One of my goals when I “retire” (I say “retire” because I don’t actually ever want to retire, but continually build passive income streams and doing what I love forever), traveling is first on my list!
Here is a little fun fact about me, I was born in Italy. I am a certified military brat and moved to the states for good when I was 9. Now we never really took vacations when I was younger because my dad always said: “living overseas was our vacation!”
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A Love of Flying
No, the first time I ever flew was when I was 3 days old. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I have always loved to fly.
There is something so exhilarating to me about flying. Now, I could totally do without going through security and taking my shoes off to actually get on the plane.
As a teenager and adult, I have flown a few times. I often would wish that I had a job that required me to travel. However, now with having 5 children, I am happy that I don’t.
But for those of you who do travel for work or pleasure
Guest contributor Ben Lovell joins us today to share his expert tips on how to get the most out of your airline miles, even if you don’t travel for work.
Using Airline Miles to Fund Your Next Flight
Compared to a daily life of brown bag lunches and 87 octane commutes, serious travel can be seriously
expensive. There are two overarching strategies for making travel as budget-friendly as possible. The
first and most obvious is to spend less money. The second is to generate your own rewards from the
travel itself. The travel industry is full of benefits for the taking, all aimed at getting and retaining your
Benefits of Miles
First, let’s talk briefly about why you even want miles. You can’t pay your rent with them and they come
with pretty mediocre bragging rights. They can, however, save you A LOT of actual hard currency.
When you accumulate enough miles, you can cash them in to book flights. You can also use the miles to
pay for part of a flight and complete the transaction in cash. This second strategy is usually not as
efficient a use of the miles.
You can also redeem airline miles to upgrade from Economy to Business or First Class.
Miles Vs. Status
Airline ‘miles’ is a fluctuating balance that you earn and spend. ‘Status’ refers to thresholds achieved by
flying a certain number of miles on a particular airline in a given year. Your status qualifies you
for automatic perks without having to spend your miles. A flight’s ‘upgrade list’ and ‘standby
list’ are ranked by status. So, as you move up in status, you qualify for perks, including free
upgrades, without having to spend your miles.
Discounts at Hotels and Rental Cars
The travel industry is extremely intertwined. Airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, and other
travel-related enterprises are all partnered with each other. Their goal is to keep you spending money
within their circle of businesses. As a savvy traveler, you can take advantage of this by using your airline
miles to pay for a hotel room and rental cars.
Strategies for Maximizing Miles
Now that we’ve explored a few of the benefits that you can enjoy by accumulating miles, let’s develop
some tactics for getting the most miles from our travel.
Concentrate on One Airline (and Partners)
Airlines give mile-related benefits to encourage loyalty. Pick one airline and travel it as exclusively as
you can. (This will also help with your status.) Airline maps are a hub-system, with each airline flying
primarily into a handful of airports. Focus on an airline which hubs near your home and travels to your
frequent destinations. Airlines often let you share miles with other airlines in their group. For instance,
Air Canada and United are both part of the Star Alliance, so your miles are good for either.
Stay, Dine, & Shop with Affiliates
Just as you can use your airline miles to pay for certain hotels and restaurants, you can generate miles
by patronizing affiliated lodging and other businesses.
Use the Right Credit Cards
Free miles is a huge perk of signing up and using certain travel credit cards. Read more in the last
section of this article.
Work Hard. Play Hard.
If you travel for work, you may not have to pay for the travel to get the rewards. Many businesses let
you assign loyalty points and miles to your personal accounts. If you have a hand in booking your own
travel, you may be able to make arrangements that favor your favorite airlines, hotels, and other
businesses. Finally, if you book your own travel for reimbursement, you can generate even more perks
by paying with a business credit card that has rewards.
Best Airlines for Perks
Proximity to your home and travel destinations may not be the only factor in choosing which airline to
laser in your loyalty. Let’s take a look at the ones with the best frequent flier programs.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is generally considered the best airline frequent flier program, primarily due
to the numerous ways you can earn and spend miles. Alaska partners with 16 other airlines including
American Airlines and British Airways. You can earn miles through their numerous hotel, retail, and
rental partnerships and can use the miles on the majority of Alaska Airlines flights.
Delta SkyMiles is an even more robust loyalty program than Alaska. It has 20 partner airlines and your
miles never expire. Why is it generally ranked lower than Alaska? Because so many people fly Delta, the
upper-level loyalty tiers are extremely hard to achieve.
JetBlue TrueBlue also has no expiration on points, plus there are no blackout dates to limit mile
redemption on Jet Blue flights. The downside is that it is a much smaller airline so the partner
opportunities for earning and redeeming miles are not as abundant.
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The Bottom Line
Serious travel takes serious money, there’s no way around that. But, the more you travel, the more that
travel starts to offset the cost of more travel. By doing your due diligence and focusing your loyalty on a
few, carefully chosen travel vendors, you can really benefit from economies of scale. Put simply, you
can really start to make your travel expenses make sense.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I actually cash-out my airline miles?
Generally speaking, the answer is ‘Yes’. However, this is usually a much worse deal than redeeming
them for travel. Also, many travel rewards credit cards offer a cash-back option. Again, this usually pays
out a fraction of the value you would enjoy if you exchanged the miles for travel on the airline where
you earned them.
Can I transfer miles? Donate them? Will them?
Yes. Yes. And (potentially) Yes. With all of these questions, there are variables, strings, stipulations, and
gray areas. Mileage transfers to person generally cost a fee (like a bank transfer). Donations to a charity
(e.g. The Red Cross) count as a tax deduction for the airline, not the individual. If it’s not possible to
directly will an heir your miles, you can leave behind your username and password and they can transfer
them. Always check with the airline where you are accumulating miles and a third-party expert if
A passionate envoy of the written word, freelance writer Ben Lovell relishes a good tale. From fact to fiction (and all the shades between), he channels the storytellers of old with the hope of enriching the world for his readers. His writing has appeared everywhere from travel articles to short fiction contests. Follow his semi-occasional musings at the Gothic Optimist. You can also find him on Facebook.
How do you use your airline miles?