The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flier Programs – Part 3

The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flier Programs – Part 3

Last week, we discussed how to quickly accrue Frequent Flier miles.  Today, in our final installment, we will discuss how to maximize those miles and make them stretch farther for you.

Frequent Flier

Before we get started, there is one point that I failed to mention last week.  Do yourself a favor and secure a copy of your credit report before you begin to apply for credit cards.  If you are a US resident, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year for FREE.

There are plenty of fake websites out there, but the only one sanctioned by the US government is Annual Credit Report .   If you pull your own credit report, it is considered a soft inquiry and will never hurt your credit.  A hard inquiry is when a credit card company (among others) pulls your credit report to determine if they will grant you a line of credit which can temporarily hurt your credit score.

Remember when I said your credit could take a hit?  This is it.  It will drop your score by a few points, but its impact will lessen within a few months (usually six), however, it will remain on your credit report for two years.  I do not mind this because I have no plans of buying another house or car which would be impacted by the points drop.

The main reason why you should check your score is because many lenders have reported incorrect information and those errors could impact your score and creditworthiness, so it’s imperative that you know exactly what is on your report by checking all three credit bureaus once a year.  If you do find some discrepancies, you will have time to correct it before proceeding to attempt to secure more credit and getting wrongfully turned down.


Frequent Flier

How can I maximize my miles?

Another way to maximize your miles is to forego domestic trips altogether unless it’s cross country.  Domestic flights tend to be inexpensive by comparison, so it would make sense to dedicate the miles that you’ve earned for something that will allow you to cross an ocean or two.  Instead, focus on international travel in order to get more bang for your buck.  Your miles will spread further if you plan an international trip in segments.

One’s natural instinct would be to book a flight that’s straight from your home airport to your International destination, correct?  Why not make the most of traveling such a distance?  Instead of booking an (for example) Atlanta to Paris trip, how about an Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris trip?  You can stay in each city for several hours to several days and use the same number of miles on one award ticket!

Although my initial destination was Paris, I would be able to sneak in another couple of cities along the way because it’s possible to take several legs to get to your destination.  Most people in their impatience to get to where they’re going don’t think about how they can achieve a maximum benefit with their miles by making stopovers and transfers along the way.  Stopovers usually last for more than 24 hours while transfers last less than 24 hours.

There is a maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between the two cities (stopovers) that you can travel to.   Each airline has its own MPM standards where you can ascertain the maximum distance allowed between any two cities on your itinerary.  So using the example above, You can’t depart from Atlanta, stopover in Los Angeles, then continue on to London.

Also, the routing has to make sense.  Any airline will permit you to circle the globe traveling either east or west of your home airport.  The general rule for RTW trips (for example) is that you must cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at least once.  You can travel between zone 1 (North, South America, Caribbean, Hawaiian, and Easter Islands), zone 2 (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) and zone 3 (Asia and the SW Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti).  You must end your RTW in the country where you began it.

Frequent Flier

Each airline has its own rules regarding the number of segments you can take during your trip, so you would need to speak to an agent directly about this.  Delta, for instance, allows up to 8 segments (2 US segments maximum for an international ticket) on one award ticket.

With that many segments, you could in effect, configure a round the world trip with one award ticket!  Keep in mind that no alliance partner awards can be booked online so be prepared to call the primary airline to book your award ticket.

Here are One World alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • You are allowed to take two stopovers in total within your continent of origin in order to get to or from a gateway to begin or return from your international travel of which a maximum of 1 stopover is permitted in each direction in the country of origin.
  • After departing from your continent of origin, you are allowed to take up to four flights to explore each of the other continents (six flights in North America).
  • You can book up to two additional flights per continent, at a set rate (online booking of additional segments is not possible).
  • You can fly up to 16 flight segments on your trip. Travel between two airports by surface transportation will count as one flight segment.

Here are  Star alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Star Alliance allows 15 stopovers, there is also a special “Starlite” Economy-only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers.
  • As in most of these fares, Star’s rules require passengers start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city.

Here are Skyteam alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Allows six stopovers with a maximum of three stopovers per continent on round the world tickets.

Don’t let all of these rules make your head swim, this is only the rules for now.  These airline policies can easily change, this is only meant to give you an idea of what you can expect when planning to book an award trip.

Additionally, you could maximize your miles by purchasing an open jaw ticket.  An open jaw simply means that you fly into one city and fly out of another.  Going back to our Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris scenario, you would not have to fly from Paris then back to London to get back home to Atlanta.  You would just fly directly from Paris to Atlanta (or if you were allowed to use more segments, you could cover a couple of more cities before going home).  All of this is contingent upon the airline’s rules and regulations, so be sure to check and see what is allowable.  On the other hand, some things are best left to the experts.

I am currently planning a mini RTW (round the world) trip for 2013 and I plan to use the services of Lucky, the young man who runs the One Mile at a Time website that I mentioned in the last installment of this series.  He charges 150 (250 US for two passengers) for booking the best trip for you using your FF miles.  I think it will be worth it to have him to work out the kinks and issues with the airlines and I will just focus on the trip activities.  That will give me a lot of peace of mind.  lol  This is a lot to take in for a newbie…..heck, it’s a lot to take in for anyone… continue to do your research, visit the FF boards and learn as much as you possibly can.


Frequent Flier

As promised, I wanted to tell you about a great online FF mile tracking program.  You know the many challenges of keeping track of your frequent flyer miles from different airlines and managing their expiration dates. This challenge has become even more difficult recently because of the continual policy changes made by airline award programs.

According to an Economist article, there have been over 14 trillion outstanding frequent flier miles!  The Economist appraisal of these miles suggests that they are “now worth over $700 billion, more than all the dollar notes and coins at large.” This amount is so extraordinary it can be compared to the gross domestic product of Indonesia! If just 20% of these miles expire it would mean a total of $140 billion USD in losses! has however found a solution to this common consumer dilemma.  The solution is a FREE frequent flyer mile management website that takes the hassle out of tracking members’ reward balances so they don’t go unused or expire. AwardWallet is specifically designed to organize the numerous loyalty programs you are enrolled in.

They cover 300+ loyalty programs including airlines, hotels, credit cards, shopping, rentals, dining, trains and other services like airport parking and online surveys. Furthermore, when a program’s balance is about to expire you will receive an e-mail notification. AwardWallet members never have to worry about losing their precious miles they have accumulated over the years.

Frequent Flier

Hopefully, this series overview will encourage you to jump on the FF mile bandwagon.  If you truly want to be a vetted budget traveler, nearly free travel has to be a part of your portfolio.  By following these tips and utilizing the resources recommended in this series, you will be well on your way to “Sampling the world at a fraction of the price”.




Renee King
[email protected]
  • Jeremy Branham
    Posted at 13:47h, 08 August Reply

    Wow, I have to admit I learned a lot from this. I had no idea about MPM and didn’t know all the rules for RTW trips. This is good info!

    • Renee
      Posted at 14:36h, 08 August Reply

      I’m glad to hear that, Jeremy. Trust me……I have been avoiding getting serious about FF miles for years…..I cringe to think how many miles I have missed out on as a result of my not wanting to be bothered….I’m not going to lie….it takes time and dedication, but in the end…..I think it will be worth it.

  • The Newbie’s guide to frequent flier programs – part 1
    Posted at 13:48h, 08 August Reply

    […] the next two weeks, we will discuss how to quickly accrue and maximize those treasured frequent flier miles so that you can realize your dream […]

  • Debbie Beardsley
    Posted at 14:29h, 08 August Reply

    I didn’t know that I could do all those layovers! In my opinion, open jaw tickets are something more people should look into even if they are paying for their tickets. A lot of the time it costs more to get back to your arrival airport than it does to depart from a different one plus it takes time away from your travels!

    Great series, Renee.

    • Renee
      Posted at 14:34h, 08 August Reply

      Thanks, Debbie! In a perfect world, we will be able to take advantage of these layovers. I have been reading the forums and you really have to be on your game to get the booking agents at the airlines to stop throwing up roadblocks to your dream of stopping at every possible city that you want to stop at. Sorry….that’s me projecting right there…lol. I know that when I do plan this RTW mini trip, I want to fly into a different city every other day….but I can deal in realities…it ain’t gonna happen. I agree about the open jaw….it’s nonsensical to have to fly all the way back to the first destination just to get home!

  • Shirlene from Idelish
    Posted at 18:20h, 08 August Reply

    Thanks for sharing Renee! Didn’t know airlines permitted that many stopovers! I guess we too have been rather “lazy” and never really “planned” our miles properly. For example, my Cathay Pacific miles are expiring end of this year and I haven’t really put thought into how I can use it.

    Thanks for this informative post!

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:12h, 09 August Reply

      I’m glad that they allow it too. I plan to take advantage of it when I do my mini RTW in 2013….the thing is will all of my stopovers be available when I want it? Hmmmm…..

      Don’t let those miles expire!! lol

  • Laurel
    Posted at 00:11h, 09 August Reply

    Great info Renee. I didn’t realize how little I knew about frequent flier programs until reading this.

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:11h, 09 August Reply

      In doing the research I learned a lot and had to force myself from kicking my backside because a lot of this stuff was out and out revelations to me. I could have traveled so much more had I known!

  • Raymond
    Posted at 05:26h, 09 August Reply

    I’ve travelled on points with Air Canada before, and knew that they allowed one stopover in each direction — was not aware however that so many stops were allowed per continent on a RTW ticket…thanks!

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:10h, 09 August Reply

      I know! I would have guessed maybe 2….however, if you do three stops per continent, you can only visit 2 continents since the limit is 6 stopovers.

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    Posted at 10:47h, 09 August Reply

    I would not have thought of planning my trip in segments. Great tip!

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:09h, 09 August Reply

      It was a lightbulb moment for me too, Stephanie. I was kicking myself for all of the direct flights I’d made….well, better late than never.

  • Renee
    Posted at 13:08h, 09 August Reply

    Further proof that airlines can do whatever the heck they want:

    In a new policy announced today and which takes effect on 15 August 2011, Delta has stated that all awards will be considered non-refundable and non-changeable at 72 hours prior to departure. This comes just two weeks after the announcement that the awards would expire at the time of departure. The change applies to all SkyMiles redemptions, including those of Diamond and Platinum elite members.

    So, if you are on standby waiting for that first class seat to open up prior to departure….you’d better hope it becomes available prior to those 72 hours or you are outta luck.

    Source: The Wandering Aramean

  • Ayngelina
    Posted at 14:52h, 09 August Reply

    So many rules, I will never get it!

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:29h, 09 August Reply

      To some degree, I feel that way too. But, I know that thar’s gold in them thar hills, so I am going to try to stick with it and learn as much as I can because I have a little over a year and a half to earn as many as I can for my mini RTW trip.

  • Christy
    Posted at 08:36h, 10 August Reply

    Frequent flier plans still overwhelm me SO MUCH. I’m trying to get a handle on it, though, and it’s slowly working. I just don’t think I’m ever going to be the person whole travels the world on frequent flier miles… 🙁 Your tips have helped a lot, though!

  • Bob Crunch
    Posted at 13:52h, 10 August Reply

    Thank you so much for all the great tips. Great article!

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    Posted at 00:57h, 11 August Reply

    Good tips about the credit report. I’ve been using that site for quite some time and just found an incorrect debt listed on my report with one of the credit agencies. I was able to get it removed within 24 hours. Also, I finally got my first credit card in eons, so I’m ready to get back to using it to build up flight miles!

  • Grace
    Posted at 01:41h, 11 August Reply

    This is so cool Renee. Tracking FF miles has become so convoluted and complicated over the years. I want to try out

  • Cathy Sweeney
    Posted at 18:04h, 12 August Reply

    Helpful! AwardWallet sounds kind of interesting. I’ll check it out. It does get confusing to keep track of it all.

  • The Newbie’s guide to frequent flier programs - part 1 - A View To A Thrill
    Posted at 10:45h, 17 November Reply

    […] the next two weeks, we will discuss how to quickly accrue and maximize those treasured frequent flier miles so that you can realize your dream […]

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