Air travel

A Beginner’s Guide To Frequent Flyer Miles

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In this beginners’ guide, I’ll walk you through the basics of frequent flyer miles to help you breeze through air miles like the pros.

Let’s get started.

What are air miles?

This is a reward program offered on credit cards affiliated with an airline. They are commonly referred to as frequent flyer miles or points.

They are also accumulated through spending and sometimes offered as a bonus to entice new sign-ups.

How can you earn air miles?

There are various ways that you can earn frequent flyer miles.

Travel like the pros- Tripversed

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Through bonus miles on card sign ups

Some credit card issuers offer initial bonus miles on new sign-ups to entice new credit card sign-ups.

Other card issuers require you to spend a given amount to redeem your miles, and other offer miles just for promotional purposes.

However, it’s worth noting that these cards come with annual fees.

Airlines partners

Most airlines allow you to earn, combine, and even redeem miles with companies they have partnered with if you are a member of their frequent flyer membership program.

The good thing is, you can find airline partners on these airline sites.

It’s worth noting that your current airlines determine which other company, network carriers, or brands in their partnership you can gain or utilize your miles on

Concentrate on just a few airlines that ply a route

When you concentrate only on a few airlines, you avoid gaining miles with many different airlines rather than just a few that you can redeem for higher amounts.

For instance, 300,000 miles from one or two airlines is worth more than 300,000 miles from 5 different airlines. 

And another thing, it is important not to forget that miles from different airlines can expire if the accounts become dormant.

Related: Mistakes to avoid when flying for the first time.

By connecting your frequent flyer’s dining program to your credit card

This not only prevents your miles from expiring but is an efficient way of earning miles.

Once your card has been debited from a partner restaurant, you automatically earn miles depending on the amount that you spent.

Consider the choice of the credit card

Credit cards affiliated with an airline tend to have better rewards than normal cards with no affiliation.

However, the points or miles earned with a normal credit card can also be redeemed for air tickets with various airlines or cashback. You can also increase your miles by using the card for all your transactions.

On the other hand, airline-affiliated reward cards earn more rewards, but you can only redeem their miles from the issuing airlines or their partners. And another thing, you increase your miles from your transactions with the airline or its partners only.

Paying for your air ticket

When you pay for an air ticket with a reward card, you automatically earn air miles.

The number of miles earned depends on the amount spent on an air ticket.

In other words, you will earn more miles if you spend more on an air ticket and vice versa, but the value and the miles earned will vary from airline to airline.

Use airlines shopping portals

Airlines shopping portals can be accessed on airline frequent flyer websites.

You will earn points on all your purchases when you visit partner retails sites through the airline shopping portal.

In other words, to earn points from your purchases made at the airline’s partner, you will have to access the partner’s site through the airline’s shopping portal.

This includes renting cars and booking hotels through airline websites on dealers that they have partnered with.

Buy miles and points

There are probably times when you needed to redeem your miles for a ticket to a destination but run short of the required number of miles.

The good news is, you can purchase the difference in advance or at the checkpoint, but for a slightly higher rate which, of course, will depend on each airline’s rates.

And although most airlines will give one mile for two cents spent, most of them may still require you to pay three cents for one mile they sell you.

Can you redeem your frequent flyer miles for free flights?

Yes. All you have to do is log into your frequent flyer account and select the option where fares are shown in miles instead of dollars.

And if you have garnered enough points for a given trip, you will only need to pay a security fee for a roundtrip flight.

But let’s suppose you don’t have enough points. You will then need to either book separate flights or buy extra points to cover the difference.

Related: Easy hacks to find the cheapest last minute flights

How to protect your frequent fly miles from theft

Create strong passwords

The first step to protect your frequent flyer miles is protecting your personal information and, most importantly, avoid visiting unsecured websites.

Create strong passwords but don’t use similar passwords to log in to different sites. Hackers may take advantage of this once they get hold of your personal information.

Don’t fall victim to phishing

Phishing is a form of fraud in which an attacker tries to learn valuable information through a communication channel by pretending to be a trustworthy source.

Here’s what happens…

Hackers might try to get your personal information by sending fake emails disguised as genuine, with links to download and update your account.

They send information with images and a trusted company to fool the recipients into submitting their login details.

They then use this information to access the accounts to commit fraudulent deals.

Here is what you need to do:

After receiving a suspicious email with a link, you should first hover the mouse over the link to see the sender.

To avoid falling victim to phishing, you could use the following precautions.

  • Look closer

First off, never open an email you are suspicious of, even from a seemingly trusted source. Emails addresses can easily be ‘spoofed’ by a scammer.

Always look closely to ensure that they match the sender’s usual address. Confirm the sender’s full email address – fake emails contain added or deliberately omitted letters.

  • It’s better to be safe than sorry

Instead of opening and replying to a malicious email, it would be safer if you could just delete it or query with a legitimate source.

  • Look out for red flags

Let’s assume that you’ve managed to read through the email.

If you notice any grammatical or spelling mistakes, this could indicate that it’s not from a trusted source.

And another thing, fraudsters will often use urgent demand tactics or threats to get a quick response with a promise of valuable information. But wait – don’t be in a hurry to click.

  • Know the rule of the game

Most legitimate companies will never ask for any of your secret information, like your login details in writing and through emails.

Don’t fall victim to identity theft

Keeping an eye on any changes and inaccuracies on your account is the first step in ensuring that you protect your personal information.

To ease up the burden of securing your account, more airlines and hotels have joined the fight against fraud in an attempt to safeguard their clients by encouraging them to join identity protection services and, in return, offer them bonus points.

A good example of this service provider is AAdvantage.

Hilton’s HHonors also offer their members up to 12k points on signing up with LifeLock, plus a free first month of protection with the provider.

Enable two-factor authentication

To add an extra layer of security, always use a two-factor authentication code if it has been offered.

This unique code is sent to your phone every time you log in or when you are about to make a transfer of points.

It might be a tedious process, but it’s definitely worth the security of your account.

Occasionally scan the web

This ensures that none of your personal information is floating around the dark web.

Hackers cheaply sell miles stolen from unsuspecting credit card owners who have no idea that their personal information has been compromised.

Experian dark web scan is a good place to start your web scanning to ensures that none of your personal information is being used by fraudsters.

Make use of your miles

The best way to keep off potential hackers, especially after you left your rewards miles to pile up, is to use your miles.

In other words, avoid stockpiling your rewards miles to avoid luring hackers to go after your account for miles.

And on that note, if you are a member of several royalty programs, you can easily monitor and manage all your accounts from one place through a tool called the AwardWallet app.

The app can easily track your miles for any changes in balances, monitor for expiry, and even assists in booking royalty flights.

Related: Common online airline ticket scams and tips to avoid them

What are the best air mile calculators?

One thing’s for sure when it comes to getting a discounted travel. A good calculator ensures that every point is worth its value.

Seat 17a

This tool gives fast, accurate answers to your questions on whether I should use my miles or outright buy a ticket?

All you have to do is fill in the ticket cost against miles or points need for the same flight. It will then give either a yes or a no answer and recommend the most efficient between miles or paying cash.

Thanks to this tool, you can calculate frequent flier award rates across different programs.

And by simply entering your origin and destination details, you can see the cost of your flight across programs.

Some of its most popular calculators are the Award, Suggestions, and Transfer calculators.

How to calculate the award redemption value (CPM)?

The award redemption value is the value you get from every mile, able to replace cash on anything you redeem them for.

It is simply Cents Per Mile (CPM).

To calculate the award redemption, you need to take the ticket cost and minus any expenses (such as booking and security fees not included in ticket cost), then divide the answer by the air miles needed for the flight.

Lastly, multiply your answer by 100 to convert dollars to cents.

Let’s take a scenario (1).

Say you want to fly from point A to point B on a round trip, and you have the option of buying an economy ticket for $450 or spending 24,000 points.

Supposing you decide to use miles, the value of your miles with an economy class will be (450/24000*100) 1.88 cents, which is the CPM in other words.

This means that the value you are getting, which can replace $450, is 1.88 cents.

A higher redemption value (CPM) is always better because you can replace more cash with every mile.

Scenario (2)

Let assume that you want to fly from point A to B but in a business class.

The airline is selling the same ticket for $3,500, or you use 100,000 miles.

Assuming that you opt to go for the miles, your redemption value will now be 3.5 cents.

From the two scenarios, the business class has a higher CPM that can replace more cash since 3.5 CPM is obviously better than 1.88 cents.

At what point does your earned reward miles expire?

With most airlines, when you go for a couple of months (minimum 12 months on all airlines) without any activity on your frequent flyer account, all the points you had garnered are bound to expire.

United Airlines recently revised their miles expiry policies to no expiry, a move that came as big news to its frequent flyers.

It has now joined the likes of Delta and JetBlue, whose frequent flyer members have continually enjoyed a no expiry air miles policy.

How to prevent your air miles and points from expiring?

The first step in preventing your points from expiry is checking your loyalty program provider’s expiry terms and conditions.

Here are a few ways:

Join a frequent flyer program with no expiry rules.

First off, in the US, Delta sky miles, Jet Blue True Blue, and United Air Miles are some of the few programs with miles that don’t expire.

And in other words, you actually don’t need to be active to keep them.

So you can retain them in your account for as long as you wish with no expiry.

Make purchases and book award tickets

The number one method of ensuring that frequent flyer account remains active is putting your miles and point to use through making purchases and booking award tickets.

Major US airlines like United, Delta, South West, and American have shopping portals on their frequent flyer websites.

When you visit the partner’s site through the airline’s shopping portal, every purchase you make is tracked and is automatically added to your mile account.

By simply going to the retailer’s site through the portal, you will earn points and keep your account active.

And then again, when you redeem your miles for a ticket, this automatically updates your frequent flyer account, and to top it off, this is already a qualified activity on your miles account.

Use airline credit cards for purchases.

Using your airline credit card to make bookings and purchases from airline partners’ will count as a qualifying activity.

This automatically pushes the points’ expiry dates further away and reset them month after month on your statements.

Make a transfer of points

The act of transferring your miles and points automatically qualifies as an activity on your reward account.

You can simply transfer points from airline partners such as Chase Ultimate Reward or American Express Membership Reward straight into your frequent flyer account.

Track your programs

Being able to monitor your rewards ensures that you are not caught off-guard with expiry deadline notifications.

The good news is, with tools like AwardWallet, you can easily track all your loyalty points from different programs, all from one app.

The app alerts you when the points are about to expire and notifies you in case of changes in point balances.

Donate to charity

Donating will not only help resuscitate your miles, but it might also be for a worthy cause.

Some of the charity organizations that you would consider donating your points to includes the American Red Cross, Transplant Recipients International, and Make-A-Wish Foundation, to name but a few.

Call the airline

If your miles have just expired, you may have to call the airline for an extension but, of course, at a fee, which will sometimes not be worth the struggle.

But if you had a huge balance in your account, you could reinstate the expired miles by paying the fee.

This is, however, no guarantee that you will get your miles back as it depends on each airline’s miles expiry policies.

And on that note, some of the airlines with the best policies are United MileagePlus, Delta SkyMiles, TrueBlue, and JetBlue.

What happens to your miles when you cancel a reward flight?

When it comes to charges on award ticket cancelation, different airlines have different policies.

It is therefore important to check your airline’s loyalty reward program cancelation policies.

Let’s look at these examples from different airlines.

American Airlines

American AAdvantage miles will refund your miles at no cost, but you must be a top-tier elite member.

If you’re an American Airlines frequent flyer, all you have to do after canceling your reward flight is call the airline to reinstate your points.

Otherwise, if you are not a frequent flyer, you will have to pay cancelation charges and any flight booking alteration such as changes in destinations to get your miles back.

It’s worth noting that changes and cancelations attract a fee of $125 and an extra $25 for every reinstated additional award at the same time on a given account.

Delta Airlines

Delta airline flyers who use SkyMiles suffer the same fate as American airline flyers regarding fee payment on changes and cancelations they make to their Delta flight bookings.

Much like American Airlines, there is an exception to frequent flyers with SkyMiles, who sometimes get fee waivers.

The reward flyers are required only to cancel their flight tickets or change their itineraries 72 hours before their flight departure.

Any miles reinstatement request made in less than 72 hours will attract a fee of $150 for travelers who are not members of Diamond and Platinum Medallion, plus any other fee or taxes they will be required to pay.

Alaska Airlines

With Alaska Mileage Plan, to avoid paying an extra fee to redeposit your miles back into your Mileage Plan account, you only have 60 days before the flight to cancel and make changes.

And if you have to make a change or cancel your trip less than 60 days before departure, the cancelation fee will be $125 for all paid and award tickets.

It’s, however, worth noting that you will be refunded for all the taxes you had paid for the trip.

Southwest airlines

Southwest Airlines have the most attractive cancelation policies.

First off, their frequent flyers can amend and cancel trips from the airline’s website at zero additional fees.

Then your miles will be re-deposited back into your Rapid Reward account if you happen to miss or cancel your flight.

Although it may sometimes take a few days to reflect into your account, it will undoubtedly save you the hassle and cost of incurring additional fees.

Spirit Airlines

As per the Free Spirit loyalty program, any alteration or cancelation of an award flight has to be made through the reservations call desk and must be in not less than 24 hours before the flight departure.

In other words, you’ll get your miles back as long as you adhere to the 24-hour time frame.

Otherwise, you will have to pay for the flight alteration and reinstatement fee.

United airlines

On the bright side, the United Mileage Plus loyalty program is quite popular due to its wide range of partners. But on the downside, the cost of changing a flight or canceling a ticket depends on your status in their loyalty program.

For instance, Premier Platinum and 1K flyers don’t pay any additional fee for miles re-deposit, flight changes, and for any cancelations, they make 61 or more days before departure.

Then Premier Gold and Silver pay a small fee for miles redeposit due to changes and cancelations done within or after 60 days.

And lastly, any trip cancelation or changes by other nonfrequent flyers come with a higher cancelation and re-deposit fees.

JetBlue Airlines

When you change or cancel a Blue Fare or Blue Fare plus ticket booked with TrueBlue points, the amount of cancelation fee you incur will depend on the cash value of that flight.

This means that more expensive flights will require you to pay more fees and vice versa.

The cost of cancelations and changes of Mint Fare booked with TrueBlue also depends on when they occur.

For instance, the cancelation fees will be less on any flight cancelation or change made before 60 days of flight departure and vice versa for changes or cancelation made after 60 days of the flight departure.

And then again, you’ll still be able to get your point back even after you cancel your flight.

How to buy air miles

You can directly purchase air miles straight from your loyalty program website by clicking on the ‘Buy, Gift, and Transfer’ tab.

The price may vary from airline to airline, but on average, it ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 cents for every mile.

Tips to consider when buying air miles

Take advantage of discounts and occasionally offers by air airlines on miles sold within certain special durations in their special calendar, such as anniversaries.

Most airlines occasionally have deals that come as bonus offers and percentage discounts on miles purchased. This bonus offers often result in a significant reduction in price per mile.

Buy your miles with your reward credit card. This will ultimately add more miles to your reward account balance.

Before making a purchase, calculate the cost per mile. You’ll need to consider other flight fees and taxes (which will differ from airline to airline), then weigh the cheaper option between using your miles with paying for the ticket.

Award flights have several limitations. It will be wise to plan accordingly.

This will ensure that your award flight is not be affected by the time difference between a reward ticket booking and when the booking actually reflected in your account. This will mainly affect the award seat availability.      

Hey, I’m Rose. I’m passionate about electric cars and clean energy. My adventurous spirit and journalistic pursuits make each day fascinating and far greater. I consider traveling not just about the grandeur moments, but the little elements that transform the whole experience.