How to Accrue Frequent Flier Miles

Frequent Flyer Miles (FFM) can be an excellent way to subsidize airfare costs during your career break.  For those unfamiliar with FFM, they are a unit of rewards earned through an airline’s loyalty program by flying.  The objective of these loyalty programs is to retain customers by rewarding customers with miles, which translate to free flights with enough accumulated miles.

Earning Miles

In the United States, aside from flying, there are numerous ways to earn FFM such as purchases with co-branded airline cards and a slew of other promotional offers.

Unless you have a lot of reimbursable expenses, purchases with a co-branded airline credit card will not generate enough miles for a flight in a timely manner.  This post will focus on flying, assuming there are some future career breakers who travel for work and are allowed to accumulate FFM for personal use.

With work related travels, we’re usually committed to a schedule that may not be conducive to flying our preferred airline, so we end up crediting the flown miles to another carrier.  The end result is multiple frequent flyer mile accounts with smaller balances.  This is not the most ideal situation because account balances in different frequent flyer miles programs cannot be combined. It’s best to have a single account with a large balance so that they can be redeemed for a flight, ideally an international flight.

To accrue miles in a single account, it’s helpful to know the alliance and partner airlines of your frequent flyer mile program.  The Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team are the three alliances in existence today.  In most cases, alliance member and partner airlines can be credited to a single frequent flyer mile account within the alliance.  Most people don’t realize this and end up creating multiple frequent flyer mile accounts from different airlines.

For example, a few weeks ago a friend was looking to purchase a round trip ticket to Atlanta and preferred to fly U.S. Airways because it’s where he has the greatest amount of frequent flyer miles.  However, this time around, he wasn’t able to go with U.S. Airways as it didn’t allow an ample connection time. My friend has a small bank of frequent flyer miles with Delta, so he was going to pay more money to fly with Delta directly to Atlanta for the convenience and mileage accrual.

After consulting with me, I suggested he buy a United flight that was similarly priced to the U.S. Airways flight and allowed a sufficient connection time.  I explained that United flights could be credited to his U.S. Airways account since they are both Star Alliance members.  I showed him the following miles earnings table from the U.S. Airways site:

Since the airfare he was purchasing was one of the fare classes that aligned with the 100% accrual rate, he would earn all the flown miles on the United flight to his U.S. Airways account.

Airlines also have partner airlines that can accrue miles.  For example, I have an AAdvantage account from American Airlines and last year I booked a round trip flight to Kathmandu from New York City.  One of my flight options was to fly on Cathay Pacific to Kathmandu via Hong Kong.  Cathay Pacific and American Airlines are part of the One World Alliance so a flight on Cathay Pacific would earn miles on American Airlines.

However, since the airfare booking code I would have purchased (Class L) aligned with 0% mileage accrual according to American Airline’s website, I would have earned zero miles to my AAdvantage account for a 20,000 mile flight from NYC to Kathmandu, which was the deal breaker for me.

Another comparable priced option was a Gulf Air flight transiting through Europe and the Middle East to arrive in Kathmandu.

Since Gulf Air is a partner airline with American Airlines and the fare class I bought aligned with the 100% accrual rate of all flown miles, I earned all the miles for the flight.  You can’t assume that just because airlines are in the same alliance you’ll earn all the flown miles.  You have to pay attention to the airfare booking codes and the corresponding earning rates table to be sure.

Keeping Miles

Frequent Flier Miles have an all-inclusive expiration date, meaning that if there is no account activity for the specified duration as detailed by the FFM program, all your miles will expire, not just the older accrued miles.

The good news is that it’s very easy to keep miles from expiring.  All you need is to generate any kind of account activity, which includes: flying, redeeming miles for a flight, and crediting hotel/rental cars to your FFM account.  With the various ways to earn miles these days, the options are nearly endless.  The obvious key is to keep your out of pocket expenses low if you have to generate account activity to keep your miles from expiring.

For instance, nearly all FFM programs have online shopping portals such as the “AAdvantage eshopping” or the “U.S. Airways Dividend Sky Mall” where a single low cost purchase from these Online Malls will generate account activity to reset the expiration date.

Things to Keep in Mind

♦ Know the alliance and partner members of your FFM account.
♦ Check your FFM account earning rules to determine which fare classes on alliance and partner airlines will earn miles to your FFM account.
♦ Accumulate miles in a single account because miles across different airline programs cannot be combined. It’s always best to have a large balance in a single account to be redeemed for travel.
♦ Always give the gate or ticketing agent your FFM account number before your flight because it’s easier to receive miles rather than after the fact.
♦ Never let your miles expire.  It’s easy enough to keep them from expiring with all the ways to generate any kind of account activity.
♦ If you have large amounts of reimbursable expenses, credit card spending on a co-branded airline card may be a method to earning miles.

Mike Choi is known as the resident world traveler in his office and blogs about his travels at thefitworldtraveler.com.  With his knowledge of FFM, he runs a part time frequent flyer mile consulting shop at iflywithmiles.com to help those with miles see the world.  After reading books authored by Rolf Potts, Mike’s been inspired to take a career break to travel long term.

Check back on Wednesday when Mike explains how to best redeem your hard-earned frequent flier miles.

Photo credit: Vox Efx



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