What are air miles and how do they work?

What are air miles and how do they work?

Travel for free with your everyday purchases and get great benefits being a frequent traveler. We’ll take a look at what an air miles plan is, who can participate and how you can start earning points for your next trip.

What is an air miles plan?

Air miles are a program created by major airlines, which allows travelers to earn points -by miles or kilometers, according to each company’s policies- every time they buy an airline ticket or make a purchase with their credit cards.

The miles or points you accumulate are themselves worth something. Once you’ve accumulated enough miles, you can redeem them for airline tickets and other benefits such as upgrades on your flights, hotel stays, car rentals, among others.

How to participate in an air miles plan?

Each airline has a different plan, but they all agree on one thing: To earn as many miles as possible, you must make purchases with your credit card. The two modalities that exist are:

  1. Directly with the airline: You accumulate miles in a frequent flyer account every time you use the services of the airline. It is the most convenient option for people who travel frequently.
  2. Through the bank: You get points with your credit card every time you make a purchase or payment. Then you can exchange points for miles in the airline associated with the plan. It is the most convenient mode if you are not a frequent traveler.

If you’re not a frequent traveler

After air travel, one of the main sources for miles are credit cards. If you are not a frequent flyer, you can earn miles with your credit card’s loyalty program without becoming a member of the frequent flyer program. Most banks have an agreement with an airline or a group of partner airlines. Almost all airlines have a frequent flyer program.

For this you must make sure that your bank has an agreement with an airline or group of airlines, and that this agreement will be convenient for you.

Each card and airline has a different mile earning system. In addition, even if your bank offers this plan, it is possible that your credit card doesn’t have it activated right away and all you have to do is request it. You can do so through the internet or through the phone, by contacting your bank. If you are not a member of any airline, you will get a frequent flyer account instantly so you can earn miles every time you make a purchase with your credit card. The amount of miles is calculated differently depending on each bank.

You can earn miles with your everyday expenses, each time you make a purchase or pay for a service. Credit cards are one of the most practical and useful ways to accumulate miles in the frequent flyer programs of airlines, because you can do it without even getting on a plane while taking advantage of the payments you make in your everyday life.

We also recommend you to keep an eye on the special promotions that often vary according to the partnership the bank has with the company at any given time. Some banks only provide such benefits to their select clients.

Tips to earn miles with your credit card

  1. Before acquiring a credit card, find out what are the current promotions regarding air miles plans, and how long do those promotions last.
  2. Check if they award points with any type of purchase or if there are any restrictions. And if you have multiple credit cards, make sure to do most of your purchases with the credit card associated with your miles plan.
  3. Check the expiry date of your miles. The accumulated miles will expire after certain period of time if your account is inactive. Don’t forget to read the terms and conditions of your miles plan.

If you are a frequent traveler

If you are a frequent traveler, you’ll be able to take advantage of all those hours of flight, and you’ll earn miles with each purchase of airline tickets. Within frequent flyer plans, you can also earn miles with the purchase of goods and services in any of the companies associated with your airline, by staying in certain hotels or renting cars in certain companies.

But for this to work, you must first become a member of a frequent flyer program of any airline. Most airlines have a frequent flyer program. Choosing the best program depends on each person and their customs when traveling. However, it is advisable to choose an airline that, from your place of residence, offers flights to a wide variety of destinations. Please note that miles can not be transferred from one frequent flyer program to another, so to earn miles it’s important to always travel with the same airline or group of partner airlines, in order to centralize in a single account all of the miles you earn.

You can sign up by entering the website of your preferred airline. Most frequent flyer programs allow you to register on their websites and the registration is usually free. Remember that enrollment in such programs is per passenger; therefore, if all of your family is traveling, you must register each person separately. There’s no need to be a citizen of the country to which the airline belongs.

Once you have entered your data, you will receive a membership number and password. You are now ready to start accumulating miles!

As a member of a frequent flyer plan, remember that you can earn miles with the expenses that you make with your credit card. Your credit card must have an agreement with the airline or group of airlines of which you are a member.

Iran Air A300-605R_fly_tickets_miles_shahram shirkhani
Image courtesy of Peter Russell at Flickr.com

Redeem your airline miles

Once you’ve accumulated enough miles, you’re ready to redeem them. The main objective of those who accumulate miles is to redeem them for free airline tickets. But the miles can also be used for upgrades or as part of payment of a ticket.

The vast majority of frequent flyer programs also allow you to redeem other products or services such as hotel accommodations, magazine subscriptions, car rentals and all kinds of objects. In this case you should evaluate what is best for you, if you spend your miles on certain products or services or whether it is preferable to continue to keep your miles for future trips.


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