Plane-hopping is as common as a cold today. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a meeting across the country, the number of people flying commercially has skyrocketed.
Digital nomads are leveraging ever-decreasing flight ticket prices and increased routes/ networks to stay on the move. Flying regularly has its benefits – benefits that have to be explored in-depth and taken advantage of.
Frequent flyer programs have evolved quite a bit, since their conception a few decades ago. Used in the right way, they can save you money when you buy new flights or an upgrade by redeeming the points you’ve accumulated.
Additionally, depending on the airline, you can get free upgrades, access to lounges at airports and priority boarding with an elite status, that will make your flying experience far more comfortable especially if you need to be working while traveling.
So, how to get started? Here’s what you need to know!
What are Airline Miles and How Do They Work?
Airline miles, or frequent flyer miles (also known as travel points), are loyalty points awarded as part of loyalty programs offered not only by airlines but also connected credit card companies and hotels as well.
Assuming you have signed up for the relevant loyalty program, based on how much you spend on an airline ticket or hotel stay, you accumulate a set amount of points. You additionally accumulate points with airlines own credit cards -or those that have partnerships with them- to also earn miles when doing any purchase with them.
These accumulated points/ rewards/ miles can be redeemed from the airline, hotel or the credit card company when you buy upgrades or new flights in case of airlines or extra nights in the case of hotels, or even convert them, for example converting hotel points into airline smiles.
For example, Delta and American Airlines let flyers redeem earned miles for an upgrade to first-class or business class seats. Depending on the airline, points can even be used to redeem event tickets, cruises, and other experiences. Some programs even allow customers to exchange hard-earned points for electronic gadgets, subscriptions, merchandise, and more.
Besides earning miles, whenever you fly by using an airline’s loyalty program you’ll also earn more airline status points, for a higher level and benefits, like access to lounges, more free checked baggage, priority boarding, among other advantages.
The most important airlines are also part of airlines alliances that will allow you to use their own loyalty program, earn miles, etc. whenever you travel within the same group of airlines that they have partnered with. The most important airlines alliances are:
- Oneworld: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Latam, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, and more.
- Star Alliance: United, Lufthansa, Swiss, Turkish Airlines, Thai, TAP, Singapore Airlines, Avianca, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Air New Zealand, Air China, Air Canada, Brussels Airlines, and more.
- SkyTeam: Delta, Air France, AirEuropa, Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, AeroMexico, KLM, China Airlines, Alitalia, Korean Air, China Eastern, and more.
What are the best airlines, hotels and credit cards points and loyalty programs?
With so many airlines alternatives and their loyalty programs, it’s important to identify which are those that provide the best rewards to travelers. Here are the top travel loyalty programs selected by well known industry publications:
- From the 2019 TPG Awards: In the US, Delta SkyMiles was selected to offer the best loyalty program and Airline Elite Status. British Airways Executive Club won as the best international airline loyalty program. From the hotels side, Marriott was the winner with Marriott Bonvoy.
- From the U.S. News Best Travel Rewards Program: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan was chosen as the best airline rewards program, followed by Delta SkyMiles and JetBlue TrueBlue. In the case of best hotels rewards program, Marriott Bonvoy was selected as the best again, followed by Wyndham Rewards and World of Hyatt.
- From NerdWallet Travel Loyalty Program Review: Alaska Airlines won in this case too as the best overall best frequent flyer program and Marriott Bonvoy as the best overall hotel rewards program.
As mentioned before, there are many credit cards -some of them with direct partnerships with airlines- with rewards programs that don’t only offer you benefits on their own, but also allow you to earn points that you can convert to airlines miles too depending on their partnerships and agreements, like American Express or Chase Sapphire.
Nonetheless, although most frequent flyer programs are free to join, -so there’s no harm in applying for every program available-, credit cards charge hefty monthly and annual interest rates that need to be considered.
Here are a few credits cards miles programs rankings and reviews for you to assess and select the best in your case:
- TPG Best Credits Cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, and more.
- uSwitch Best Travel Credit Cards: British Airways American Express, Virgin Money Travel Credit Card, and more.
- Best Travel Credits Cards from creditcards.com: Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Discover it® Miles, and more.
Remember to use any of them in a responsible way.
How to Earn and Maximize Airlines Miles?
The basic idea is that the more a loyal traveler spends on either the selected airline -or alliance-, hotel or credit card, the more miles they rack up, which is why is important to choose the one that provides the best value. Travelers with sufficient airline miles or points under their belt can redeem them for ‘award’ flights or even hotel stays. Depending on the partner list, customers can avail of a whole range of services in exchange for their airline miles.
Besides this, since airline miles can be used to make currency transactions, they have an intrinsic monetary value. Say, if the customer of Program 1 can redeem 10,000 points for $100, then each point or mile has a value of 1 cent. Program 2 might offer $200 for 10,000, which increases the value of a mile to 2 cents.
This is why travelers need to have a complete understanding of how miles translates to currency, as this helps them make the choice between 2 competing airlines easier. Check out the MileValue calculator and Calculating the Value of a Frequent Flyer Mile or Hotel Point for this.
Inspired travelers can use this saved cash to continue their globetrotting endeavors, which translates to more miles. There are ways to maximize this process:
- Research in-depth what each airline loyalty program offers and if the airlines within its alliance will allow you to easily get to your preferred destinations.
- Do the same with credit cards and start using those with the lower costs that also offer more benefits, that can be redeemed or transferred with your selected frequent flyer program.
- Stack up points with one airline -or those within the same alliance- rather than spreading it across different airlines that are not part of the same group. This makes purchasing tickets easier, lets the miles accumulate faster, and saves the flyer the hassle of having to transfer points between airlines.
- Buy through the airlines shopping portals, which will allow you to also earn miles from those purchases too.
- Buy points/miles when they go on sale and they cost less than their actual worth. For this, it’s fundamental that you identify how much points and miles are worth. Check out monthly valuations first.
- While some airlines allow flyers to keep their miles, others have expiry dates attached to them. It’s important to use them before they expire.
You should also take a look at the following useful guides for further actionable advice to maximize your miles value spend:
- Frequent Flyer Miles – Advanced Tips and Tricks You Need to Know
- How to Maximize Your Points and Miles This Holiday Season
- Eleven Ways to Maximize Frequent Flier Miles
- A guide to earning transferable points
As highlighted above, free tickets are the biggest appeal of airline miles. However, the benefits of earning points go beyond tickets alone. For example, customers without enough points to buy a ticket can use their existing miles to bump up flight amenities. This varies according to the airline.
It’s important to peruse the terms and conditions of each specific flyer program through the resources provided above, as they all have different rules. Hopefully this guide will help you to get started and make the most out of your remote working or digital nomad flying experience! If you have any doubts or comments, please share them below!
Also, if you liked this article you might also enjoy the following:
- Best International Travel Insurance Plans For Digital Nomads
- The Best International Health Insurance Plans for Digital Nomads
- Top Mobile Hotspots for Digital Nomads: Keep connected while traveling around the world
- How to Keep Your Data Secure When Working Remotely
- 7 International Data SIM Cards for Digital Nomads & Global Travelers