The Economics of Airline Miles – Part III

How to Maximize Airline Mile Earnings

In my previous articles in the series ‘Economics of Airline Miles’ I covered the Value of Airline Miles in part 1 and the Value of Elite Status in part 2. Continuing in the series, in this article I will discuss practical tips on how to maximize the airline miles you earn. As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, your airline miles are an asset. Treat your collection of airline mile accounts like a portfolio. To borrow a quote from the greatest portfolio owner in the world of real money, Warren Buffet:

Risk can be greatly reduced by concentrating on only a few holdings.

So, how do you maximize the airline miles you earn as you fly or perform other activities that earn miles? You focus. You focus on a few holdings. Here are my recommendations on how to focus your earnings:

Pick ONE frequent flyer program:

Focus requires that you earn your miles on one airline’s frequent flyer program. As most major airline are either the part of an alliance or have an extensive network of partner airlines, you can pick one program and collect miles on that while flying all the airlines that allow you to earn miles on that program. Now this tip may be somewhat impractical to implement. Due to pricing, routes, timings and seat availability, it is very likely that you will have to fly an airline that does not allow you to earn miles on the program you have chosen. I would cede that you will have to participate in more than one program. My recommendation is to have one primary program and the one secondary and if needed, even a tertiary. What I would recommend here is to participate at most one airline miles program per airline alliance.

I myself earn miles in three programs: My primary program is United Mileage Plus (United Airlines’ Frequent Flyer program), part of Star Alliance. In the last three years I have been fortunate to earn miles on United for almost every flight I have flown. The only exception was a couple domestic flights I flew in India on local airlines that have no frequent flyer program at all (a crime, if you ask me). As my secondary programs, I earn miles on Delta, part of SkyTeam and British Airways, part of OneWorld. I chose these airlines as they were the ones I happened to be flying when I flew on airlines outside Star Alliance in the past. This focus on one airlines program has earned me over 500,000 miles on United over the last few years. It is important to remember that when you have even just three frequent flyer programs that you earn miles on, you have to make sure you take steps to keep the miles on all three programs from expiring. This may become a challenge for programs you do not earn miles on as your primary program. I will give tips on keeping your miles from expiring in a future article.

Fly airlines in ONE Alliance:

As I explained in the previous section, you will fly multiple airlines. It is not possible to always just fly one. If you pick an airline program of an airline that is a member of an airline alliance, it expands your choices of airlines you can fly on while still earning miles on your primary program. For the 500,000+ miles I have earned on United airlines, other than United itself, I have actually flown on US Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss. All thanks to these airlines being members of the Star Alliance.

Fly only partner Airlines:

When you do have to fly an airline that is not in an alliance, look at the list of non-alliance airline partners your airline program has and try to pick one of those airlines. I recently flew Emirates Airlines from Dubai to Bangalore (DXB-BLR). No Star Alliance member airline flies that route. Emirates is not in any alliance (true for most airlines based out of the Middle East), but it is a United Airlines partner. So, I still earned miles o n United.maximize airline miles.jpg

Transfer Miles to ONE program:

If you have not focussed in the past and do have miles on multiple programs, in many cases you can transfer the miles (for a fee) to the program you want to focus on. Points.com is the most popular program that provides this service. I have discussed transferring miles in detail in my article – Selling Miles, Buying Miles and Trading Miles.

Disclosure: UnRoadWarrior.com is a Points.com Affiliate. If you go to points.com by clicking on their banner on this website and make a transaction, I will receive a small referral fee.

Shop with your points and miles at Points.com

Car Rentals and Hotel stays:

Here again, pick hotels and car rental agencies that allow you to earn miles on the frequent flyer program of your choice.

Get a Credit Card:

A credit card is probably the most leveraged method of earning airline miles. I wrote a two part article on How to Pick an Airline Miles credit card. So, to focus your miles earned, get a credit card affiliated to the frequent flyer program you have chosen to focus on.

In fact, I would recommend that you check whether the airline program you are choosing offers a credit card in the country you live in, before you pick it as your primary program. I love the airlines miles program from BMI. It is the most generous program I have seen. Unfortunately, it does not offer a credit card in the US. It is hence, not my primary program.

Become an Elite:

Last but not the least, become an Elite. As I discussed in detail in part 2 of this series – The Value of Elite Status, Elite status on a frequent flyer program will earn you bonus miles on that program, every time you fly. This bonus can be anywhere from 25% to even 100% of every miles flown! Nothing like the airline itself giving you free miles!

Share your thoughts – leave a comment below.

I will be back with my next article on how to Maximize your Elite Status Miles. This series continues with Part IV – Maximizing your Mileage Redemptions and the conclusion in PArt V – Is Accumulating Airline Miles really worth it?

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