Frequent Flyer Miles: Why Should I Care?

November 17, 2020

Frequent Flyer miles and points are intentionally confusing, so this is why you should care about frequent flyer miles.

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How Do I Collect Frequent Flyer Miles and Points?

There are so many ways to earn Frequent Flyer miles and points from loyalty programs, many more than you might think. Of course, you can collect points from flying – and you should from every flight no matter how small or obscure – more on that later.

But did you know that you can collect frequent flyer miles and points on everyday purchases online? Shopping portals like allow visitors to log into their American Airlines account and receive Aadvantage miles (now just “advantage miles” dropping the superfluous “a”) for making the purchase online through their portal. 

Aadvantage eshopping
Aadvantage eshopping with frequent flyer miles and points

For example, let’s say you wanted to purchase a Columbia sweatshirt online. Stopping first at, logging in, then proceeding to the Columbia website and making your purchase may earn you 1, 2, 3, even 5 frequent flyer miles per dollar spent. That’s money you would have spent directly with the brand anyway. By stopping at the portal first, you can pad your frequent flyer account with extra miles without even leaving your couch. 

In addition, travelers can earn frequent flyer miles through their hotel stays (instead of hotel points) as well as their car rentals, and credit card spend. 

Is There Any Value?

Frequent flyer miles can hold a staggering value. In some cases, as much as $.10/point. While redemptions that high are limited, the best use and highest return is certainly when miles are spent on business class tickets. 

United Polaris
Use Frequent Flyer miles to upgrade to United Polaris

For example, on one very long-haul flight from Pittsburgh to Dallas to Hong Kong in business class would have cost $18,000 per seat. However, I used 140,000 frequent flyer miles to book my award ticket and instead paid just $78 in taxes and fees.

Not all redemptions are so valuable. A coach seat on the same route could be purchased for just $450 at the time, requiring a redemption of 60,000 miles, a value of less than a penny per point. Here’s an example of premium economy (which costs even more than standard coach.)

A major difference from Polaris
A major difference from Polaris

Whether you spend your points on the most extreme premium seats (which nearly all convert to beds and some even closed-door suites) or a coach short-haul flight – there is always value in points. Some award flights cost as little as 5,000 frequent flyer points each way on American and United Airlines. JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit offer award travel from as few as 1,000 points. 

If you have just a couple of hundred points you can still get value from frequent flyer miles, being able to spend just 200 miles for a magazine subscription

How Hard Is It to Redeem Points and Miles?

Here’s the tricky part with miles and points and what turns some people off from collecting them. Finding award space can be a challenge. A common complaint is that award seats are never available when and where the frequent flyer wants to fly. 

Granted, if they are trying to book an award seat in the US departing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (the busiest travel day of the year) and returning that Sunday (also extremely busy) – it will be hard to use points for that trip. 

With a little planning and forethought, however, most trips can be secured. Some airlines charge more for direct flights between two locations, not because they cost more for the airline to fly the passenger, but because those flights are fuller and command a premium price. 

Two airlines actually incentivize direct flights, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Most US customers don’t collect those points, but there is a way that they can by flying partners like American Airlines (for British Airways) and Delta Air Lines (for Virgin Atlantic.)

British Airways 747
Use Frequent Flyer Miles to fly British Airways 747

There’s a lot to know about which frequent flyer points to collect and use when and where, but luckily for you, we are experts in the field and have redeemed miles to visit all six continents served by airlines. 

For the truly difficult routes, we partner with a leading award booking service who can navigate the booking process for those reservations that even we can’t accommodate.  

Why Don’t Travel Agencies Assist With Rewards Programs?

Most travel agencies don’t assist with rewards programs and redemptions for two reasons: First, award bookings can be difficult to execute for a third party. Airlines and hotel chains don’t make access as widely available as they do for booking cash tickets. Luckily, we have frequent flyer miles with all the major alliances and can get just about any ticket executed. 

Second, airlines don’t compensate travel agents for most tickets, and they never compensate for award bookings. Without any path to revenue, travel agents don’t have any incentive to encourage the accumulation of miles nor help their customers book those trips. 

Why Scott & Thomas Loves Helping Clients With Loyalty Programs

Luckily, we aren’t most travel agencies. We find travel in and of itself rewarding. If we can show our clients a way to travel more even when we don’t financially benefit – that’s good for them. We believe that if we can give our clients the gift of more travel, they will come back again and again, and tell their friends. Then everyone benefits. 

Frankly, it’s how we got our start. Seeing the world was only possible for me and my family by earning frequent flyer miles to pay for trips we couldn’t otherwise afford. My daughter had been to 24 countries in her first 48 months on planet earth, something my wife and I hadn’t achieved until we were nearly 30!

It also helps us to enhance our experience, using more frequent flyer points to fly in business or first class, rather than coach makes our travels all the more enjoyable. Moving up to a better class of service has the ability to completely change our approach to how often we travel and how far. 

Without frequent flyer miles, we just couldn’t afford to travel as often in part, too, because of jetlag and how it curtails an experience. Being able to sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight can mean the difference between enjoying a quick 4-5 day jaunt, or being miserable for a week. 

Understanding Airline Reward Programs

Airline reward programs, often referred to as frequent flyer programs, are designed by airlines to reward loyal customers. These programs allow travelers to accumulate points or miles based on the distance flown, ticket price, or both. These accumulated points can then be redeemed for various benefits like free flights, seat upgrades, hotel stays, car rentals, and more.

The Benefits of Joining an Airline Reward Program

  1. Earn Miles for Every Flight: Every time you fly with the airline or its partners, you earn miles that accumulate over time.
  2. Tiered Membership Levels: Most programs offer different membership tiers, each with its unique benefits. Higher tiers often provide additional perks like priority boarding, extra baggage allowance, and lounge access.
  3. Flexible Redemption Options: Redeem your miles for free flights, upgrades, hotel bookings, car rentals, or even shopping and dining.

Choosing the Right Program

Key Considerations

  • Airline Alliances: Look for airlines that are part of global alliances, as this expands the network of airlines where you can earn and redeem miles.
  • Route Coverage: Choose a program offered by an airline that frequently serves your most traveled routes.
  • Reward Structure: Opt for a program with a reward structure that aligns with your travel habits and preferences.

Top Airline Reward Programs

Examples of Noteworthy Programs

  1. Delta SkyMiles: Known for its user-friendly features and no expiration policy on miles.
  2. American Airlines AAdvantage: Offers great value for miles when booking international travel.
  3. United MileagePlus: Renowned for its extensive network of destinations and flexible redemption options.

Lesser-Known Gems

  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan: Praised for its generous mileage accrual and unique partner airlines.
  • JetBlue TrueBlue: Ideal for travelers who prefer simplicity and value in reward programs.

Tips for Maximizing Miles

Strategies for Earning More Miles

  1. Use Co-Branded Credit Cards: These cards offer miles for everyday purchases, not just airline tickets.
  2. Take Advantage of Promotional Offers: Keep an eye out for promotions that offer additional miles.
  3. Fly with Partner Airlines: You can earn miles on your primary airline’s program even when flying with its partner airlines.

Tips for Redeeming Miles

  1. Plan Ahead for Best Availability: Award seats are limited, so book well in advance.
  2. Be Flexible with Travel Dates: Flexibility can lead to better redemption deals.
  3. Consider Upgrades: Sometimes, upgrading to business or first class offers better value for your miles than economy redemptions.

Let’s Go

Want to see a sample itinerary using your frequent flyer miles? Contact us and get a no-obligation itinerary customized for you. We can select dates that are convenient for you, flights to and from your home airport, hotel preferences, and even dining choices. Contact one of our concierges today!

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