How to collect frequent flyer miles and use them?
March 19, 2017 4:07 AM   Subscribe

This seems to be an art. I am aware that some people have made a full time job out of it. But what programs are good? I want to collect miles with buying plane tickets, not using CC or something else.

I was flying once a lot US<>EU. I think I used American Airlines to collect miles. I have a significant 6 fig mile account after a year but when I wanted to book a flight with miles, there was never a flight bookable that interested me. I saw a list later and AA was on the last position regarding how good the miles program was. Lufthansa was number one.

I moved to Asia and fly EU<>China a lot. But also Africa, India, South America. This time I collected miles with Lufthansa/Star Alliance. (Remember? Number one on the list!). Looks like you can book any flight with miles from your miles account. But here it works otherwise around. You never get the miles from their partner airlines. I flew something like 100.000 miles and had 15.000 Miles in my account. Based on the partner airline and booking class (Y, B, H, M, K, L, W, S, N, Q and O) , for many many flights they credited only 0%, sometimes 10%.

So I head that British airlines has a good program and always credits miles, regardless of booking class (Y, B, H, M, K, L, W, S, N, Q and O). But British airlines is part of the One World alliance, I rarely use these airlines.

So what airlines are
- generous in crediting miles (regardless of booking class/code)
- generous in crediting miles from partner airlines
- give you miles that you can actually use and are not limited to very few selected flights

Yes, I know there is Flyertalk but I really want to keep it simple.
posted by yoyo_nyc to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Alaska (now combined with Virgin America) has an awesome mileage program. And they are in other ways the best domestic airline in the US.
posted by spitbull at 4:15 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]

Who do you usually fly with?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:28 AM on March 19

I fly with work a lot, and one of the big things to look for is point synergy - Delta Skymiles has a lot of associate program coverage for other airlines as well, and then there are hotel programs like SPG (covers a ton of places, including Sheratons and Westins) that will connect to your Skymiles account and give cross-promotional bonus miles or SPG points. This can end up earning you free flight tickets *and* hotel stays, especially if you keep an eye out for promotions that earn extra miles/points during certain periods.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

I usually fly domestic and have miles with Delta and American. I have had no trouble whatsoever buying any flight I wanted with miles on Delta. Partner airlines include Air France and KLM. I am always looking for upgrades, but those are more difficult these days.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:40 AM on March 19

There isn't a good answer for your question.

First, as you already have learned, OneWorld is significantly better than SkyTeam or Star Alliance in cross-carrier crediting, although to be fair OneWorld has become less generous (or, at least, American Airlines has cut back on Aadvantage credits for travel on OneWorld carriers somewhat, and I assume that be reciprocal).

Second, the primary value add of alliances is to be obtain, and enjoy, elite status, not to super-charge mileage accrual. It's great to use a JAL biz class roundtrip from JFK to Saigon via NRT to earn 27,000 elite status points (which would from zero get you to the first tier of elite by itself. On the same trip, it's very nice to be able to check in at Business Class and go into the First Class lounge for Cathay on an economy flight from Hong Kong to Saigon, even if the deepness of the discount of that economy ticket meant I got no mileage points from it. And then it's nice for your elite status to get you upgraded on the cheapest American economy flight from New York to Florida or Minnesota pretty much every time.

Third, elite status is VERY important for mileage accrual because it gives you a multiplier benefit on your mileage accrual ... so fly enough on your home carrier, or enough higher-fare-class economy, premium economy or biz on partners to become elite.

Finally, as you once again seem to know, everyone who REALLY maxes out mileage for usage to buy tickets does it with partners (hotels, credit cards, etc.). Between cutting mileage accrual rates and increasing mileage-usage pricing, miles earned from flying just aren't worth very much relative to the price of the tickets you buy to earn the miles.
posted by MattD at 6:44 AM on March 19 [8 favorites]

"Who do you usually fly with?"

First, I get reimbursed for most tickets. But I have to buy a reasonable cheap ticket, I can not buy a 900 Dollar ticket if a similar is available for 700.

What do I currently fly? Lufthansa, Air India, Air China, Etihad and recently a lot of Aeroflot. Finish Airlines and Turkish airlines may be possible too. This is why cross carrier mileage accrual is important for me. Mainly Star Alliance and Sky Team would both be possible. One World is less suited for me.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:05 AM on March 19

1. The best way is to pick an alliance and do everything you can to fly with only it.

2. If at all possible, fly on the same airline within one alliance as often as possible (I'm using United as my example in the links below, because it's who I fly with). I choose United as "my" airline because I live in a hub city, it has the most direct flights around the country (I fly everywhere so I was looking for a broadly-good airline, but if I was a consultant who flew to the same town each week I'd choose the airline that had the best routes to that town), and that had lots of international flights/partners so I could use my award miles on international flights to Europe or Asia (i.e. no Southwest). Basically, you need to look at what makes sense for your travel habits. I'd love to base myself on an European airline but as I'm based in the US it doesn't make sense.

3. If you succeed in #2, with those long-distance flights, you will quickly earn premiere status. With premiere status comes perks like better seats/boarding/lounges on that airline but sometimes on partner airlines as well. But for your purposes of earning award miles, as you can see from this chart you earn more award miles if you have status on the airline. With status some airlines give you better access to award miles booking as well as you can see on the first link.

4. If you can not fly the airline of choice for whatever reason, but see a flight on an airline within your chosen alliance then you can still earn miles with them. Problem is now most programs have moved to a monetary system for awarding miles (based on the fare you pay). Sometimes it may make more sense to join a second loyalty program within the alliance (Lufthansa, for example) and buy directly from them with that loyalty number.

For example, if you're flying with Lufthansa because it's the best fare then join and use your Lufthansa frequent flyer number when you buy those points. If you really want to make sure you'll accrue points then you have to do your research. For example, if you choose United as your airline here's a list of the rules for points accrual on Lufthansa. The lowest fare class does not accrue miles if you buy that flight with your United number but presumably it would on your Lufthansa account. Also, it may not accrue award miles but it usually will accrue premiere qualifying miles, which will get you higher status and bump up the earning on your other flights. I'm not going to do the math for you, but look into how often you fly, what level of status you would have, and see if it makes sense to go after status on more than one airline and then transfer points or spread you risk and once you obtain a good level of status on one alliance go for status on a second alliance (Sky Team, for example).

5. Now I'm not one to open credit cards willy nilly, but the biggest thing you can do to gain more award miles is to buy your tickets with a credit card from the one airline you've chosen as your airline. When you sign up for an airline credit card you want to wait for a good deal on it as well. The standard bonus for signing up (an using) the United card I got is 25,000 miles. Well, I waited until they offered me a 70,000 bonus. So that's a huge accelerator in earning award miles as well.

If you combine all of above you will get a lot of award miles. For example, I flew to California last week (2,265 base miles). I have Gold status on United so that got me an additional 1,359 miles. Because I bought it on my United credit card I get an additional 906 miles. So I doubled my award miles earned by playing their game.

All of this is constantly changing and is not easy because the airlines don't want it to be easy. It's even hard to find out the fare class of a ticket before you buy it! But at the very least you have to stick with one alliance for these flights, and ideally one airline to get miles. I know that Flyer Talk is overwhelming, but there's some websites out there that do easier comparisons you can look around (beware them trying to sell you credit cards from their advertisers). It sounds to me like you may be up for Lufthansa as your airline. If that's so do a little googling on how easy it is to use award miles. Sorry, but as someone said above, there is no easy answer.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:24 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]

You can't "keep it simple" because it's not. There is no one size fits all approach to this. The best program for you depends on a whole number of factors including your own location, how you accrue points, how you might be able to accrue even more points (through credit cards or otherwise) and how you like to spend your points. The fact that "Lufthansa was number one" (according to whom and by what factors?) may mean nothing to you if you don't have the "right" answers to the questions above. One thing I can say is that if you are based in the US, your best option will almost always be a US-based program. They are far easier to accumulate and spend miles in (despite what you say above) than many other airline's programs in other countries.
posted by ryanbryan at 4:39 AM on March 20

The Points Guy, Frugal Travel Guy, Million Mile Secrets are good places to start.


you could always try what this guy did.
posted by lalochezia at 6:27 AM on March 20

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