Choosing the Right Frequent Flyer Program: Beginner’s Guide to Travel (Part 3)

Posted on Monday, June 6, 2011 - 0 Comments
Paris Sidestreet
Paris Sidestreet

When it comes to earning miles, there is no “one” best Frequent Flyer program. They all have their pros and cons and your choice will be based on your location and needs. It’s important to choose the Frequent Flyer program that is right for you. Then you can really focus on earning those miles. You want to choose an airline where you can earn as many miles as easily as possible.  You also want an airline that flies from wherever you are to where you want to go.

The variables:

Concentrate your miles. The first thing to keep in mind is earning miles in one primary program is far more beneficial for most people than spreading them over a half dozen programs. Focus on getting your miles in one or maybe two programs. For example, you generally need 25k miles for a domestic round-trip award ticket.  Those miles need to be consolidated in one program. Having 5 different programs with 10k miles in each one gets you nothing, whereas having 50k (10k x 5) in one program gets you 2 domestic round-trip tickets or one international round-trip to Europe.

By focusing on one program and making a point to fly on that airline (and its alliance partners) you can earn more miles faster and thus more quickly achieve travel awards like elite status, free upgrades and award flights.

Think alliances. When you are choosing a frequent flyer program, you are not just choosing that airline, you are choosing its partners also. The three main airline alliances are SkyTeam Alliance, Star Alliance and OneWorld. For example, I’m an American Airlines frequent flyer member so if I fly on Iberia (one of AA’s partner airlines in the OneWorld Alliance), I can earn American miles instead of Iberia miles. This is very useful to know so you don’t dilute your miles by spreading them over too many frequent flyer programs.

What airlines have the most flights out of your home airport? If you live in or near a Hub of one of the major airlines, they will often have the most options for flights. This can make your choice easier. Here’s a quick list of some hub cities:

United – Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C.

American Airlines – Dallas/Ft. Worth, Miami, Los Angeles

Delta – Atlanta, Cincinnati

US Airways – Charlotte, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

Alaska Airlines – Seattle

Virgin Atlantic – London

What are your travel goals? If your goal is to earn an international award flight then Southwest might not be the best frequent flyer program for you as they do not have international awards or even awards to Hawaii. If you want elite status, American Airlines offers a great shortcut: The Gold/Platinum Status Challenge. If you want lots of domestic upgrades United offers unlimited upgrades to those with elite status. Although, even with elite status, you won’t always get the upgrade.

Will you be earning the bulk of your miles by flying or by shopping? If you don’t fly often, but are trying to earn enough miles for an award flight, your choice of airline may be affected by which airline is currently offering a miles card with the biggest sign-up bonus. For example, last year American Airlines had sign-up bonuses of 75k miles and earlier this year British Airways had a visa card with a 100k sign-up bonus. Getting that kind of bonus up front is a great way to earn a flight. Also, by using an online airline shopping portal, you can earn lots of miles for purchasing things you would buy anyway.

Here’s what I chose, and why. I’ve chosen to join American Airlines frequent flyer program because of the ease in getting platinum status via the Elite Status Challenge, the number of flights out of LAX and the fact you can earn permanent elite status by earning 1,000,000 lifetime miles. I still have a ways to go for that. I used to fly Alaska very frequently because of the amount of flights they have from LA to the Pacific Northwest. Also, I joined the British Airways frequent flyer program because I got the Chase British Airways Visa Card with the 100k bonus in Dec. of 2010. Your reasons will be your own, but now you can have an idea of what to base your decision on. Happy travels.

If you liked this information, check out my new book, ROCK YOUR TRAVEL.

It’s all about frequent flyer miles and travel hacks.

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Hi, I’m Algis


I have an insatiable wanderlust which takes me to some crazy places where I try strange foods, pretend I'm a local and talk with elephants. Keep reading...

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