Miles & Points Basics
I have been into this whole miles & points hobby for just over 2 years now and since I started writing about it I’ve had a lot of people ask me how the “game” works, so this article will you the miles & points basics. I’m not an expert by any means but hopefully you will realise that you don’t need to fly a lot or stay nights on end in hotels in order to save up for free flights or nights. In a separate article I will explain you how to get elite status in a quicker way, because there are so many different tricks you can use!
First of all I wish that I had gotten into this whole travel thing way earlier as both airlines and hotels are starting to change their loyalty programs, so it makes it more difficult more people like me that play the system to earn a lot of miles or points on the cheap. But as with flaws in computer systems, we will manage to find another loophole to exploit.
Airlines / Alliances
Let’s get into the airlines first and the thing you need to remember is that the entire airline industry is divided into 3 big alliances, each of them of having their own benefits & perks for the member airlines. The 3 alliances are:
- Star Alliance
I won’t list up all airlines belonging to each alliance cause that would make this article way too long, but here’s a short list to give you a general idea:
- American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia & Japan Airlines belong to the OneWorld alliance
- Air France, Alitalia, Delta, Garuda Indonesia, KLM and Korean Air belong to the SkyTeam alliance
- Air Canada, ANA, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish Airlines and United belong to the Star Alliance
Besides the 3 alliances there are also airlines who don’t belong to any alliance, airlines like Etihad and Emirates for example. There are many others as well, but I won’t go into too much details cause you’ll get an information overload, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me for a detailed explanation!
The obvious way to collect air miles and/or elite status with any of these airlines is to fly, sounds simple doesn’t it? And you don’t even need to fly frequently in order to save up miles, all you have to do is sign up for frequent flyer programs. It doesn’t matter if you fly maybe once or twice a year for your yearly vacation, just sign up! Most of the times if people come to me and tell me they took a flight, the first thing I ask them won’t be how their flight was, but if they collected the air miles!
I am currently a member of 23 different frequent flyer programs! WTF I hear you think, haha I know but hear me out… I created accounts with airlines that I fly with but also airlines I have never even flown with, why? Well cause besides flying there are other ways to get FREE miles. It would be silly to turn down anything for free right (like all the Jack Daniels on my 7 days mileage run trip)!
If you don’t believe me, check these next examples of airlines where I got free miles:
- 1000 miles with Aegean Airlines by signing up for their Frequent Flyer Program (FFP)
- 1500 miles with Air Berlin by signing up for their FFP
- 3000 miles with Copa Airlines by signing up for their FFP and completing my profile
- 5000 miles with Etihad by registering for one of their promotions
- 3000 miles with Lufthansa by writing hotel reviews
- 45.000+ miles with Lufthansa via creditcard spendings (1,5 mile for every Euro spend)
- 750 miles with Turkish Airlines by signing up for their FFP
- 17.733 miles with United Airlines by filling out online surveys
- 1000 miles with Virgin Atlantic by signing up for their FFP
That makes a total of 77.983 for FREE! That is enough miles for a couple of flights in economy class or one flight in business class if they were all in one specific program. Yes it takes up some of your time, but hey nothing ventured, nothing gained! There is a ton of ways to get even more miles, for example by renting cars, buying stuff online through shopping portals and even when you sign up for creditcards. Now in Europe the sign up bonus for an airline related creditcard is minimal compared to what is possible in the USA! In the US they sometimes offer a bonus up to 75.000 miles, now getting a creditcard isn’t always easy as it depends on your credit score and in contrast to what many people believe, having multiple creditcards doesn’t have a negative impact on your credit score. The rule is to make sure you pay all your bills on time! It’s possible to do creditcard churning, which is nothing more than signing up for a card, meet the minimal spend requirement, then cancel the card and sign up for a new one.
The miles can either be redeemed on the airline you earned them with or there is also the possibility of redeeming the miles for an award ticket on a partner airline within the same alliance. So if there’s no award availability on one airline, you can always look for it on the other airline.
Now these collected air miles don’t last forever as they all have an expiry date, which means you need to use (burn) them before a specific date. If you wouldn’t have enough miles to do something useful with them, there are ways to keep them from expiring. You could for example buy a minimal number of miles, which sell for like $ 17.50 per 1000 miles to keep your account active.
Most airlines will award you with a level of elite status depending on the number of times/miles you fly with them, in most cases the qualification requirements are quite high so for the average Joe this isn’t possible. Well say hello to the “elite status challenge” for which you can sign up with some airlines and allows you to get elite status in a short period of time. You can read more about this in a post I did a couple of weeks ago about my Platinum challenge with American Airlines.
A mileage run is a trip you take for the sole purpose of gaining additional miles, either cause you were able to fly a specific itinerary very cheap or cause you need a “couple” more miles to qualify for next years elite status. Some of you might remember the trip that I took in November to Honolulu, where I just spend a couple of hours and then took the same route home again. As I paid very little for the distance flown, this was a great scenario for a cheap mileage run!
In the end the Hawaii trip got me just over 36.000 air miles because I earn double miles due to my elite status and throw in a couple of bonus miles from promotions! Good enough for 2 oneway tickets in business class if you play your cards right. Combine this with the 80.000 miles I gained from my 7 day mileage run around the world and I have a nice tally of miles which can be redeemed for future flights in business and first class. Now if I were to book these future flight and pay for them, they would set me back over 12.000 Euros, whilst for my 2 trips I paid about 1600 Euros! I see the whole miles game as an investment, I put in some money, but I get a huge return on it. These miles will put me on planes I would normally never fly on and get me to places I would never see otherwise…
Besides saving up air miles, I also try to get as many hotel points as possible with about 10 different hotel loyalty programs. At some hotel chains it’s really easy to get status. I remember when I just got into this hobby that the Accor hotel group was simply handing out their Platinum elite status to anyone who registered and send them an e-mail! Those were the fun days haha, but like with the airlines the hotels are making it harder for their “loyal” customers to earn lots of points.
No matter how they try, I still manage to find ways to get me points and extra benefits. How many of you travel for work and need to stay in hotels? If you do, make sure to sign up for the loyalty programs! Any stays will get you points, the only thing you need to keep in mind is that you can’t book your stays through third party websites… Most hotel loyalty programs don’t give you any points if you book through an online travel agency, so create your account and make the bookings through the hotel website if they have a loyalty program.
The only exception to this rule is when it comes to cash back websites, which allow you to get cash back from your booking. All you need to do is create a free account and click to the hotel site from a portal website, this way you get 2 benefits for the price of 1! There’s more to it, but this is the basic idea behind it.
Many hotels do promotions year in year out to earn extra points, all that is required is for you to register yourself, again very easy! These promotions will get you bonus points or even free nights at certain hotels, you just need to be willing to read about it, learn it and (ab)use it to your advantage…
As long as it’s possible to take advantage of these loyalty programs and I’m able to benefit from them in any way, I will continue to do so. Like I said in the introduction, I’m far from being an expert at this game but I took a steep learning curve in the past 2 years and had some great trips because of it!
If you need any help or have any questions, please feel free to contact me and I’ll help you out. Take care for now and safe travels!