The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flyer Programs – Part 1

The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flyer Programs – Part 1

I love to travel.  But, when you factor in the outrageous ticket prices, ridiculous junk fees, charges for checked baggage and in some instances…… carry on bags……… you will be broke before you reached your destination.  I say it’s high time for consumers to fight back!  One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the religious accumulation of Frequent Flyer miles through an airline’s FF program.

Newbie’s guide


What is a Frequent Flyer (FF) program?

A Frequent Flyer program is an airline’s loyalty program which rewards its members for their continued patronage.  Essentially, it gives the passenger a chance to earn a mile in kind for every mile that they fly on an airline.  Earn enough miles and you will eventually be able to book a free (with the exception of booking fees and taxes) domestic or international trip!  Today’s FF programs have gone through many changes over the years; so much so that you can actually earn miles without flying at all!

You’ve got my attention, how can I earn FF miles without flying?

One of the most popular ways is through an airline’s branded credit card.  When you sign up for the card (usually there is an annual fee of $50 – $450 involved)  you will get from 1 – 2.5 miles for each dollar spent.  You can also earn miles through a variety of sources like:

1. Hotel stays
2. Financial Services
3. Utilities
4. Restaurants & Entertainment
5. Car rentals
6. Surveys
7. Retail shopping via online portals
8. Joining online coupon or point sites
9. You can even earn miles by LIKING an airline’s (or their partner’s) page on Facebook!

You can always find out about mileage promotions by going to an airline’s website.  Be sure to sign up for their occasional emails which will detail all of the current promotions that you can take advantage of.   Frequent Flyer miles is one of the last remnants of airline perks and I would advise all travelers (especially budget travelers) to take serious advantage of them.  The only caveat that I will offer is to pursue a promotional offer ONLY if it is something that you would normally use.  To purchase something that you would never use to gain miles defeats the purpose.  If it’s useful and you can afford it, go for it, otherwise….don’t waste your money.

What is an Airline Alliance and how can I maximize my award potential?

Newbie’s guide

In an effort to offer their passengers more travel options, airlines have teamed up to connect domestic and international travelers with partner airlines who may travel routes that they do not.  This spirit of cooperation or partnership is called an airline alliance.  You can earn miles on one airline within that alliance and redeem them on another airline within that alliance.  For example, you can use your Delta miles on a trip that includes Delta, Air France and Czech Airlines because they are in the same alliance.

As you accrue miles, you can also gain status within an alliance which will give you VIP status and perks like double FF miles, seat upgrades, priority boarding and/or check-in, various waived fees or lounge access.  Each Alliance’s status benefits varies.  Currently, there are three of these alliances in existence.

Here are the names of the alliances and their member airlines:

1. Star Alliance
2. One World Alliance
3. Skyteam

The first step is to sign up with the airlines that you currently use on a regular basis or one that you think you might use.  Next, sign up with at least one member of each airline alliance.  This will ensure that you have all of your miles concentrated  in one place even though you can use any member airline when it’s time to book an international flight.  Be sure to keep track of your member name, password for each program.  You will need them in order to sign into your online account.

Keep track of your FF # too; you will need that when you book a flight online or via phone.  I would recommend that you do not book via phone because you may incur additional fees as a result.  Booking online is free.  There is a great program that will help you to keep all of this info organized for free.  More on that and a review in a follow up post.

You should do a little research and make sure that each of the two airlines (within the same alliance)  fly connecting routes.   There would be no benefit in sign up with two airlines that fly the same route.  The best way to see where each member airline flies is to check the alliance’s route map:

1. Route map for the Star Alliance
2. Route map for the One World Alliance
3. Route map for SkyTeam (rumored; they are adding new partners so current map is unavailable)



How can I keep my miles from expiring?

Honestly, you would have to try very hard to get your miles to expire.  Most miles remain active and valid if you perform one transaction within 12-18 months, depending on the airline.  You can easily fill out a survey, make a purchase or sign up for an email list to keep your account active.  There are some airlines whose miles never expire like Delta, BMI (British Midland International) and United (who is now merging with Continental), so you can’t lose there.  Stay on top of your account and you will never lose any of your hard-earned miles.

Do I have to spend my miles on flights?

No, you do not, but why wouldn’t you?  If you are truly looking to build a Frequent Flyer miles portfolio, I wouldn’t advise you to use your miles to purchase inconsequential things like magazines, etc.  Believe it or not, some airlines will try to tempt you to waste some of your miles in that way.  Steady and slow wins the race.  Be patient and watch your miles grow over time.  Use those miles for international travel or for itineraries that would cost you a lot of money otherwise.  Try to have an idea of where you would like to go.  Check out a specific airline’s award chart to see how many miles will be needed to get to your destination.   You can find a specific airline’s award chart by Googling it.

In the next two weeks, we will discuss how to quickly accrue and maximize those treasured frequent flyer miles so that you can realize your dream vacation.



Renee King
[email protected]
  • InsideJourneys
    Posted at 22:25h, 25 July Reply

    You know, I do have some AA and Air Canada miles. Hmm, wonder if they’re still valid.
    Good post, Renee!

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:31h, 26 July Reply

      Check to see if they are still active miles….keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  • Cathy Sweeney
    Posted at 22:56h, 25 July Reply

    Good job on this, Renee! I think it will be very helpful to folks looking for ways to make travel more affordable. I know that frequent flier programs are a big deal for me. I use them for flights whenever possible.

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:23h, 26 July Reply

      Thanks, Cathy. These programs can be very convoluted, so hopefully, I am breaking it down so that newbies will easily understand it.

  • Michael Figueiredo
    Posted at 00:13h, 26 July Reply

    Great list of tips, Renee! I have 80K on StarAlliance burning a hole in my wallet 🙂 Many of these were racked up with my UA credit card. I’ve never seen that interactive map of routes, so thanks for sharing that!

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:23h, 26 July Reply

      Now, that’s almost criminal, Mike! lol Get busy using that….I’m trying to rack up miles to use for a month long trip (where I’m going has yet to be decided).

  • robin
    Posted at 09:14h, 26 July Reply

    Very informative! Not for me at the moment but let me know if they introduce this for buses 😉

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:21h, 26 July Reply

      I almost fell outta my chair….lol. Hmmm….I don’t really see that happening my friend….but hey, you never know!

  • inka
    Posted at 11:34h, 26 July Reply

    Robin isn’t far out at all. In Turkey you get ‘frequent travel discounts’ for long distance buses. The company Kamilkoc is the leader. As I move a roubnd Turkey by bus all the time I got more than 1 trip for free. As for all the FF programs, they never worked for me. Then I flew with another airline, then it wasn’t in this, that or the other alliance, quite honestly, I just can’t be bothered.

    • Renee
      Posted at 11:40h, 26 July Reply

      Oooh….that’s good to know. I know that I will probably be using local and long distance buses on a few trips, so this will come in handy. Inka, you are among millions who feel that way. Heck, I did too until I realized that it was worth it in the end and wasn’t as difficult as I had made it out to be. I plan to touch on that fact in part 2. I heard recently that the number of outstanding/unused miles was worth about 7 billion…that’s a lot of dinero that people are leaving sitting on the table.

  • Debbie Beardsley
    Posted at 13:48h, 26 July Reply

    This is great and I’m looking forward to your next installment! Love FF miles 🙂

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:40h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks, Deb!

  • adventureswithben
    Posted at 20:23h, 26 July Reply

    Mileage success – 1 Round trip ticket to Seattle, 2 RT to Sydney, 200,000 in the bank, waiting for the next destination!

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:40h, 27 July Reply

      Now, why am I not surprised? lol

  • ayngelina
    Posted at 23:19h, 26 July Reply

    Yes I second the vote on buses, I have wracked up a lot of mileage the past 15 months.

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:39h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks, Ayngelina….I’m really excited to learn about this….score!!

  • Mack Reynolds
    Posted at 08:51h, 27 July Reply

    thanks for the info. i’ve never really known what all this FF stuff is about, as i’ve only flown a handful of times and have rarely ever paid for my own ticket. i’ll be sure to follow the coming tutorials to get with the times.

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:39h, 27 July Reply

      Thanks, Mack…I appreciate it!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    Posted at 14:06h, 27 July Reply

    I have yet to actually redeem frequent flyer miles. I feel like all the systems are against us.

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:38h, 27 July Reply

      I agree, Stephanie…there is definitely some truth to that. Fortunately, people are figuring a way around the roadblocks and are freely sharing their strategies on the internet. I will recommend a few to check out next week.

  • Jeremy Branham
    Posted at 15:30h, 27 July Reply

    Great overview of how it works. I know you are going to do a part 2 but I would include other cards like Capital One where you can get points to use on any airline that you can use to purchase flights. I have both a Delta Skymiles Am Express and a Capital One. Love getting miles on Delta and using Capital One if I fly other airlines!

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:37h, 27 July Reply

      We’re on the same page, Jeremy! I am going to discuss something that is becoming popular and somewhat controversial on that subject. Stay tuned.

  • Christina
    Posted at 07:44h, 04 August Reply

    Great introduction! Look forward to reading part 2!

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