The author is not affiliated with any airline or frequent flyer program and does not make claims about specific programs, nor does he claim that a program style is better overall. The purpose of this article is to provide passengers with a fair comparison of options so that they can make informed decisions appropriate to their individual situations.
The US Airlines launched its AAdvantage program in 1981. Then United Airlines followed shortly after Mileage Plus. Today, almost every airline has its own frequent flyer program.
By extension, these programs have evolved beyond their original objective of promoting air travel; today they are areas of activity. Instead of confining themselves to actually flying miles, members can earn miles for eating, shopping and using credit cards. They can also redeem miles for gifts, electronics and other merchandise, as well as traditional free tickets and upgrades.
These improvements also come at a price: miles from the airline expires,
Now I know what you think. I tell you that after you have spent all this time building miles, they will disappear before you can use them. Okay, maybe. It actually depends on the airline.
Not all frequent flyer programs are created equal. On the one hand are the programs supported by legacy carriers, the term for the seven airlines remaining from the days of regulation. (We used to call these major airlines, but it's a revenue-based category; today, they're not the only ones that qualify.)
Legacy carriers – American, American, American Airlines, Delta, Northwest, Continental and Alaska Air – typically reward travelers with one frequent mile for every flight, plus bonuses and any other bonuses. These miles are valid for three years from the date of last activity, defined as the last time miles were earned or redeemed. This is important because you can maintain miles with a legacy airline with only one activity every three years,
The other side of the coin is model at a low price, preferred by leading popular carriers such as Southwest, Airtran and JetBlue. The low cost model awards points or credits based on travel to regions. Typically, these points expire one year after the date of issue, and while specific terms and special offers vary by carrier, there may be no way to expand them,
Now, a few considerations. First, not every low-cost carrier follows the low-cost model. Frontier Airlines, for example, is a low-cost airline, but its EarlyReturns frequent flyer program uses miles rather than points, and they do not expire as long as there is activity over a two-year period.
Second, while legacy airlines allow their frequent flyers to buy magazines, cameras, and other goods, programs run by low-cost carriers tend to focus on air travel (which means free tickets for several low-cost carriers, which offer two low-cost carriers service, upgrades). All things being equal, fewer flights are usually needed to earn the credits you need to get a free “anytime” ticket with a low cost airline than it takes to earn enough miles for the same ticket with a legacy carrier.
With this in mind, if you are planning to join a frequent flyer program, here are some tips to help you decide which type of program to join to get the most out of your personal travel habits:
- Choose an airline and always do your best to fly with this carrier. If your chosen airline has partners, you can fly with them but do not sign up for their loyalty programs. Miles realistically cannot be transferred between accounts or combined, even between partners.
- Think about where you want to travel. If you want to earn miles to travel outside of North America, you would like to use one of the legacy carriers as a major airline. (Currently, no low cost carrier has its own or affiliate service outside of North America.)
- If most of your trips are within the United States and you travel often, you will earn free tickets faster with the frequent flyer that follows the low-cost model.
- If you don't travel often, go with a program that uses the legacy model. The key factor is that there is a way to increase your credit so that it does not expire. You do not want to get 96 credits and find out that the first 20 expire two days before you get the four you will need for this free 100 credit fee.
There is no doubt that some effort is needed to learn the work of frequent flyer programs and truly mastering it is a challenge. However, if you follow the guidelines presented here, you can make informed decisions that will help you get the most out of your travels and will allow you to see more of the world on whatever budget you can afford. It is important.