles will keep your miles safe for another period. For example, you can shop at one of the airline’s partners, buy few miles, etc.
Notable exceptions: with the Air France/KLM program FlyingBlue you have to take an actual qualifying flight once within 20 months to keep your miles from expiring. Lufthansa miles will expire after 3 years unless you get at least the Silver status or a co-branded credit card.
Q: How to get my first award faster?
A: There are quite a few ways to get to your first award flight a bit faster.
If you and your family/household travel a lot, it would make sense to sign up for a family/household account. Some airlines only have an option of a family account which means that people related to you or married into the family are able to join, for example: Etihad offers Family membership account with up to 8 Family Guests, Virgin Australia – Family Pooling with up to 6 family members, JetBlue – Family Pooling with up to 2 adults and 5 children. On the other hand, British Airways has the option to create a household account that allows up to 7 members. Though bear in mind that all of these people will have to have the same permanent address. Norwegian’s rewards program offers the ability to pool points across your family up to seven people.
Occasionally, airlines offer extra miles on certain routes. Like this Austrian Airlines promotion where you get double the amount of miles on their flights to Hong Kong during a certain period (July 2016). You could find a list of all the latest promotions at FrequentFlyerBonuses.com
And it always makes sense to look out for different partner offers. Be it a hotel stay, car rental, insurance services, or just shopping online. Airlines partner with different companies and offer clients a discount and a certain amount of miles for using different kinds of services. This goes for both, whilst being on the road, and when you’re at home.
Q: What is the best value I could get for my frequent flyer miles?
A: When you redeem your miles for an award flight you usually still need to pay some taxes and surcharges, and these surcharges are about same for any class of service. So the best flight to use your award points on would be an international business/first class flight with lie flat seats. You would need just 1,5-3 times more miles compared to an economy flight, whereas in cash the price difference is often 5-10 times!
Another way to use your miles and do it in a wise way is to use them for last minute or one-way flights when the actual cash prices are sky high.
The worst value for your miles is usually buying something from the airline’s gift shop or booking a cheap economy flight where you have to pay high surcharges.
Pro tip: To minimize fuel surcharges try to use your miles with a departure from a region with low or no fuel surcharges such as North/South America and Australia.
Q: Are there any promotions I could take advantage of?
A: Almost every program has some sort of a regular special promotion where you can get your award flight for fewer miles.
- Lufthansa runs ”Fly Smart” offers. You may be able to save up to 50% off the regular published rates, but you should claim your award flight on a relatively short notice (2 weeks to 2 days before the flight).
- Air France/KLM Flying Blue has Promo Awards – discounted award tickets that save you up to 50% on Award Miles. New offers are usually available on the first day of the month and you can book as early as three months ahead of your travel period.
- American Airlines offers discounted award flights on select off-peak periods. These are valid for select regions only.
- If you’re looking to fly from the US and on United then it might make sense to take a look at their Monthly Saver Awards. You might come across some pretty good international and domestic award flights.
There are more programs and offers out there. Just check your airline frequent flyer program’s website for more information.
Q: Can I transfer my frequent flyer miles to another person?
A: Airlines often do allow a transfer within the same program but you will have to pay high fees so it’s not a good deal. Instead, refer to the Family or Household accounts that we mentioned earlier in the post.
Q: Can I transfer my frequent flyer miles to another airline’s program?
A: In general – no. You could do it via a website called Points, but it’s often too expensive. If you follow our recommendation to stick to one program per alliance then generally you would not need any transfers.
Q: How can I keep track of all my frequent flyer accounts?
A: One well-known option is TripIt. Besides keeping you on track with your miles, it also gathers your travel confirmations and puts them in order so that you’ll never miss a flight. For a mere 4 USD per month, it also sends you live flight status updates, tracks your reward program points, and shares your travel plans with your inner circle.
We have tried several loyalty program trackers and in our experience AwardWallet is the best out there. Similar to TripIt, it provides travel plan tracking, flight updates, and keeps tabs on anything to do with your award points. The main difference here is that AwardWallet’s account tracking feature is free! It also keeps you up to date with your credit card and hotel award points across 650 different loyalty programs.