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Frequent flyer miles?

Okay, so I must be the only person in the world who doesn't know how frequent flyer miles work. How do I sign up for them? Is it a good idea?

Posted by
2779 posts

Everytime I fly a new airline that doesn't credit miles to any of my existing programs I sign up for their frequent flyer program on their website. That way you at least get something back - eventually. Of course it's best to concentrate collecting miles on one major account. Since you're based in Chicago where both United and American operate major hubs you'd ideally start collecting miles with one of them. Note: American is in the "oneworld" global airline alliance and you can collect and redeem miles will all of their member airlines. United is part of "Star Alliance" and you can collect and redeem in the entire network, including Lufthansa, Swiss, AirOne (Italy) and others. What will be your airline to Europe?

Posted by
435 posts

Thank you for your speedy response. So, I can only sign up with one airline? I tend to take American Airlines or United, because they fly out of Chicago, although Luftansa is my favorite company.

Posted by
2779 posts

You can sign up with as many as you like. Also note: You gain silver and gold status within your network much faster if you select the frequent flyer program of a non-American airline in your alliance. So e.g. if you sign up with Lufthansa's Miles&More program you can collect and redeem on United, US Airways and all other American and non-American Star Alliance carriers. BUT it only takes you 30,000 instead of 50,000 miles per year to gain Silver status, which means free access to airport lounges, priority waitlist clearance and other benefits. So if you fly American and United frequently, sign up with the Lufthansa and another non-American Oneworld frequent flyer program (e.g. that of British Airways)! I'm silver on Star Alliance because I use a United Mileage Plus card on which I as a non-American resident gain new stati much faster than "locals".

Posted by
632 posts


Thanks for the tips on the inner workings of the FF programs. I keep collecting miles in the hopes of one day being able to use them. Depending on destination, you have to book using your miles exactly 330 days before you return date (not departure date, I tried that with United and was denied)...unfortunately by the time I tried again, all of the available reasonable flights had let their limitied number of tickets (I'm not willing to change planes twice and spend more than 20 hours enroute to Europe).

Posted by
435 posts

How far in advance before buying the tickets do I have to sign up? And if I buy the tickets through or expedia or whatever instead of directly through the airline does it still work? If so, how do I collect the miles?

Thanks again!

Posted by
14133 posts

You have to sign up before your first flight. You make sure your reservation has your FF number on it or you can give it to the agent at the airport when you check in.

They keep track of your miles. You don't have to.

Bill, I think it depends on the routes you want to take. If you want to travel during a holiday and on a weekend, well, good luck. I just checked in October & November for n/s from my home airport to Europe and they had plenty of seats for FF. And we only have one N/S to Europe.

Posted by
22982 posts

Let me be a little contrary. If you are not involved in a ff program you may want to reconsider. A news report today suggested that ff program may go away not because the airline do not offer but because the seats will not be available. Airlines are so pressed for cash that flying a free seat doesn't make a lot of sense so they may made very few seats available to the point that it may be impossible to get seats on good flights. You might look at a credit card that pays two to five percent cash back and save that money. Going forward the airline game may get very complicated.

Posted by
4555 posts

Not to be contrary to a contrarian, but there's really no reason not to sign up to FF programs. Frank's suggestion of the cash-back credit card is good, but it won't preclude you from signing up from FF programs too. Rather than restricting seats, airlines may end up opening more up to FF mileage. They must carry the value of their points as a liability on the books, and there are billions of points lying around out there. Any time they can get someone to surrender their points for a ticket, that's a little less liability to record. Last year, for example, Air Canada finally abandoned the idea of a limited number of seats for FF and opened up every seat on every flight to members. Granted, you must still be early to claim one at the lowest reward level, but it's still much easier to get one than in the past. You might also check the various airlines' upgrade plans. Many will let you use some points to upgrade from economy to business or first class....not a bad idea if you're flying overseas and have to spend several hours aboard an airplane!

Posted by
632 posts

We typically fly business class (from SFO to anywhere in Euro is a long NS flight)so I've been trying to use them on business class, and I have played around with all the dates available around the time I want to travel, so it's not a matter of cheap tickets or weekend travel...there just aren't that many ff tickets available. And for those who may have heard about the Amex Platinum 2 for 1 deal, it's not worth it. The price for the single ticket exceeds the actual price for which you can buy two tickets, and the Amex tickets come with restrictions (such as black out dates) not found on tickets you buy.

Posted by
632 posts

Frank USA,

I think you are right about the Oct - Nov time frame...things start to free up by then...unfortunately, my wife likes the early shoulder period when traveling anywhere around the Med (late September-early October).

Posted by
144 posts

a couple of things. you can sign up after your flight; i think the limit to use previous flights is 6 months.

i must be the only person on earth who doesn't have a problem using her ff miles. i have flown on a few days notice in an emergency, and i am flying to europe this summer. we save our ff miles for summer because the fares are so high. we booked our flight 3 or 4 months ago. i am traveling from my home city to franfurt with 2 stops. leaving 6am july 4 and arriving 9am july 5, which isn't bad.

the silver-gold thing is becoming more complicated in terms of using lounges. and also some lounges are giving you one drink ticket instead of putting out bottles of wine and beer. and the rules on lounges are different between partners in the same program. we could not use the lufthansa lounge in frankfurt because we were only silver, but we could have used the united one. confusing!

but i definitely think collecting ff miles is a good thing if you fly more than once a year.

Posted by
445 posts

I couldn't live without FF miles! I have flown Virgin several times in Business (Upper Class) to London from NY on miles! If you have an AMEX card (just the plain old green one is all you need), and join the Membership Awards Program (fee), you can rack up miles(points) by using your card in the supermarket, gas station, some medical bills, etc. I pay my cable and cell bills through Amex every month.I charged my moving van expenses 2 years ago!
In this way you are accruing one point per dollar you spend which equates to one mile in your FF program. Those miles add up quickly when you use your Amex for everyday expenses. I let my points accrue in my Amex Mem. Rewards program until I wish to transfer them to my Virgin FF program. I belong to Air France and Continental FF programs as well.Since Virgin now flies from Chicago to London. as well as from LAX and SFO and east coast cities,their flights (which are always a delight even in coach!) are available to more travelers. I never see Virgin mentioned here(except by me!) and they are rated one of the best trans-Atlantic carriers. I have never had trouble booking a reward flight with them. From time to time they have "Sales" when you can get a flight with fewer miles and some cash. This is a really good way to get a cheap Upper Class ticket.They one of these sales on now for summer flights.

Posted by
6898 posts

Matti, if you like Lufthansa, as do I, you could go with United. Lufthansa is one of their Star Alliance partners.

Posted by
186 posts

If you're going to be flying American be sure to sign up for an American Advantage mastercard (I'm guessing the other airlines have their own cards also). I run all my business purchases (I'm a designer buying fabric, blinds etc from vendors; yellow pages also accept credit card) through the card -- I think they cut me off at $100K/100,000 miles which I usually hit in October. This has worked wonderfully for us. We most often buy a coach seat for money and then upgrade one level using points.

It does take some advance planning and flexibility to be able to redeem miles. For instance in November we made reservations on American from LAX through O'Hare and on to Montreal. We paid for the tickets and then upgraded to First Class. However there were no FF seats left on the outward leg from Chicago to Montreal so when we change planes to continue our trip we'll be back in economy. For a two hour flight that's no big deal, if we'd been going overseas we would have tried for another day.

Posted by
251 posts

I have the AA Advantage card through Citi Bank. I use it for EVERYTHING and I pay it off every month. It takes my breath away when I get the bill but it is for everything I would have paid cash, written a check or used a debit card for. I don't use it as a credit card. That way, I don't pay any interest charges and it doesn't get out of hand.

We've been able to use it many times. I'm even using it during the Christmas holidays. You just have to be a little flexible but if you plan a trip well ahead of time, usually you can do that.

Posted by
5677 posts

There are more reasons to belong frequent flyer program than getting free tickets. If you fly a lot, it pays in many ways to try and stick with one airline. It's not that you get to board early when you are Platinum, it that you're at the head of the stand by list when your earlier flight is cancelled. It's that you get to book your seat earlier and that more seats are available. It's the upgrades. But most of all it increases the chance that you'll get where you want to go. And before anyone complains about elitism, those of us who have the statuses have earned by flying A LOT! ; )


Posted by
2297 posts

Pam makes a good point. My brother travels a lot for his job but his employer only pays for coach fairs. He's tall and has back problems so he uses all his FF to upgrade his flights to business class.

In fact, upgrades have become so popular that on some flights these days first and business classes fill up 1/3 or even 1/2 of the plane!

I don't like using FF for trips to Europe as they force me into too many layovers (AC only offers London direct on points). I pay extra to get something more direct.

Posted by
51 posts

Yes, sign up for frequent flyer miles. I am headed to Europe next week with my 4 kids. We got 4 of the tickets using miles.

Posted by
77 posts

To go back to an earlier question, whether it "works" if you buy your tickets somewhere else depends on what you mean.

Generally you can earn miles on any ticket, whether it is bought directly from the airline or not--but I believe there are some restrictions if seats are bought through a consolidator or other supercheap means. Your FF plan membership number should be included with your reservation (and will usually be printed on your boarding pass) for the miles to be credited.

To redeem your miles (get a ticket in exchange for miles) you have to deal directly with the airline. There is usually a small ticketing fee, which is smallest if you do it all yourself on their website, less small if you talk to an agent on the phone, and least small if you deal in person an an office or airport.

Posted by
6393 posts

Frequent flyer programs are great (at least they have been...I worry about their future with all that's going on with the airliens and the economy, but I digress...).

You need to view the frequent flyer system as a massive, very complex, high-stakes game -- a game where the rules are complicated and confusing, and generally not explained to you. The best source of information can be found on another website:

I use FF miles for all my vacation travel...have used them for trips to...
Mexico (several times)
Costa Rica
(and many more)
and we're going to Spain this fall.

To be honest, I can't remember the last time I actually bought an airline ticket (other than short hops once I got to the other side of the world more or less for free). If it weren't for FF programs, I'd probably never go anywhere.

You definitely have to be smart about how you play the game, but it can indeed work to your advantage.