The ultimate goal, of course, is to use those earned miles for “free” flights and hotel stays. Most people use the term “free” but there are some fees and taxes that you inevitable have to pay.
So, the first and essential question you need to ask yourself is this: which program will give me more possibilities to earn miles?!
You see, despite the term “frequent flyer programs”, they are not the same across every carriers. The choice depends on your travel goals, preferences, current travel habits, future travel habits, where you live and shopping patterns, as we explain below. Consider those factors and ask yourself these questions:
Where do I live and what’s the biggest airline at my closest airport?
You can live in the US and open an account with Qantas (Australian Airline), but how often will you fly to Australia?! It’s not reasonable, right?! Take a look at your closest airport and see which is the biggest airline there. Usually, that’s a great way to start your search. However, if you live near a hub (a major international airport with lots of airlines and different destinations) you might want to consider choosing a program form an airline that operates from that airport (in which your airport will be consider as a feeder). If you're planning to fly to multiple international destinations, this might be a good and savvy option.
Can I earn a good amount of miles even without flying?
Some programs allow you to earn miles without flying a single mile! From car rentals to restaurants, insurance to online shopping, the more you spend (on things you actually use/do), the more miles you will earn.
How many miles are required for award tickets?
Some airlines require more miles for the same route and class.
You can schedule a Free Skype Consultation with one of our travel consultants to compare required award mileage or even to book award flight on your behalf.
Can you book one way travel?
Most airlines allow one way awards these days, but make sure to check it.
Unless you’re joining Emirates, Virgin, Etihad or other smaller/regional carriers, chances are you’re joining a program from an airline that also belongs to an alliance.
There are 3 big airline alliances: One World, Star Alliance and Sky Team. Check our alliance comparison to know how can you benefit from airline alliances. You need to know if your airline belongs to any alliance and see all the possibilities you have in terms of international travel. The more destinations, the easier it will be to book award travel. All 3 alliances offer award booking across the entire network (even though some airlines might have different amounts for award bookings, like Singapore Airlines inside Star Alliance).
This is very important. Check your airline partners to see where you can travel and the destinations they serve. If you’re looking to go to Australia, Qantas (One World) is a potential partner. However, One World alliance airlines won’t be a good option if you’re looking to explore African destinations, mostly.
Bottom line: check partner airlines and think where you can go with them.
Are there fuel surcharges?
Usually, you only pay for airport taxes and fees. Some airlines such as Air France, Swiss and British Airways impose huge fuel surcharges for award travel bookings though, which can be hundreds of dollars. Pay attention to the small print.
When (and how) do your miles expire?
Some mileage programs allow you to extend the life of your miles as long as you have some activity – redeeming or accumulate – every 18, 24 or 36 months. Other airlines have miles expire after a certain amount of time and there is nothing you can to extend the life of your miles. Delta is unique in that its miles do not expire.
All One World airlines have the first expiring method. Your whole account is affected by how and when you use your air miles. Most Star Alliance and Sky Team airlines follow the second method, miles expire 3 years after you have earned them (not considering the overall amount in your account).
There's no correct answer to this question. You need to analyse your travel habits, your location, your goals and partner airlines. What can be a good option for you, might not be for someone else. Make sure to compare different programs using the guidelines we've shown you and be aware that there's no one-size-fits-all program! If you can't decide what's the best frequent flyer program to join, simply send us an email and we'll gladly help you! Easy!
If you already joined a program, what are your thoughts? Which one do you think is the best? We want to hear your opinion!