6 Assumptions About Frequent Flyer Programs That Will Keep You Grounded

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The changes that have occurred since Frequent Flyer Miles were introduced in 1981 are endless. Long gone are the days when you could call a representative on the phone that would help you navigate the system and find you a free seat on a non-stop flight to the destination of your choice at the last minute without fees. With consumers now smarter, technology more advanced, and fuel prices higher, the airlines have made the process of free travel more difficult to achieve – unless you know how to navigate the system.

6 assumptions about points that are just not true.

1. I don’t travel enough to accumulate miles.

Incorrect. Everyday life prepares you for free travel down the road. From your trips to the gas station, grocery stores and restaurants, every major airline offers a credit card that turns your purchases into miles. You can jump start your way to free flights by taking advantage of lucrative sign-up bonuses that credit card companies offer to new customers. In many cases the value of these bonuses are worth 2 round-trip flights. Another way to earn miles is to sign up for their frequent flyer programs, which are free to join. You’ll accelerate your earnings without traveling by shopping through one of the many airline portals where you can buy all of your necessities, from appliances to cell phones, to all sorts of gifts. In many cases, you can earn upwards of 30 miles per dollar spent with online shopping.

2. I’m not loyal to one airline so it will take forever to get free flights.

False. We all spend money – some more than others – so why not gather miles and points while you do so. There are many credit cards out there that are not airline specific. They allow you to accumulate travel points that you can instantly redeem with any airline. With these travel credit cards available it still makes sense to sign up for any frequent flyer program, so that with even the shortest of flights, combined with points you’ve earned from these cards, you can be in the air for free, faster. So if you are someone who looks for price and convenience, it makes sense to uncover all of your options.

3. Keeping track of all those random points is a hassle.

Not at all true. With easy-to-use sites, like AwardWallet.com, you can track of all your balances in one place. They allow you to compile all types of award points, and will keep track of expiration dates on your miles so you don’t have to worry about losing them unexpectedly.

4. Miles expire too quickly.

False. On some airlines, like Delta and Southwest, frequent flyer miles never expire. With other airlines, like British Airways, you have 36 months of inactivity until your miles will expire. There are a variety of ways to keep an account active without flying or carrying a credit card. You can buy miles for a nominal fee or shop via the airline portal. When you carry an airline credit card, your points never expire as long as your account is active. This means that most airline credit card programs will reset the expiration date when you make a small purchase like a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

It does take some due diligence to make sure your untouched miles don’t disappear, but you should treat them as assets and take the little time necessary to keep your accounts active.

 5. I can’t use my miles and points because of blackout dates.

Not always true. Most airlines don’t have blackout dates. The airlines will offer free seating on flights during peak times, but it will cost you more miles than at off-peak times. Last-minute travel may cost you more miles, or seats may no longer be available because somebody beat you to them. Some airlines, like Southwest, and travel-related credit cards advertise “no blackout dates” to encourage you to remain loyal to their brands.

6. The heyday of frequent flyer miles and free travel is over.

Hold your horses. With more than 70 frequent flyer programs worldwide and millions of members, these programs aren’t going anywhere. The number of miles needed for most domestic round-trip tickets has remained steady at 25,000 miles or even lower. Carry an affiliated credit card and you’ll get perks like free baggage, early boarding and travel statement credits. By offering valuable benefits like these, airlines are competing more than ever to gain loyal customers. Every program has its own policies, procedures, and status tiers that can affect your booking success. So we recommend focusing on one and getting familiar with how it works.

If you think the whole concept of free travel is too good to be true, think again. Start paying attention to the offers that are out there and you will start racking up more miles than you ever thought possible.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

  • Enjoy 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days – that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit toward an eligible travel purchase.
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases made while traveling abroad
  • 0% introductory APR for 12 months on Balance Transfers made within 45 days of account opening. After that, a variable APR will apply, 16.99%, 20.99% or 23.99%, based on your creditworthiness. There is a fee for balance transfers.

40,000 miles

Balance Transfer
0% Intro APR for 12 months

Ongoing APR
16.99%, 20.99%, or 23.99% variable

Annual Fee
$0 first year; then $89

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Editorial Note: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.