When you are planning a trip, before booking any plane tickets, you should sign up for a frequent flyer (also mileage or miles program), if you don’t have one.
Why? Because it’s free and you can get some pretty good benefits!
How do frequent flyer programs work?
A frequent flyer program is a customer loyalty program for airline passengers. Airlines reward you with points (or miles) each time you fly with them or with one of the partner airlines within their airline network. There are three airlines networks: Star Alliance, Skyteam and Oneworld.
Example: Let’s say you sign up with United Airlines, a Star Alliance member. You will receive miles every time you fly United or any other Star Alliance member.
The miles you earn are typically valid the rest of your life as long as you fly with one of the partner airlines at least once every 12 – 24 months, depending on the program.
What can I do with miles?
Earning miles has two benefits:
-Free Flights: You can use your miles to book free flights in the future. You’ll only pay the taxes.
-Upgrades: You can also use your miles to upgrade to a better class
-Airline Status: When you earn a certain amount of miles in a calendar year, you’ll enjoy airline status benefits the next year. This will give you privileges like priority boarding, free extra luggage, airline lounge access, free upgrades and bonus miles on flights.
Which program should I sign up with?
You should sign up with the network that best serves the destinations of your journey. A quick way to do this is:
1) Go to Kayak.
2) Open a separate window for all the flights you need.
3) In each window, select the filter “Star Alliance.” Kayak will now only show flights operated by airlines within the Star Alliance network.
4) Write down the flights of your preference and the prices.
5) Repeat step 3 and 4 for Oneworld and Skyteam.
6) Compare itineraries of the three networks.
Now you know which network serves your destinations best.
Choosing the right airline
If you live in a country that has one major airline and this airline is a member of your preferred network then that airline will most likely be your best choice.
If this is not the case, or if you live in a country with multiple major airlines, you’ll need to weigh multiple factors, such as:
-Location: You should choose an airline that has a hub or at least serves some cities near where you expect to be living in the next few years.
-Airline benefits: Go to the airline website and check out what the benefits are for the different status levels.
-Sign up deals: Some airlines offer great sign up deals. You can often get enough miles for a free flight just by signing up.
-Credit cards: A lot of airlines partner with a credit card company. If you sign up for their card, you can get a lot of miles plus bonus miles when you use your credit card. This is a quick way to build up status. Nerdwallet has a good resource for comparing different Airline Credit Cards.
In the US it can be quite a challenge to figure out the best airline program, with so many major carriers to choose from. To help you make your choice, check out this article on how to choose a program.
Can’t I sign up with all programs?
Yes, you can. This gives you the most flexibility in terms of flights. The problem is though that it will be hard to build up enough miles in any program to take advantage of status benefits.
TIP: If you won’t be flying with your airline alliance for a while, check until when your miles are valid!
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