Everything You Need to Know About Airline Miles

Individuals that often travel by plane could potentially benefit from airline miles programs. Airline miles, also known as “frequent flyer miles” or “travel points,” offer special perks to ensure that travellers get the most out of their travel budget. Some examples of these perks include upgraded seats or saving money on another flight. Whether you’re headed out on a coastal getaway, or traveling for work, it’s worth getting a kick-back from your trip. From choosing a program, all the way to redemption of points, here are some tips and suggestions towards effectively utilizing airline miles. 

Who Offers Frequent Flyer Miles?

Frequent flyer miles are a form of loyalty program that is offered by airlines. Airline miles are also offered by other entities such as hotel chains as well as credit card companies. Oftentimes, frequent flyer miles are marketed under a variety of pseudonyms:

  • Loyalty programs;
  • Rewards;
  • Miles (with a capital M)

Loyalty programs offered through airlines are free and are typically are utilized through three specific airlines. Those three airlines partner with three airline alliances. The partnerships are as follows:

  1. Delta AirlinesSkyTeam 
  2. United AirlinesStar Alliance 
  3. American AirlinesOneworld 

Loyalty programs offered through credit cards typically have annual fees associated, but they vary from provider to provider. There are hundreds of credit card loyalty programs that offer different interest rates, annual fees, and perks. Examples include:

Capital One Venture Card:

  • Annual Fee: $95 (this is waived the first year);
  • APR: 17.99 – 25.24% on approved credit (OAC);
  • Rewards: 
    • 10x miles on thousands of hotels;
    • 2x miles on every-day purchases;
  • Opening Bonus: 50,000 airline miles.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card:

    • Annual Fee: $95;
    • APR: 17.99 – 24.99% OAC;
    • Rewards: 
      • 2x points at restaurants and travel worldwide;
      • 1 point per dollar spent on every-day purchases;
    • Opening Bonus: 60,000 airline miles.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Card:
    • Annual Fee: $69;
    • APR: 17.99 – 24.99% OAC;
    • Rewards: 
      • 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest services;
      • 1 point per dollar spent on every-day purchases;
    • Opening Bonus: 40,000 airline miles.

How do Frequent Flyer Miles Work?

Frequent flyers operate relatively simply; after opening a respective account, you make purchases with your card, and those purchases accumulate points that are associated with your frequent flyer number. There are parameters specific regarding the types of purchases that accumulate rewards; Miles vary from provider to provider. Although nuanced, “Miles” does not refer to actual miles traveled, it refers to the number of miles accrued. The rewards that are accrued depend entirely on the type of rewards program that is being used and what their limitations and guidelines are. For example:

Amount of Travel: 1000 miles through Southwest Airlines;

Card Type: Southwest Rapid Rewards Card;


  • 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest services.
  • 1 point per dollar spent on every-day purchases.

According to what the Southwest Rapid Rewards Card entails, the amount of frequent flyer miles accumulated comes out to 2000. This is understood through 1000 (miles traveled through Southwest Airlines) x 2 (points per dollar spent on Southwest services) = 2000 (airline miles).

What Can You Use Frequent Flyer Miles For?

Frequent flyer miles vary from program to program, but typically if the program that you belong to is a specific airline, then the use of acquired rewards is limited to the airline and their respective partner services. For example, if your airline miles program is through Delta, you can use rewards for discounted flights, upgraded seats, and renting a car through Hertz (a Delta partner). 

Miles earned through credit card rewards differ from specific airline rewards. Oftentimes the miles earned will be travel-related. Examples include gas, hotels/motels, dining, as well as flights. Just like specific airline rewards, miles earned through credit card vary from card provider to card provider. 

How to Redeem Frequent Flyer Miles

Once you have chosen an airline mile provider and gained frequent flyer miles, the process for redeeming the Miles is straightforward. Again, the exact stipulations guiding the redemption of rewards depends on the provider, but most processes are fairly universal:

  1. Access the webpage associated with your provider;
  2. Enter in your frequent flyer number and find the flight you would like to book;
  3. Book the flight.

While this broadly explains the process of redeeming rewards, there are more variables beyond the surface. Blackout dates are the days that are blocked off from rewards (i.e. holiday’s, industry busy days, etc.) In most cases, there are also limited seats available for individuals flying via frequent flyer miles in order to make sure the flight is profitable. Consider planning trips in off-seasons in order to avoid this issue. 

Although it is a reward, when you redeem frequent flyer miles, you pay taxes and fees particular to the provider on what you choose to spend your Miles on. Lastly, sometimes the number of points you have earned does not equal the value of points that a flight or upgrade requires. In this case, you simply pay the difference.

Getting the Most Out of Your Miles

While Miles may appear simple, there are methods to ensure that users get the most out of their miles:

  • Exotic Destinations: Big trips to popular or exotic areas accumulate lots of points;
  • Checking Expiration Dates: Typically reward redeemability spans from 18-24 months, but in some cases there are none; 
  • Multiple Rewards Programs: Open accounts with multiple rewards providers so that you aren’t limited to one provider for travel needs.
September 19, 2019