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One way to optimize your travel dollars is to participate in airline miles programs. Every time you fly, you can earn miles, also called airline rewards or frequent flyer miles or points, for future travel. If you’re not banking your miles, you’re leaving money on the table. Plus, your airline miles increase your vacation budget with little to no effort from you. Free travel? Sounds good to us. Here’s how it works.
Airline rewards or frequent flyer miles are miles you accrue with a specific airline. Each time your fly with that carrier, you earn miles or credits toward travel with that airline only. The goal of these programs is to build customer loyalty and repeat business. These programs are usually very straight-forward. Each time you fly with that carrier, you earn a certain number of points, miles or credits. Once you have enough points, you redeem them for free or reduced-price travel.
Of course, not all airline miles programs are created equal. Rewards vary by carrier. Additionally, each will have its own restrictions around when and how you can redeem your points. For example, Southwest allows you to use Rapid Rewards points for any flight. However, most other airlines have restrictions on when, where and how miles can be used. You’ve probably heard the term “blackout dates.” It refers to times when you can’t use your miles. Holidays are commonly blacked out.
If you travel a lot on a single airline, managing your points with that airline can be a powerful source of free travel. It’s a no-brainer if you travel to your timeshare every year on the same carrier. But even if you’re flying an airline you use infrequently, it makes sense to enroll in that airline’s rewards program. The rewards might be minimal, but it’s easy to enroll and you never know when you might need those miles. And if you rarely use the same airline? Well, there’s an option for you, too!
Rewards programs are all well and good, but you can’t always fly one airline, especially when you travel internationally. That’s where airline alliances come in. In some cases, airlines have partnerships or alliances with other carriers. Through these alliances, you can accumulate airline miles in one spot for use at any of the alliance carriers. In this way, you can really optimize your point power. Membership in each gives you access to lounges and privileges at affiliated airlines.
According to Richard Kerr, contributor to the travel website The Points Guy, “The simplest and most important benefit of earning on partner airlines is that you’re not stuck with miles on a carrier you might only fly once or twice in your life. You also have more options when you’re flying on a carrier with a subpar frequent flyer program.”
Let’s look at the three major alliances.
The oldest and biggest alliance, Star Alliance, has 28 member airlines including United, Air China, and Singapore Airlines.
Oneworld, the smallest consortium, is made up of 13 carriers including American Airlines, British Airways, and Quantas and offers 13,000 flights daily.
Skyteam’s 20-member airlines offer 1074 destinations to 177 countries. Carriers include Delta, KLM, AirFrance, and China Airlines.
When it comes time to redeem alliance points, you’ll need to do some homework. Not all airlines within a consortium will allow you to use points in the same manner. However, since you’re looking at free travel and other benefits, it’s worth signing up.
Loyalty programs and alliances are two good ways to earn airline miles. However, there are many more creative ways to build up your vacation budget. In the next post in this series. we’ll look at some of those. So, stay tuned!
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