Choosing a Frequent Flyer Program - A Quick Overview Frequent Flyer Program, Frequent Flyer, Frequent flyer miles, free miles, frequent flyer awards Choosing a Frequent Flyer Program - A Quick Overview Choosing a Frequent Flyer Program

By Scott Mandeville of Infiniti Enterprise

So you plan to start traveling more and you want to choose a frequent flyer program and by extension an airline. On the surface this may seem like an easy thing. Find out which airline flies where you are going, join the program and book your flights. All too often people join frequent flyer programs just because they are on a flight and not because of a conscious decision. Then they are disappointed because they never earn any reward. There are billions of miles in accounts of people that will never earn enough to actually use them.

You have a great many more choices and those choice can have a big impact on earning free flights. These days most airlines partner with other airlines and allow you to collect miles on one of several programs. For example you can fly Alaska Airlines and earn miles on their program but also American Airlines or Northwest Airlines. Some programs make it easier to earn miles; some make it easier to claim rewards. So which one to choose? If you follow some simple steps to evaluate the different plans you should be able to choose the plan that's right for you.

  1. Look at the airlines that fly from the airports in your area. Then look at the cities those airlines serve. Depending on the destinations you are flying to, you will probably have 2 or 3 airlines to choose from.
  2. Look at the overall health of an airline. This is more important today than ever. It is quite likely that one or more of the large carriers are not going to survive another economic downturn. That is going to put all of those hard earned miles in jeopardy. If you're lucky and the airline is bought by another that the miles will probably rollover but if it just goes belly-up the miles earned would be worthless.
  3. Try to determine the cities you are likely to have to fly to and make sure your selected airline serves them. Don't worry about nonstop flights, unless you live by a major hub like O'Hare (Chicago) or Dallas-Ft Worth you are going to have to make a connection on many of your longer flights. Remember to look at travel partners too.
  4. Think about where you are going to use your miles. If you want to try to earn enough miles to fly to Europe, make sure your chosen frequent flyer program lets you use them there. Southwest has a great program in terms of earning flights fast but if you really want to go to Europe or Asia then it's not a good choice.
  5. Try to find out from other flyers in your area what programs they are members of and if they are happy with their program. Look at sites like to get a sense of how satisfied other users are with the programs you are considering.

Some other considerations: Often an airport will have a dominant carrier which will control over half the departures. It's often tempting just to sign up with them because they offer the most flights. It's a good idea to consider the second or third carrier at those airports too, as they often offer incentives in the form of bonus miles and are more likely to have open seats for award trips from your city because they have less demand than the dominant carrier will have.

Carefully check the rules of the program before you join. Most programs today allow you to accumulate miles indefinitely; some have expiration dates of one to three years, so depending on how much you travel. You'll need to take this into consideration; you don't want to lose miles because they expire. Southwest is a great example, they have one of the easiest programs in existence, earn 16 segments in 12 months and get a free ticket but any segment you earn that doesn't add up to 16 in a year, you lose. So if you fly a lot with them it's great, but if you only fly two or three times a year you probably will never earn a free ticket.

Also check the rules for earning miles on flights, many European carriers restrict mileage earned on discounted fares while most US carriers will give you miles when you fly on any published fare.

So if you carefully review your options before you start traveling you will be earning those free flights in no time at all!

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