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The Beginner's Holy Grail of Frequent Flyer Miles

Jessica April 27, 2016, 5:40 a.m.



You’ve been hearing various loyalty buzz words every time you travel and you have know idea what everyone’s talking about. Is figuring out airline loyalty programs rocket science to you? Whether you fly once a year or twice a day, let’s fix that so you can get in on all of their amazing benefits, such as free first-class travel—keep reading.



So what is an airline loyalty program—or a loyalty program in general? A loyalty program is a marketing strategy used by companies to encourage repeat business. Airlines use loyalty programs (aka “frequent flyer programs”) to encourage travelers to fly with them again, and again, and again—travelers earn miles towards offered benefits. However, there’s a lot in it for you as a traveler as well, including:



  • Complimentary lounge access
  • VIP lounge access
  • Priority boarding
  • VIP Limo service
  • Complimentary fare class and seat upgrades
  • Free flights
  • Discounts on flight purchasing fees
  • Expedited airport security line access
  • Free shopping (using their stores)



This list only scratches the surface of potential benefits, but it all adds up to a significantly improved airport and flight experience. With only a few exceptions, frequent flyer programs are free to join. Travelers actually pay for miles with every qualified purchase whether or not they’re part of the frequent flyer program. Thus, it’s in your best interest to accrue miles because it’s otherwise a lost opportunity for awesome benefits and flying swag.


Later on, we’ll walk through how to use (or “redeem”) those miles.


luxury airport lounge Qatar




How to Join a Frequent Flyer Program (or many)





Ready to board the “Sign me up!” bandwagon? Congratulations on taking the next big step towards a better travel experience—and becoming a frequent flyer pro. Let’s get started…



These days, most airlines provide a quick and easy sign-up process directly on the airline’s website or mobile app. Alternatively, you can also call the airline of your choice, follow the prompts to their frequent flyer program assistance, and sign up through the representative.



Frequent Flyer sign-up page in United app


Any way you complete this process, you’ll be given or shown your membership ID (the “frequent flyer number”)—don’t lose it as you’ll need this in the future. You’ll also generally receive a nice welcome package in the mail (Note: a few airlines do not send this).



Frequent Flyer Account Membership Card


There is no exclusivity factor where you can only join one airline program—so join the program for any and all airlines you fly with or you think you may fly with in the future!





Earning Frequent Flyer Miles





Now that you’re armed with all of your relevant frequent flyer numbers, let’s rack up those miles. There are plenty of ways to do this, but we’ll keep it simple for now—I’ll show you the advanced maneuvers in a future post.



  • Booking Flights



When booking your flights, whether online or through the phone reservation system, make sure you mention or enter your frequent flyer frequent flyer number. When booking through the airline’s website, if you’re logged into yourfrequent flyer account your frequent flyer number may already be entered into the appropriate text field (double-check to be sure). This is how your flight purchases help you rack up those miles.



  • Dining Out



A great way to earn miles is by making your everyday purchases, such as dining out. The benefit of earning by dining out, however, is that it doesn’t require the airlines’ special credit cards—any credit card in your wallet will do. If the airline(s) you’re a frequent flyer account for participates in Rewards Network, sign-up for a dining account for each of those airlines. Once you connect your credit cards to your airline dining accounts, you’ll earn miles for eating at participating restaurants.





Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles





So you’ve been building up your miles wallet and you’re ready to finally use them—awesome! First thing you’ll want to do is perform a quick award flight search on PEX+ for the airline that offers the flight you want for the best mileage price.



find the cheapest flight using your frequent flyer miles on PEX+


After determining your best flight option on, the final booking process is as simple as making a normal flight purchase. The only small difference is if your booking through the airline’s website, you’ll typically need to log into your frequent flyer account to complete the booking process. Once you complete the booking process you’ll receive an email with your booking confirmation.



redemption flight confirmation email