If you like to travel, and you aren’t currently taking advantage of the benefits of a frequent flyer program, then you may be leaving a lot of money and perks on the table.
A frequent flyer program can help you get free plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, tour packages, and first class upgrades; even if you aren’t a “frequent” flyer.
This is because you can earn airline points by using a Frequent Flyer Credit Card to buy the things you would normally buy.
However, there are many frequent flyer programs to choose from, so it’s a good idea to learn how they work. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right frequent flyer program for you.
1. Loyal or Discount Flyer
In almost all cases, you should probably choose a single airline and stick to it. The reason for this is that it will be tough to earn any rewards if your efforts are spread amongst many different airlines. 25,000 points can give you a free ticket from L.A. to New York under most airline programs, but 10,000 points on each of 5 different programs won’t get you anything.
However, for some people in some situations, it may make sense to get a “flexible” frequent flyer card. These cards will let you build miles that you can redeem for any airline. The catch is that they don’t build up as quickly.
2. Where Will You Fly the Most?
If you still can’t decide which airline program to join, you might want to consider the airport you’ll be flying to or from the most. For example, if you live in Houston, TX; you might want to join Continental’s program since Houston is a “hub” for Continental. Most major airlines have at least one or two hubs, and most airports are dominated by a particular airline.
3. Use a Comparison Tool
An online comparison tool can be great to quickly break down the benefits of the various programs. The WebFlyer Head2Head tool is a good place to start (webflyer.com/programs/head2head).
4. Points Opportunities
You may want to consider how many opportunities you’ll have to be able to earn points. Generally, the bigger the airline, the more opportunities you’ll get. American Airlines has the biggest frequent flyer program, and they have over 1,500 partners through which you can earn points. By comparison, Jet Blue only offers two opportunities: buying plane tickets and using their credit card.
5. The Freddies
The Freddies are the Oscars of the frequent flyer programs. Every year, airlines are recognized for their frequent flyer programs in a wide variety of categories. You may want to look up this year’s winners to see who is offering the best program.
Many airlines partner with each other, so you can transfer one airline’s miles to another. Look into who partners with whom.
7. Check the Expiration
When your miles expire might be a serious consideration when choosing your frequent flyer program. If you plan on saving your miles up for 5 years before you spend them, only to find out that the points expire after 2 years, then you might be in for a rude awakening.
Some frequent flyer programs’ points never expire, and some expire after only a year or 2; so make sure to read the terms carefully.
8. Customer Service
A trip is no fun if the airline has a habit of treating its free customers like second class citizens. Read reviews and testimonials from those who have gone through the program before you to find out their experience.
9. Travel Newsgroups
If you really want to keep your finger on the pulse of frequent flyer programs, then you should join a newsgroup. These travelers are endlessly discussing the latest airline programs and how to best take advantage of them.
Joining a frequent flyer program can thrust you on your way to getting a free plane ticket or two, but joining a well-chosen frequent flyer program that is suited for your travel habits can be even more powerful. Start researching now.