Step 4: Airline Programs

Congraulations on finishing the first three steps! They are by far the most time consuming part of “setting up” to earn a ton of miles and points, and bring you closer to free travel.

This step will teach you about the basics of airline awards.

Each airline publishes their own rules for the number of points required to fly to a destination. Most programs require a fixed number of points based on zones and continents, others require a number of points based on the actual distance flown, and some points are redeemable at a fixed cash value toward the flight’s cash price.

Legacy Airlines

Alaska, American/US Airways, Delta, and United all currently require points based on the zone which you are traveling to and from. For the past several years the standard cost has essentially been 25,000 for a coach roundtrip seat anywhere in the continental US. Aside from that instance, the amount of points required can vary widely.

For example, a one-way business class trip to Europe is 50,000 American or Delta miles and 57,500 United miles.

Distance-Based Awards

British Airways offers distance based awards that can be a great deal. For instance, if your total flight distance is less than 650 miles, you pay only 4,500 British Airways Avios (what they call their miles). Flights between 650 and 1,150 miles are 7,500 Avios. This can allow one to acheive tremendous value for short hops. You can redeem Avios for flights on American or US Airways domestic flights.

Fixed Value Points

Southwest and Jetblue operate their reward programs a little differently. The price of their flights in miles is directly related to the cost of that same flight in cash. Southwest points will always be worth 1.43 cents toward the cost of a flight: a $143 flight will cost 10,000 points. Jetblue points vary slightly based on flight data but are normally worth 1 to 1.5 cents a piece.

Airline Alliances

There are several airline partnerships in which you can redeem one airline’s miles for flights on another airline. The three major airline alliances are oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance. Other programs such as Alaska airlines don’t belong to an alliance, but you can redeem their miles for flights on American, Delta, and others. This is the primary way you can use domestic frequent flyer miles and US credit card sign up bonuses to get to exotic locations around the world.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Although Frequent Flyer miles can be used to essentially travel the world for free, there are some airlines and even airports that charge high fees in addition to miles and points required for an award flight. Some fuel surcharges (airline based) be avoided and all taxes and fees (airport based) cannot be, but keep this in mind when shopping around for award seats.

At the end of this step:

  • You’ll have a basic understanding of how airlines price award tickets.
  • You’ll understand that taxes and fees are sometimes unavoidable, but airlines vary widely on assessing fuel charges on award tickets.