Frequent Flyer 101. A beginner’s guide


Frequent flyer programs can seem enticing for the thrill of earning free flights to exotic destinations. But they can also be bewildering, given the intricate airline rules for collecting and redeeming miles

Should you bother with airline rewards?

All major airlines operate loyalty programs. The basic premise is that if you spend your money with one airline, it will give you miles or points to redeem for free flights, better seats and preferential treatment. The term “miles” doesn’t refer to a distance you’ve flown or can fly for free; it’s just what some airlines call the rewards currency.

Should I signup for a frequent flyer program?

In short, yes. These programs are free and easy to sign up for. And despite the general term “frequent flyer,” you don’t need to be one. You can sign up online while booking your first flight. Then, enter your frequent flyer number when you buy tickets so that you’ll earn reward miles or points. Maybe you’ll earn enough rewards to redeem; maybe not. You won’t get any better upfront ticket prices just because you’re a member, though.

Lets get started!

1) Align yourself with a frequent flyer program

Before starting to collect frequent flyer points, you’ll need to decide which frequent flyer program(s) you want to align yourself with. If you didn’t already know, the majority of the world’s big airlines are grouped together as ‘partner’ airlines through a number of different programs. The stronger the partner network of the program the more flexibility you get in terms of earning as well as redeeming benefits.

Loyalty rewards exist for the very reason that quite often you’re foregoing the cheaper option to stick with your favoured airline, and so you’re awarded accordingly with free frequent flyer points.

2) Choose the right credit card

You’re set up with your frequent flyer scheme and now you need to apply for a card. Savvy travelers will plump for a card that not only gives them a generous sign-on bonus but also offer high points earn on everyday spending.

Based on where you live you might have a variety of cards offering various travel benefits including bonus miles, free flights and more. There are two basic types of cards to consider: the co-branded cards affiliated with an airline and more general rewards cards that offer a wide range of rewards, including airline miles. The cards affiliated with an airline tend to be the most beneficial in terms of value.

3) Pool your miles, if you can

A lot of airlines allow you to easily pool frequent flyer points with family members. If you have a friend or partner who you regularly travel with, consider sharing your points in this way. Whilst there aren’t any immediate benefits of doing this in terms of gaining extra air miles, you will gain Status Credits, which help to fast track you to elite status. Once you reach the dizzying heights of gold or platinum status, you’ll gain access to airport lounges, complimentary upgrades, priority baggage, boarding and check-in.

4) Spend, spend and spend

In addition to a significant sign-on bonus, the fastest way to free airfares is to spend as much as you can (responsibly, mind) on your high earning credit card each month. Buying a new laptop? Deposit on a car? Food shopping? Where possible, consider paying for all of your big purchases on your card and, as long as you’re clearing down the balance at the end of each month, you’re essentially earning points for purchases you’d be making anyway.

5) Pay cash for your air travel once in a while

Paying for flights solely with points will only get you so far, as you don’t gain frequent flyer points on flights that you’ve used air miles to redeem.

These days, it’s easy to do your research to find cheap flights. Work out your strategy early on – for example, there might be more value in a higher number of domestic or short haul flights completely free, rather than saving points for a longer period of time to earn the equivalent flights long haul. To illustrate, to upgrade to Business Class on Singapore Airlines from LAX you have to have paid for a valid ticket at the class below, Premium Economy, on a similar route which comes with a $1600 price tag (standard long haul route). You could rather save yourself $600 and fly Economy back to the US, and instead have lots of little domestic adventures for free.

So, in a nutshell – choose your loyalty scheme, get a reward credit card, spend wisely, plan ahead and pay for flights once in a while and you should be close to your first free flight or business class upgrade!