Almost everyone has heard of air miles. They make up the core of many frequent flyer programs, airline loyalty programs, and credit card bonuses. In recent years, air miles have become an essential piece of the travel industry. However, not many people take full advantage of their air miles. You can use your miles for a lot more than just airline and car rental deals. Getting to the top tier of a frequent flyer program can offer benefits like free hotel stays, free seat upgrades, discounted vacation packages, and access to luxury airport lounges. Here’s a complete breakdown of how air miles work, and how to get the best deals on your next trip.
How do Airline Miles Work?
Commonly called frequent flyer miles or travel points, airline miles are used to track your progress in a customer loyalty program. These programs are offered by major airlines, credit card companies, and other companies in the travel and hospitality industry. Loyalty programs are part of a marketing strategy that rewards customers for repeat business. Both airline and credit card companies have a lot of competition, so offering an attractive rewards program can help with customer retention.
In most cases, your air miles are based on how many miles you fly with a certain airline during a finite period. For credit cards, your air miles are often tied to how much you spend. Some credit card companies offer air miles instead of cashback or in conjunction with other benefits. Once you accumulate enough miles, points, or credits, you become eligible for airline and car rental deals.
How do I Get Airline Miles?
First and foremost, you get the most airline miles by going on a flight. Once you’ve registered for your preferred frequent flyer program, you’ll be given a frequent flyer number and card. All you have to do is purchase your flight and show your loyalty card to get started.
If you aren’t planning a flight any time soon, you can still accumulate points with a co-branded credit card. Many credit cards come with a significant signup bonus if you have good credit. A signup bonus can include a significant lump of air miles to get you started. You’ll continue to rack up frequent flyer miles or points with every purchase using your new card.
Some companies partner with airlines and co-branded credit cards to reward miles when you shop at their store with your credit card or loyalty card. Check your preferred loyalty program’s website to find out which businesses offer discounts or extra miles.
What to Expect From an Award Booking
Once you’ve accumulated enough air miles or points, you can make your first award booking. Now you can take advantage of airline and car rental deals that wouldn’t have been available under regular circumstances. You can opt for a complimentary flight or a free upgrade to first class or business class. However, award bookings are different than regular bookings. Award tickets are limited by availability. Busier flying dates, especially around holidays, won’t have many award tickets available.
To get the award booking you want, make sure to plan ahead. Try booking your flight as early as possible, and be flexible. Each airline has different practices for how they handle award bookings. In most cases, it’s in your best interest to book 10 or 11 months in advance. On the other hand, some airlines don’t release award booking information until a week or two before departure. If you’re using air miles to get a discount on a flight instead of a free flight, you will have a lot more options. Consult your loyalty program’s website to get the best advice.
Tips for Airline and Car Rental Deals
When you book a regular airline ticket, you’ll have to contend with additional fees, surcharges, and taxes. Not much changes when you book with air miles. This is especially true if you’re booking an international flight. Always check with your booking agent to see what your loyalty points cover.
If you’re struggling to get enough points to receive benefits, consider starting a family or household account. This kind of account will pool all the frequent flyer miles your and your family members earn. Some airlines offer family pooling for up to 8 different family members.
To get the best value out of your frequent flier miles, avoid buying items from your airline’s gift shop with air miles or using points on cheap economy flights. It’s in your best interest to accumulate enough points to get an expensive flight for free instead of a cheap flight for less.
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