Interested in Frequent Flyer Programs? Here’s What You Should Know

Interested in Frequent Flyer Programs? Here’s What You Should Know

Frequent flyer programs are loyalty programs that are offered by many different airlines. These programs were initially designed to encourage flyers to accumulate points (or miles), that can later be redeemed for air travel and other fun rewards. For frequent travelers, these programs can be extremely enticing, but they can also be confusing. Some airlines have intricate airline rules for collecting and redeeming miles, so it’s important to do your research before you sign up for a frequent flyer program.

Wondering if a frequent flyer program is truly worth your time and effort? If you’re just beginning to learn about these programs, there are a few things you should keep in mind.


Airline Rewards: Do I Really Need Them?

You may be asking yourself if you really need airline rewards, and the answer, of course, will depend on you. All major U.S. airlines operate loyalty programs for their flyers, with the basic premise that if you spend your money with one airline, you can earn points, free flights, better seats, and more. Since these programs are free and easy to sign up for, it’s never a bad idea to enroll in them. While you may not be a “frequent flyer,” most airlines let you sign up for their frequent flyer program while you book your flight online.


The primary reasons people join frequent flyer programs are to earn:

  • Free flights
  • Seat upgrades
  • Elite status

Fun Tip: While plane ticket prices tend to vary from airline to airline, most domestic airfare will cost around 12,500 miles or points each way. If you only fly a few times a year for the holidays, it may be difficult for you to earn enough points to redeem free flights. This is especially true if the frequent flyer program you signed up for has an expiration date on the points you accrue.

Airline Credit Cards: Are They Worth It?

If the idea of earning free flights excites you, you may want to consider signing up for an airline credit card with one of the major airlines. However, if you are not loyal to a single airline and you still want to earn miles, a general travel credit card may be a better option for you.


Popular Frequent Flyer Programs

American Airlines AAdvantage Program

Did you know that American Airlines is the largest airline in the U.S.? If your nearest airport is an American Airlines stronghold, or if you choose to fly this airline regularly, you’ll definitely want to check out their frequent flyer program called AAdvantage.


programiconAAdvantage Miles

The American Airlines frequent flyer program uses a currency dubbed AAdvantage miles. When you sign up for this rewards program, you can earn miles when you fly on American or one of its partner airlines. It’s important to note that while these points are called “miles,” you actually earn them based on how much money you spend on the ticket, not how far you fly.

As we mentioned above, some airline rewards programs have an expiration date for their miles. With AAdvantage miles, if you go 18 months or more without earning or redeeming more miles, they will expire. There is an exception to this rule, however. If you own an American-branded credit card, your miles will remain valid as long as you continue to use the card.

pointsiconEarning Points with American Airlines

With the AAdvantage rewards program from American Airlines, the number of miles you earn for a particular flight will depend on how much money you spent on the ticket, as well as your status within the program. Any status that is above the basic membership will earn mile bonuses.

An example from the American Airlines website is outlined below:

If the partner says a given ticket is worth 1,500 miles, for example, then a basic AAdvantage member would earn 1,500 miles. For statuses above basic, the same mile bonuses apply. So a Gold member would earn 2,100 miles (1,500 + a 40% bonus), a Platinum member would earn 2,400 miles (1,500 + 60%) and so on.

As of January 2018, the American Airlines website identifies its OneWorld partner airlines as: British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LATAM Airlines Brasil, LATAM Airlines Chile, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal JOrdanian Airlines, S7 Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines.

There are other airlines outside of the OneWorld alliance that you may also be able to earn or redeem miles from. Other partner airlines may include: Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines, Cape Air, Fiji Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, and Seaborne Airlines.


cc-iconEarning AAdvantage Miles with a Credit Card

American Airlines offer co-branded credit cards through Citi and Barclaycard that can help you earn even more miles. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers flyers a variety of bonuses, including:

  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at restaurants
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ll be happy to know that you can also earn AAdvantage miles through some of their partners, including:

  • Restaurants – If you love to eat out when you travel, you’ll love this AAdvantage perk. When you register your card with AAdvantage Dining, you can earn one to five miles per every dollar spent at a participating bar, restaurant, or club. With more than 11,000 participating locations, you’ll be racking up miles in no-time!
  • Hotels – This is great news for people who constantly travel for business and have to stay in hotels. You can earn AAdvantage miles at most major hotel chains, and in some cases you can earn one or two miles for every dollar you spend. Check out American’s partner hotels and earning rules.
  • Shopping – Like to shop til you drop? Earn miles next time through the AAdvantage eShopping mall. You can earn miles for every dollar you spend at more than 950 retailers!
  • Auto Rentals – Most major auto rental agencies have an option to earn AAdvantage miles the next time you need to rent a car. Learn more about AAdvantage and auto rentals.


Delta Air Lines SkyMiles Program

As one of the largest airlines in North America, Delta Air Lines has hubs in eight U.S. airports including Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cincinnati. If you fly this airline on a regular basis, it may be a good idea to look into their SkyMiles program. Also, did we mention it costs nothing to join?

programiconSkyMiles Rewards Programdreamstime_xxl_47289792

By flying on Delta and its partner airlines, you can easily redeem miles. Unlike other frequent flyer programs, the miles you earn with Delta never expire as long as your account is open. Delta’s partner airlines have their own rules for earning SkyMiles, however most rewards will be based on the distance of a flight. There are other ways to earn bonus miles based on the fare class (economy, business, or first-class), and you can learn more about each partner airline from Delta’s website.

cc-iconEarn SkyMiles with a Credit Card

Delta Air Lines offers co-branded credit cards with American Express. One of the more popular options is the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. This credit card gives you two SkyMiles for every dollar spent with Delta, and one SkyMile on other purchases. When you pay for your flight with this credit card, you’ll also get your first checked bag for free, which can be a huge bonus in today’s society of costly baggage prices. As a cardholder, you can earn 30,000 bonus miles after spending 1,000 dollars on purchases within the first three months.

You can also earn SkyMiles through some of Delta’s partners, including:

  • Shopping – With a Delta SkyMiles credit card, you can earn miles by shopping at hundreds of online merchants through the airline’s shopping portal.
  • Restaurants – Love to eat out? You’ll love this perk! When you use a Delta SkyMiles card (or any other credit card) while dining at participating restaurants, you can earn up to five miles per dollar. If you don’t want to invest in a SkyMiles credit card, you can register your existing credit card with SkyMiles Dining.
  • Airbnb & Hotels – You can earn extra miles by staying at most major hotel chains and even Airbnbs across the United States. Some hotels may offer you a flat number of points or miles per stay, while others will vary based on how much you spend. Check out the SkyMiles hotel partners today.
  • Car Rentals & Lyfts – Another great way to earn more SkyMiles is to rent a car from a major rental agency that partners with Delta Air Lines. You can also earn extra miles by using the Lyft ride-hailing service!


United Airlines MileagePlus Program

United Airlines is another popular airline, with its dominant carrier being at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. It also operates domestic hubs in Denver, San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles, Newark, Houston, and Guam. If you choose this airline carrier regularly, you may want to enroll in their MileagePlus Program to earn and redeem miles.

programiconMileagePlus Airline Rewards Program

The frequent flyer program at United Airlines uses a currency called Mileageplus. You can earn miles or points when you fly on United or one of its partner airlines, redeeming them for free flights and other rewards. You can also earn additional miles by using a United-branded credit card.

With the United rewards program, your accrued miles will expire if you go 18 months without earning or redeeming miles. If you own a MileagePlus credit card, however, your miles will never expire. The buying and transferring of miles also resets at the 18-month mark.


cc-iconEarn MileagePlus Rewards with a Credit Card

Like other major airline carries, you have the option of using an airline-branded credit card to earn more miles when you fly with United or its affiliated partners. With the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card, you can earn two miles for every dollar you spend on United flights, plus one mile per dollar on all other purchases. There’s an amazing sign-up bonus to start! You can earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend two thousand dollars on purchases within the first three months that your account is open. Your first checked bag is free for you and a traveling companion, and you also get priority boarding access.

You also have the opportunity to earn MileagePlus miles with:

  • Hotels – Similar to other airline rewards programs, you can earn more MileagePlus miles by staying at most major hotel chains. Learn more about partner hotels online.
  • Shopping – If you like to shop, you’ll be happy to know that you can earn more airline miles by shopping in the MileagePlus Shopping Mall. You can earn miles for every dollar you spend at more than 850 retailers.
  • Financial Partners – You can earn more miles when you do business with some of United’s lending and insurance partners.
  • Dining – When you register a credit card with MileagePlus Dining, you can get miles each time you dine at a restaurant, bar, or club.
  • Car Rentals & Transportation – United has partnerships with Hertz-owned car rental agencies, including Dollar and Thrifty. Amtrak rail services and select shuttles and car services may also apply.

As of January 2018, the United Airlines website identifies the following airlines as partners: Adria, Air Canada, Aegean, Air China, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air Portugal, and more.


Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Program

Southwest Airlines serves 100 destinations, mostly in the United States. This airline is mostly known for their low fares and free checked bags, and they offer a limited number of international flights to places in Latin America and the Caribbean. If you fly Southwest often, you should consider signing up for their Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.

dreamstime_xxl_21047930programiconThe Rapid Rewards Program

Unlike other frequent flyer programs, the Rapid Rewards program by Southwest operates on a points system. As long as you make one transaction through Southwest or one of their qualifying partners every two years, your points won’t expire. Similar to other reward programs, the number of points you earn for a flight will depend on the price of the ticket, the type of fare you’re purchasing, and your status level with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Program. Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t have any direct airline transfer partners, so you can earn points from other airlines. You can, however, use your points to book international travel for flights on other airlines, hotels, cruise lines, car rentals, and more.

cc-iconEarn Rapid Rewards Points with a Credit Card

Southwest offers co-branded credit cards through Chase, and one of the most popular options is the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card. With this credit card, you’ll get two points for every dollar spent on a Southwest Airlines flight or a Rapid Rewards hotel or car rental partner. You’ll also receive one point per dollar on anything else you purchase. Another perk of this card is that you won’t get charged for foreign transaction fees, and each year, cardholders get a 6,000-point anniversary bonus.

With a Southwest co-branded credit card, you can earn Rapid Reward points through:

  • Shopping & Dining – If you love to shop online, you’ll be happy to know that you can earn Rapid Rewards points by simply buying some of your favorite things. With more than 800 partner retailers, it’s easier than ever to earn more points. You can also earn points by dining at participating restaurants, and you can even get bonus points for leaving restaurant reviews. Learn more about Rapid Rewards Dining online.
  • Transportation – You can earn more Rapid Rewards by simply renting a car or using ground transportation.
  • Hotels – Southwest has partnered with a variety of popular hotel chains to offer points for your stay. At most hotels within the program, you can earn one point for every dollar spent.


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