Air miles are a simple concept that can still prove difficult for some to wrap their heads around. Fortunately, the truth is that air miles are only as complex as you make them. All that matters is what you want to get out of them.
Here, we will just go over the basics of air miles, and the best ways to rack them up. If you do a little due diligence, you can travel how you want by making your money work for you.
Who Is This For?
If you have no interest in travel, whether for work or vacation, this guide is not for you. We are going to go over some of the best ways to build up your air miles. Like any kind of reward worth chasing, these methods will require some deliberate effort on your part. Thus, this article was meant for individuals that want to work towards more frequent travel.
Don’t let that intimidate you though. Saving up air miles can be fun and easy! If you are a frequent traveler for either business or leisure purposes, then you will find information that is well worth making note of. This information can be easily applied to make your travel habits easier on your wallet.
What Are Air Miles?
Air miles are points that are used towards booking flights. They often go by other names, such as travel points or frequent flyer miles. Whichever way you choose to refer to them, they are the same thing. Air miles are a part of loyalty programs offered by various airlines and credit cards. Generally speaking, you can accumulate these points either by flying or by using specific credit cards, oftentimes for specific purchases.
These are the basics of what air miles are. There’s more to it, but for now, this is all you need to know to start gaining some miles.
Airlines offer rewards in their own unique way. Their offers differ from the simpler methods by which credit cards grant you air miles.
To get air miles from airlines, you typically start by signing up for a frequent flyer program. You can then rack up points by using this specific airline, at which point they are added to your account.
Important: You can redeem these air miles not only with the airline you are using but also with affiliated airlines.
Airlines are not the best places to aquire air miles from. Still, if you are traveling the same route often, it would pay off to sign up for that airline’s frequent flyers program for a start.
While this concept is primarily important to airline air miles, keep it in mind for later. We will get back to alliances, as there are specific methods by which you can redeem rewards with an alliance through air miles gained elsewhere…
There are 3 major airline alliances. These alliances cover the vast majority of the world’s major airlines, so it is worthwhile to become familiar with them. These alliances are:
- Star Alliance (Aeroplan points)
There are also a few smaller alliances, but they mainly consist of more distant and smaller airlines.
This is where the money is. Your choice of credit cards has a significant effect on your air miles rewards so we will look into it more.
Points are typically earned when you make certain purchases with your card and pay off your card balance. While you can’t just buy things on credit and fly for free, this presents another strong opportunity to save points for a flight while doing normal everyday activities. Done at its worst, gaining air miles this way is just a tedious chore. At its best, this is a simple and passive way to prepare for more flights.
Because you will always use your credit card more than you will fly, this is the faster and more efficient way to save. Fortunately, you can still use points from cards alongside frequent flyer program points. You can combine both towards the purchase of an air ticket.
Next, there are three types of points that can be earned with a card. These are fixed-value, transferable, and co-branded points. Let’s take a quick look at these option’s pros and cons.
Fixed-value cards offer the most straight-forward way to earn points. They are also known as ‘no surprise’ travel cards because you always know what you are getting with them. They reward you a certain amount of points as per the amount of money you spend and pay off. It’s as simple as that. The most common setup is a rate of one point per cent spent. This way, $10 lands you 1000 points, $100 lands you 10000 points, and so on.
The benefits of this setup are in its simplicity. The math is easy and your rewards are easy to determine. The downsides, however, have to do with the fact that you don’t gain any special advantages. You can always redeem your air miles for their cash value, but this is not the way to spread your wings.
Transferrable travel credit cards allow you to transfer points and awards from different alliances as well as different partnerships in the airline industry. This makes way for a few new opportunities for you to take advantage of a few special, hidden deals.
The thing is the awards gained on a transferable credit card aren’t always equal to the cash value of the flight ticket. In fact, you can often book an otherwise expensive flight for a small number of points. However, you do not get the predictability of fixed-rate cards with transferable ones. Here, you just simply transfer your points to the airline’s frequent flyer program.
Because of the lack of predictability and stability, transferable points cards are not as easy to make use of as their fixed-rate counterparts. On the flip side, they can often be quite useful if you have a more flexible travel schedule.
Co-branded credit cards are those that have partnerships with specific airlines. They are also often partnered to specific hotels. The most apparent perk is that if you intend on using these airlines or hotels often, then you can usually find decent deals. The downside is that these points are not compatible with different airlines, leaving you with limited options.
These cards are not recommended unless you plan to make good use of their specific rewards. But if you do intend to be a loyal customer to the airline in question, expect the best perks, including free baggage check-ins, lounge access, and occasional free flights, depending on how often you fly with them.
Which Points Are Best?
First of all, if you are reading this and are interested in saving on your frequent flights, you should sign up for at least one frequent flyer program. Start with the airline that you are most likely to use repeatedly. The benefits are small, but they add up. The combination of a frequent flyer program and the right card choice will have you racking up air miles much faster.
Next, what better way to get started than to sign up for a card that gives you free miles when you sign up? Some cards offer you this option, and we will go over some of these cards soon.
And finally, the real answer to this question depends on your own travel habits. While this can be a bit harder to determine, we can easily break this down into some of the most common generalizations.
If you need to fly the same route many times over, the best strategy involves two steps. Sign up for the frequent flyer program of the airline you take. Then sign up for any applicable co-branded card available. If this isn’t possible, get a fixed-value card. As a bonus, you should get a card that gives you free miles just for signing up.
Do you like to take long vacations to every continent, whenever you can? If you are a spontaneous and adventurous traveler, then the best idea is at least one frequent flyer membership, preferably one in each major alliance. From here it is good to have a card that offers some transferability between airlines. There are even some cards that cater specifically to the more nomadic travelers. As such, be on the lookout for the cards that best suit your travel desires.
Other Card Tips
- Most credit cards that offer air miles plans come with annual fees. Make sure to add this expense to your equation when setting your plan up
- It never hurts to get nice things for free. Try signing up for a card that comes with free startup miles. Just remember to cancel it before your annual payment is due. Also be sure to check the fine print. This is a sneakier tip for budget-conscious world travelers.
- You are not limited to one card like you are not limited to one frequent flier program. Just make sure to research the costs beforehand and make sure you’re taking full advantage of your options. Likewise, make sure your options aren’t taking advantage of you.
Not All Cards Are Equal
Even within the context of one method of travel, or one primary airline, there is always a best and a worst option. That being said, let’s have a closer look at some of the most common travel rewards cards.
What Are The Best Cards?
These cards serve as examples of what a good air miles deal looks like.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
This one offers one of the best deals we could find. It is free to switch to but then comes with an annual fee of $95. It offers the normal point rewards rate of $0.01 per dollar spent. It offers 50000 bonus points after $4000 on purchases in the first 3 months. This grants you about $625 towards your next trip. It also offers plenty of other perks such as travel insurance and no foreign transaction fees.
Discover It® Miles
This one is the best card we found that doesn’t carry an annual fee. It comes with an offer you can’t (or shouldn’t) refuse. They will match your total air miles at the end of the first year, and double it. If you earned 50000 points in the first year, they will give you another 50000, totaling more than $800 in travel. It can be used for any airline and any hotel.
Other Ways To Rack Up Points
There are a few other interesting ways to earn air miles that are worth looking into.
Some websites offer free air miles in exchange for trying free products and providing feedback. There are also sites that are dedicated to tracking every promotion that allows you to gain easy air miles.
Another place to look is in your local bank. Some banks offer air miles in exchange for opening up a new account.
Saving The Right Way
In the end, air miles are not that complicated. If you are crazy about travel and want to take advantage of every possible source of points, then they can be complex. It all depends on what you want to get out of them.
It can also be said that the more complex your travel needs are, the more complex it becomes it rack up air miles.
Either way, the best way to get started now is to open a frequent flyer miles account. Then, get the right card, preferably a simple one with straightforward benefits, and you’re ready to go.