¨You don’t have to travel, but I find extended travel to be a helpful tool for reexamining yourself and the constraints you’ve artificially placed on your life. It’s easy to believe everything has to be done one way if you’re always in one place around the same people.¨
Frequent Flyer and Other Loyalty Programs
Thousands of companies in many industry segments have a frequent flyer and other loyalty programs. Many of the companies that have loyalty programs also have a deal with credit card companies.
No industry uses loyalty programs and branded credit cards more than travel. (The travel industry needs to keep a constant turnover of clients to fill their rooms, plane seats, hotel rooms).
You can find loyalty programs and credit cards associated with nearly every hotel chain, airline, and rental car company. There are even branded credit cards for shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb.
However, loyalty programs and branded credit card companies are linked to hotel chains and airlines.
Some travel credit cards are not associated with a particular travel industry brand, including Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital One Venture Rewards card. Points earned using these credit cards can be redeemed either directly for purchases you make through an online travel website (sometimes called a portal), or you can transfer the points to many different airlines or hotel programs.
What Are Frequent Flyer Miles and Points?
Frequent Flyer programs are the name for airline loyalty programs. Most airline loyalty programs allow you to earn and redeem points for flights and other related activities on the airline itself and the other airlines in their alliance.
Most Fifty-Plus Nomads in the US should consider joining (and applying for their airline-branded credit cards) from the three major airline alliances. The alliances are;
- Star Alliance. The major US airline is United. Click here for a list of members.
- One World. The major US airline is American. Click here for a list of members.
- Sky Team. The major US airline is Delta. Click here for a list of members.
You can both use earn and redeem points using any airline in these alliances most of the time. For example, if you fly on Air Canada, you may receive points on your United Mileage Plus account (both members of the Star Alliance). You can also redeem points from your United account for flights on Air Canada.
However, there are a few airlines, like Southwest Airlines, that are NOT part of alliances. (For more information about alliances).
Generally, once you have accumulated a certain number of miles (or points), you can exchange these points for airline tickets, a hotel stay, or other benefits.
The term Frequent Flyer miles is somewhat misleading nowadays. Forty years ago, when airlines started to offer Frequent Flyer Miles, you got one mile usually either for:
- each mile that you traveled on a given airline.
- every dollar you spent using an airline-branded credit card.
How Do You Earn Frequent Flyer Miles (or Points)?
Nowadays, actual miles flown do not matter that much. Instead, the number of points (still sometimes called miles) that you earn in a frequent flyer program counts.
The number of actual miles flown (also known as elite qualifying miles, or EQMs) counts ONLY toward determining if you are eligible for “elite status.¨ Elite status entitles you to free checked bags, priority boarding, priority screening, lounge membership, international upgrades, and more. It is also possible to gain elite status through other activities on many airlines. However, you need to spend so much money that I doubt that many Fifty-Plus Nomads will achieve elite status unless they fly a lot. (Often as much 250,000 miles on the same airline).
Instead of earning points based on miles flown, you earn frequent flyers points based on what you paid for the airline ticket. Typically you get five points for every dollar spent purchasing a ticket.
If, for example, you paid $200 (before taxes and fees) for a one-way ticket between Los Angeles and New York, you will receive 1000 points for the ticket. ($200 times 5 points for each dollar spent= 1000 miles).
Unless you buy high-cost airline tickets, you usually get nowhere near as many points as the number of miles flown on the route. (The actual miles flown between Los Angeles and New York is 2461). You typically get two points for every non-ticket, airline-related purchase such as onboard drinks and food, baggage fees, etc.
Few travel hackers earn the bulk of their points on actual flights. There are many other ways that you can earn frequent flyer points. The rules for earning these points are complicated and continuously changing.
Some Common Ways to Earn Frequent Flyer Points
Here are some of the most common ways to earn frequent-flyer points:
Airline-Branded Credit Cards
Most travel hackers get more points from airline-branded credit cards than any other activity.
The points come from a combination of sign-up bonuses and purchases made with these credit cards.
You usually get enough points to buy an airline ticket when you sign up for an airline-branded credit. You will, however, have to spend a certain amount of money in a given period of time on an airline-branded credit card to get a sign-up bonus. (The amount of money varies. The most typical requirement is between $3000 and $5000 in three months).
Airline-branded credit cards provide other non-point related benefits, including:
- No conversion fee when you buy something with a foreign currency. (Many credit cards charge you a three percent conversion fee).
- Free check-in for your first bag. (Otherwise, you will pay $25-$30 for your first bag).
- Boarding the plane earlier than most other passengers. (Boarding early makes it easy to stow your carry-on baggage).
Airline-branded credit cards allow you to trade points for flights on a given airline AND their partner airlines. You also get points when you fly these partner airlines. Access to these partner airlines is often the most significant benefit of using airline-branded credit cards, especially if you fly a lot internationally.
All airline-branded credit cards have annual fees. (Usually around $100 a year). Airlines offer credit cards that provide access to airline clubs. These cards are more expensive. (Usually between $400 and $500 a year). In addition to these clubs, these credit cards usually allow you to accumulate points faster than the other cards.
Frequent Flyer Accounts and Other Ways to Earn Miles and Points
You do not have to have an airline-branded credit card to receive airline tickets and other travel benefits. Some credit cards provide cashback or allow to trade points for tickets on hundreds of different airlines.
Besides, you can receive points for taking airline flights just by signing up for a FREE Frequent Flyer account. Signing-up can be done quickly online. Also, most airline personnel can provide you with sign-up information. After you first sign up for a Frequent Flyer account, you can apply to get mileage credit for flights that you have taken in the past. Usually, you can get credit for trips taken somewhere between three months and a year after your initial sign-up date.
Some Additional Air Travel Related Posts
- Why Alliances are Essential to Travel Providers. Are they Good or Bad for Consumers?Travel industry alliances are essential to the business´s survival. However, alliances have both good and bad implications for consumers
- Extra Fees: What are Ancillary (Extra) Fees and Why Are They Increasingly Becoming A Travel Industry Lifeline?More and more the travel industry depends on the sale of other products to expand and maintain its profitability. Expect to be bombarded with hints to buy other things (ancillaries) on your next cruise, flight, etc.
- The Internet Has Changed the Face of the Travel Industry More than Any Other Major IndustryThe internet has changed the travel industry probably more than another industry. This article discusses how these changes affect the consumer.
- Travel Industry Cost Saving Techniques: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe travel industry has made several changes to save costs in recent times. Some like using more fuel-efficient planes do not affect consumers that much. Others like reducing staff have made the experience worse for consumers.
- Business Travelers Versus Leisure TravelersThe travel industry gets most of its clients from leisure travelers. However, it makes more money from business than leisure passengers. The airlines put up with us leisure travelers because they couldn’t survive without us. However, they don’t hide their preference for business travelers.
- Why Are There So Many Connecting Flights? A Discussion of Why Airlines Love the Hub-Spoke Model More than ConsumersUnbeknownst to most consumers, the cause of most of our airline-related complaints is the hub-spoke model. Unfortunately, however, the hub-spoke model is also essential to the airline industry’s financial viability.
- Airline Schedule Changes: Why Don’t Airlines Keep their Promises?Learn why airlines change their schedules after you buy your tickets and what you can do about it.
- How Many Taxes, Fees, and Other Charges Do Consumers Pay For Airfare, Hotels, and Other Travel Services?The amount and number of travel taxes, fees, and other charges added to your bill will probably surprise you. Many are hidden and like everything else, taxes keep going up.
- Airline Consolidation: What Are the Disadvantages and Advantages For the Consumer?The airlines have consolidated so fast in the USA and Canada that only 5 players dominate the market. Learn what this means for consumers.
- The 3 Reasons Travel Prices Are So Radically Different than Other Products: Perishability, Capital Costs, and Yield ManagementHave you ever wondered why travel products seem to be priced so crazily? Learn the three economic factors that contribute to the pricing of travel products: perishability, high capital costs, and yield management.
- Why Pack Light Advice Doesn’t Work for Me (and May Not Work for You Either)I have had more problems because I packed too light than too much. Packing light advice is mainly geared toward people who are going on a whirlwind trip through Europe independently. I usually travel for long periods and stay in only a few places often with great climate variations. I also hate washing my own clothes.
- Some Hard-Learned Packing Tips From My 5 Years Traveling Round the WorldWhile I do not always follow packing light tips, there are many other tips that I use all the time. This post outlines the tips that were most useful during my 5 years traveling around the world.
- 3 Simple Baggage Tips to Avoid Wasting Time, Money, and TroubleA series of simple steps to avoid problems with your bags such as making your bag stick out from the others on the carousel and finding the most durable bag.
- Get an Upgrade to Avoid Uncomfortable Air TravelI have frequently managed to score business class seats either as an upgrade or for a modest additional fee. Learn how I did it and how you may be able to follow in my footsteps.
- Airline Bumping: What is it REALLY All About? Why It is Often a Blessing?Airlines routinely sell more tickets on a plane than there are seats. They expect no-shows. Most of the time this causes no problems. If there is trouble, often they can find volunteers who will receive some compensation to take a later flight. Once in a rare while, airlines have to involuntarily bump someone. This explains your rights if this happens to you and why I am glad I have volunteered to be bumped a couple of times.
- Round the World Tickets 101: Are They Worth the Trouble or Not?Once in my life, I bought a round the world ticket. My experience was favorable but I think the number of times these tickets are useful for most travelers is fairly limited for the reasons outlined in this post.
- Flight Schedule Changes: Simple Tips to Keep Flight Changes from Destroying Your TripIn the last ten years, I have spent nearly half of my life traveling around the world. One of the few unexpected changes is the sheer number of times airlines have changed my itinerary significantly. Sometimes it has worked out to my advantage. Other times, not. This post tells you what you can do if this happens to you.
- Why Buying the Cheapest Airfare is Often a Big MistakeI am surprised how often I can get significant improvements in convenience and comfort when I don’t buy the cheapest ticket. Often, for example, I can fly in business class from the US to Cancun for only $20-40 above the cost of the cheapest ticket. Often for a few dollars, I can get much more convenient flights as well.
- Top Tip: Eliminate International Flight Connections StressProbably the worst type of flights involve having to make a connection in a foreign country. Here are some tips to make these connections as stress-free as possible.
- Are Budget and Traditional Airlines Really that Different? Why Occasionally You Should Avoid Budget AirlinesOften nowadays there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between budget and traditional airlines (legacy carriers). However, unless the difference in ticket prices between budget and traditional airline is above 15%, I would recommend choosing traditional airlines for the reasons outlined in this post.
- Finding the Cheapest Flights 101: A Simple GuideA synopsis of my experiences with finding the cheapest flights and using search engines. The article also covers many tips for finding the cheapest flights, some of which are not discussed that widely elsewhere.
- Airfare Bundle Tickets: Advantages and DisadvantagesI often buy tickets with a mid-price range of bundled services attached. I often think the few extra dollars are worth it. You may or may not choose to follow in my footsteps after reading this post.
- Travel Hacking: How to Exploit Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs for Your Own BenefitHere are dozens of tips to hack your way toward low-cost flights and hotel rooms using frequent flyer and other travel loyalty programs.
- Frequent Flyer Miles: A Lazy Man’s GuideThis is a synopsis of my use of frequent flyer miles during my round the world travels from 2011 to 2015. It should help you to see how the programs have changed in the 2010s and give you some ideas how you can design a frequent flyer strategy that works for you.
- Airport 101: Avoid Immigration, Customs, Airline Check-In, and Security ProblemsWithout a doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of living as a fifty-plus nomad is dealing with airports. In my five years traveling around the world, I encountered several issues I did not anticipate including finding the right terminal, not having proof of onward passage, and unexpected fees. This post helps you avoid some of my mistakes.
- Frequent Flyer Miles: How to Master the Art of Redeeming MilesOnce you earn frequent flyer miles, you then have to figure out how to redeem them efficiently, Here are some tips from my own experience and that of experts.
- Earning Frequent Flyer and Other Travel Loyalty Points Without Leaving HomeI used frequent flyer points to pay for 40% of all my flights during my five-year trip around the world. It was easier to do in 2011-2015 when I traveled; however, it is still a good way to help pay for your travels. Here s a guide to how you can earn miles without traveling by using credit cards and buying affiliated products.
- Getting to the Airport Trouble-Free: 6 Simple TipsGetting to and from the airport and airport parking will be easier if you follow the six simple tips in this post.