Frequent flyer miles are a great way to save money on your travels. The problem, however, is that the whole system seems to confuse a lot of people. I’ll admit they can be tricky to understand at first, but I assure you they are quite simple. This blog will hopefully debug the mystery that is frequent flier miles and gives you an insight into exactly what the benefits of them are and how to sign up for them.

What are Frequent Flyer miles?

Also known as airline miles or travel points, frequent flyer miles are the airlines’ version of a loyalty programme. The reward points you earn come in the form of flyer miles. The more miles you travel the more points (or miles) you earn. The more miles you have, the better the rewards, simple. Used correctly, they are a great way to save money on your travels. These miles can be used to pay for extra luggage, upgrade your seats, access airport lounges and even buy flights!

Seems fairly straight forward right? Just like any other rewards programme, you earn points (or miles) for buying stuff. Eventually, when those points build up enough you get something for free.

What are the benefits?

Whether you fly twice a year or twice a week, you should seriously consider joining a frequent flyers programme. Each of the loyalty programmes usually has different levels of membership. As you earn points you can move up levels, unlocking better rewards. In some cases simply by being part of a higher level earns bonus miles each time you fly. Some of the benefits of joining a club include seat upgrades, extra baggage allowance, access to airport lounges and even free or reduced flights. Some programmes even allow you to use your miles to save on hotels, car rentals and tours using affiliated companies.

Sounds great, where do I sign up?

Almost all airlines nowadays have a frequent flyer programme usually named as a loyalty programme and these are free to join. These programmes typically operate as part of larger groups called Airline Alliances. This means that by joining one frequent flyer programme, you can also earn points by flying with affiliated airlines too. Below are links to the three major alliances and their member airlines;

Star Alliance

Sky Team

OneWorld

Budget airlines like Ryanair don’t have frequent flyer programmes

Within each of these three alliances are numerous partner airlines which you can earn miles by flying with them. You only need to sign up to one of these loyalty programmes and as long as you fly with affiliated airlines, you can earn miles on your card.

Let’s take a look at an example. I am part of Flying Blue, the loyalty programme for Air France and KLM airlines. Flying Blue is a part of the Sky Team airline alliance. Delta Airlines, who are also part of the Sky Team, also have a loyalty programme called SkyMiles. Since both Air France and Delta are part of the Sky Team alliance, I can earn points on my Flying Blue card when I fly with Delta.

In summary, you only need to sign up to one loyalty programme to earn the rewards of flying with several airlines.

Which programme is right for me?

This all depends on which airlines you fly with the most. My suggestion is to sign up to at least one loyalty programme within each of the three alliances. Which ones you choose are entirely up to you. Unfortunately, budget airlines like Ryanair don’t offer loyalty programmes. Fair enough given that their flights are cheap if you book at the right time. For those of us in Ireland, Aer Lingus have recently relaunched their loyalty programme, the  Aer Lingus – Gold Circle.

Something to remember when you sign up is that you can claim miles for old flights. This varies from airline to airline but in general, you can backdate flights anywhere from 6 months to a year prior to signing up for the reward scheme. This can be tedious going through old plane tickets but it’s a great way to build up points you didn’t even know you had.

Other ways to earn miles

As well as flying you can earn miles through a variety of different ways.

  • Credit cards: Some credit card companies offer rewards miles too when you spend. Some work on any airline, others are specific to airlines. Both have advantages and disadvantages.  Most credit card rewards offer you a certain amount of miles per money spent. Unfortunately, it’s mainly the American credit cards that have this offer but it’s worth checking to see if yours does too.
  • Hotels: There are a few hotel chains that partner with airlines where you can accumulate flyer miles when you stay in the hotel. If you’re someone who frequents hotels regularly it might be worth while joining a frequent flyers programme that partners with a hotel you commonly stay with.
  • Dining and shopping:  As with hotels, some frequent flyer programmes are affiliated with certain restaurants and shops. British Airways (part of Oneworld) are the leaders in this field, for every £2.50 you earn in Tesco club card points, you can swap for 800 airline points. An absolute no-brainer if you live in England. Unfortunately, this scheme isn’t transferable to Irish accounts.
  • Buy and transfer miles: If you’re only a few miles short of a free upgrade you can always buy more miles online. This can work out cheaper than paying for the upgrade up front but make sure to do the math before you buy. Alternatively, if you’ve got a friend who flies as part of the same alliance, you can gift each other miles free of charge.

How to spend your miles

So now that you’ve accumulated those precious flyer miles, how do actually go about spending them? When you sign up for a loyalty programme you’ll be given a unique loyalty number and card. Every time you book flights, make sure to log in using your loyalty number. When you go to book a flight you can see how much said flight will cost in flyer miles. If you have enough miles built up, you can purchase the flight using those miles instead of your hard earned cash. Alternatively, you can use your miles to upgrade to a higher level within the programme which in itself comes with greater rewards.

Something to remember is that some airlines only release a limited number seats to frequent flyer travellers. Blackout dates, such as those around public holidays or major events can also limit ticket options. As a result, sometimes you’re better off to use your miles to upgrade seats rather than buy a ticket.

Finally, when you book the flight using flyer miles you may still have to pay taxes and charges. This means that although the flight isn’t completely free, it will significantly reduce the cost of the flight. If you’re careful with your planning though, you can buy your flights during sale periods where airlines waive the taxes and charges fares so potentially your flight could be totally free.

Hopefully, this has made things a little clearer.

Thanks for reading and happy travels.

Brian :o)


Have you got any questions about flyer miles? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.