frequent flyer miles for the disloyal | cheap tickets for the disloyal

Frequent Flyer Miles

The best programs for the disloyal
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Your miles are yours!

• Frequent flyer miles are money... in a bank that doesn't pay interest. It can be really hard to use your money, and if you don't spend it fast enough it all goes up in smoke. Airlines may say that your miles have no monetary value whatsoever, but that's just some small print that doesn't make sense in real life.

• In a perfect world you'd have platinum status with all airline alliances, always enough miles for tickets and upgrades, and there are always free seats when you need them.

• In the real world you usually fly the dominant airline at your local airport. Miles from other airlines trickle in slowly, so expiration rules are your enemy.

• You'd never do business with a bank that steals your money if you don't spend your entire paycheck before the month is over, so why let airlines get away with it? Those miles are yours, even if it takes years of disloyalty before you have enough to cash them in.

That's why you need to pick the right frequent flyer program for the disloyal customer.


Pick the right program

What makes a good program for a disloyal customer like you?

• No expiry. If miles expire, any account activity should reset the clock.
• Credit cards and hotel may get you miles, but they're worth more in your primary frequent flyer program. There should be other ways to get miles and keep your account alive.
• Stores that hand out miles for online shopping should ship internationally at reasonable rates, because the best frequent flyer program for the disloyal are often from foreign airlines.

Keep in mind that...

• Many airlines (mostly european) tack ridicilously high fuel surcharges on "free" tickets. You can sometimes avoid them by using american programs for tickets with european carriers.
• Some airlines (mostly american) charge extra for luggage, even for the first bag.
• Changing or cancelling award tickets can be free, horribly expensive, or impossible. Check the small print before you buy.
• Some airlines offer one way tickets for half the miles. If the round trip you're after is not available, check if two one ways from different airlines will get you there and back.
• Airlines keep changing their frequent flyer programs, and those changes are usually bad news for the disloyal.


Useful frequent flyer programs for disloyal customers

SkyTeam
pros cons
Air France
KLM
Flying Blue
(see KLM for details) (see KLM for details)

pros cons
CSA Czech Airlines
OK Plus
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you earn miles once every 24 months.

Non-alliance partners
• In addition to to the SkyTeam airlines, you can also earn and spend OK Plus miles with Etihad Airlines and Air Malta.
Expiration
• Buying an upgrade or award ticket does NOT extend the 24 month deadline. You have to earn miles to keep your existing miles alive.

Miles without flying
• Apart from hotels and car rentals there are not many ways to earn miles for non-flying activity outside the Czech Republic.

Award ticket availability
• One-way award tickets only available for CSA flights, not for flights on partner airlines.

pros cons
  Delta
SkyMiles
Expiration
• Miles don't expire. However, according to the small print Delta may close your account if "a member does not respond to repeated communication attempts regarding the status of his/her account," so make sure you show a sign of life every once in a while.

Miles without flying
• Miles for shopping (Barnes & Noble and other online stores).

Cost of award tickets
• Miles&Money option if you're short on miles.

Delta switches to revenue-based mileage on January 1, 2015, so full-fare tickets will earn more miles than in the classic miles-based system.

Tip: some people claim to have received KLM/Air France miles on Delta award tickets. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.
Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for less miles (but usually not half the miles) on some flights, but not all. Some one way tickets cost more miles than a round trip!
• Delta charges a horribly expensive International Originating Surcharge for trips starting outside the USA, which can make a "free" award ticket more expensive than a paid ticket.

Award ticket availability
• Availability of standard reward flights sucks, available reward flights often cost an obscene amount of miles. Book well in advance and outside the holiday seasons for a chance to get a reasonably priced award ticket.
• Check this link to increase your chances of getting a cheap reward ticket.

Delta is switching to revenue-based mileage on January 1, 2015, so many economy tickets will earn less than in the old miles-based system. Business travelers will be tempted to buy the most expensive ticket that their company policy allows.

pros cons
  KLM
Air France
Flying Blue
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you earn miles on a SkyTeam airline ticket once every 20 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for surveys (e-Rewards*), but this does NOT extend the expiration deadline.

Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.
• You can pay excess bagage charges with miles.
• KLM does not add a fuel surcharge to award tickets for flights within Europe, North Africa, and Israel.

KLM charges for checking in bags on intra-european flights, but if you're a member of Flying Blue you can check in one bag for free (even at the lowest Flying Blue level).
Air France doesn't charge for the first bag, but they may follow KLM's bad example.

Tip: some people claim to have received KLM/Air France miles on Delta award tickets. Give it a shot and see if it works for you.

Expiration
• You need to earn miles on a qualifying SkyTeam airline ticket once every 20 months to keep your miles alive.
• Non-flying account activity does NOT extend the 20 month expiration deadline. Buying an upgrade or award ticket does NOT extend the deadline. Miles for e-Rewards surveys do NOT extend the deadline.

Cost of award tickets
• Intra-european business class award tickets cost an obscene amount of miles.

.      
OneWorld
pros cons
American Airlines
AAdvantage
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 18 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for surveys (e-Rewards*) keep your miles alive for another 18 months.

Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.

Program future
• American will (almost certainly) merge with US Airways (Star Alliance), which may bring account merging opportunities.
 

pros cons
  British Airways
Executive Club
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 36 months (transfers between British Airways and Iberia don't count as account activity).

Miles without flying
• Miles for shopping (play.com and other stores) keep your miles alive for another three years. Not available outside the UK and USA, unless you use this trick:
Make sure you're logged out of ba.com, then go to www.ba.com/estore and log into your BA account from there. Of course you can also use a proxy server or VPN network, as long as it gives you a british or american IP address. For europeans, play.com through the BA eStore is a very cheap way to keep your miles alive because they do not charge extra for shipping.

Cost of award tickets (within europe)
• One way award tickets for half the miles.
• Intra-european award tickets are cheap in terms of miles, but often come with obscenely high surcharges.
• If you had at least one incoming mile in the last year, you qualify for a fixed tax/surcharge fee on european award tickets, which is a lot cheaper than the normal fees and taxes. If you don't qualify for the fixed fee for intra-european you're better off transfering your miles from BA to Iberia and booking through them, even if the Iberia ticket costs more miles.

Cost of award tickets (long-haul)
• One way award tickets for half the miles.
• You can avoid the excessive surcharges on BA award tickets by transfering your miles from BA to Iberia and booking through them.

BA and Iberia
• You can transfer Iberia miles to British Airways and vice versa.
• You can move your miles from BA to Iberia to avoid BA's excessive surcharges on award tickets, and to avoid London Heathrow.
• Transfer between BA and Iberia only work if both accounts are at least 3 months old and active (i.e. have at least one incoming mile from another source).
• Tip: store your Iberia miles on BA so they won't expire. Transfer them back to Iberia when you want to book a flight, unless you qualify for BA's reduced fixed tax/surcharge fee.

BA and BMI
• BMI doesn't exist anymore. If you still have Diamond Club miles, you can transfer them to BA. You cannot earn or spend miles with BMI Regional.
Cost of award tickets
• Award tickets come with excessive taxes and surcharges, especially for long-haul flights. You can avoid them by transfering BA miles to Iberia and booking at iberia.com, which may also let you avoid a transfer at London Heathrow.

pros cons
  Iberia
Plus
Miles without flying
• Miles for surveys (e-Rewards*).

Iberia and British Airways
• If your Iberia miles are about to expire, you can keep them alive by transfering them to British Airways.
• You can transfer miles from Iberia to British Airways to take advantage of BA's fixed tax/surcharge deals on intra-european award tickets.
• You can transfer miles from BA to Iberia to take advantage of Iberia's lower taxes and surcharges on long-haul flights.
• Transfer only works if both accounts are at least 3 months old and active (i.e. have at least one incoming mile from another source).

Tip: open a BA account now if you have an Iberia account. If you had at least one incoming mile in your BA account in the last year, you qualify for a fixed tax/surcharge fee on european flights, which may be cheaper than what Iberia charges for short-haul flights.
Expiration
• Miles expire after 4 years, account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
• Tip: you can transfer your miles from Iberia to BA, where any (non-transfer) account activity moves the deadline 36 months forward. When you want to book a ticket, just send your miles back to Iberia.
• Transfer only works if both accounts are at least 3 months old and active (i.e. have at least one incoming mile from another source).

pros cons
  Qantas
Frequent Flyer
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 18 months.
Miles without flying
• Apart from hotels and car rentals there are not many ways to earn miles for non-flying activity outside Australia.

  pros cons
  US Airways
Dividend Miles
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 18 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*), surveys (e-Rewards*), and shopping (Barnes & Noble and other online stores) keep your miles alive for another 18 months.

Program future
• US Airways will move to OneWorld on 31 March 2014.
Cost of award tickets
• "Award processing fee" charged for all award tickets.
• No one way award tickets (they're available, but they cost the same as round trips so you only save a bit on taxes and surcharges).
.      
Star Alliance
pros cons
Aegean
Miles&Bonus 
Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.
Expiration
• You need to fly Aegean or a Star Alliance partner once every 24 months (basic) or 36 months (blue or gold), or else your account will be closed and all your miles will expire.
• Non-flying account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
• Buying an upgrade or award ticket does NOT extend the deadline.
• Miles expire a year after earning them until you've collected 4.000 miles within a single year. Don't send your miles to Aegean unless you're sure you'll collect 4.000 miles in the first year.

Miles without flying
• Apart from hotels (though booking.com) and car rentals (Hertz) there are not many ways to earn miles for non-flying activity.

Cost of award tickets
• When you redeem miles for international flights, connecting domestic flights are charged separately in addition to the international flight.

pros cons
  United
MileagePlus
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 18 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*), surveys (e-Rewards*), and shopping (Barnes & Noble and other online stores) keep your miles alive for another 18 months.

Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.

Award ticket availability
• Award ticket availability with United is better than for most other american airlines.

Non-alliance partners
• You can earn and redeem miles on Aer Lingus, Hawaiian, Jet Airways, and a handful of other airlines outside Star Alliance.
Cost of award tickets
• United charges a high fee for award tickets booked less than 21 days before flying.

Status
• To qualify for silver/gold/platinum status you must fly at least 4 paid segments on United or United Express per calendar year. Flights on Copa only count if you fly before 1 July 2015. US residents are screwed: they need to spend a few thousand "premier qualifying dollars" on United or United Express (flights with other Star Alliance partners don't count) for a level upgrade.

pros cons
  US Airways
Dividend Miles
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 18 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*), surveys (e-Rewards*), and shopping (Barnes & Noble and other online stores) keep your miles alive for another 18 months.

Program future
• US Airways will leave Star Alliance and join OneWorld on 30 March 2014.
Cost of award tickets
• "Award processing fee" charged for all award tickets.
• No one way award tickets (they're available, but they cost the same as round trips so you only save a bit on taxes and surcharges).
.      
unallied
pros cons
Alaska Airlines
Mileage Plan
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 24 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*), surveys (e-Rewards*), and shopping (Barnes & Noble and other online stores) keep your miles alive for another two years.

Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.

A bit of a SkyTeam/OneWorld hybrid: earn and redeem miles with Alaska Airlines, Air France, Air Pacific, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Era Alaska, KLM, Korean, LAN, PenAir, Qantas.
Cost of award tickets
• Extra charge for award flights on partner airlines (US$12.50 each way).

Award ticket availability
• Availability of award flights outside North America is low.

Booking flights on partner airlines often requires a phone call, because the web search engine for flights on partner airlines sucks.

pros cons
  Frontier
EarlyReturns
Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 24 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*) and surveys (e-Rewards*) keep your miles alive for another two years.

Cost of award tickets
• One way award tickets for half the miles.
Award ticket availability
• Earning miles and buying award tickets is limited to Frontier flights. Frontier only serves a limited number of destinations in the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.

pros cons
  Southwest
Rapid Rewards
Award ticket availability
• If a seat is available for money, it is available for miles. No quota, no blackout dates (except for special award offers).

Expiration
• Miles don't expire if you earn miles for flights or purchases from parters once every 24 months.

Miles without flying
• Miles for clicks (e-Miles*) and surveys (e-Rewards*). If this resets the 24-month counter, please let me know.

Cost of award tickets
• Based on fare, which is good if you're after cheap deals.

Mileage based on fare, not miles, so your return on expensive tickets can be high.
Award ticket availability
• Outside the USA, Southwest only flies to a handful of destinations (mostly caribbean tourist traps).

Cost of award tickets
• Based on fare, which is bad if all the cheap tickets sold out.

Mileage based on fare, not miles, with cheap tickets scoring less miles per dollar, so your return on cheap tickets is low.

Southwest sells your info to "selected partners" and other spammers unless you say no by phone or in writing. You can't opt out online.

*) According to the small print, e-Miles is only open for USA residents. But in real life anyone from anywhere can join, earn points, and trade 'em in for miles.
e-Rewards is open for residents of many different countries. Membership is by invitation only, but signing up for a frequent flyer program is usually enough to get an invitation. Depending on which frequent flyer programs you join you may score invitations for multiple countries. So far the miles for both of my e-Rewards accounts always posted without any problem. Instead of waiting for an invitation, you can gatecrash your way into e-Rewards through one of these links if you have an address (not necessarily your own) in the USA or Canada: United | American | Alaska (USA address only) | Southwest | JetBlue (USA address only) | Frontier (USA address only).



Bad frequent flyer programs for disloyal customers

Any program where your miles expire before your disloyalty scores you freebies is a bad program.

SkyTeam
  why is it bad?
Aeroflot Miles don't expire if you fly on a qualifying SkyTeam airline ticket once every 2 calendar years, but no matter how many miles you have, you may only use them if you've flown Aeroflot or Nordavia in the past 24 months on a qualifying paid ticket. Flights with other SkyTeam members don't count. That makes the Aeroflot program useless for anyone who doesn't fly to Russia every other year.
.
   
  Alitalia Program terminates and restarts every couple of years, and then your miles are gone.
.    
OneWorld
  why is it bad?
Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines Miles expire after 3 years, account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.    
Star Alliance
  why is it bad?
Air Canada The small print: "All mileage in an account expires if the Aeroplan member has not accumulated or redeemed Aeroplan Miles for a period of 12 consecutive months." Even if you get or use miles once a year, your miles will expire after 7 years. Account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.
.  
  Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, TAP, ANA, Thai, Turkish Airlines, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines, Asiana Miles expire after 3 years (10 years for Asiana), account activity does NOT extend the deadline. You can keep your miles at Lufthansa alive by maintaining elite status or by using a Lufthansa credit card, but you'll have to use the card at least once a month.
.
.   
  SAS Miles expire after 4 to 5 years (depending on when you earned them), account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.    
unallied
  why is it bad?
Air India, Emirates, Icelandair Miles expire after 3 years (4 years for Icelandair), account activity does NOT extend the deadline.

Air India is supposed to become a member of Star Alliance, but whether this will really happen is anyones guess. You can use your Air India miles to buy tickets for Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines in addition to Air India.
.
   
  AirTran Miles expire after one year (two years if you maintain elite status or use an AirTran credit card), account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.
   
  BMI You can no longer sign up for the program. BMI doesn't exist anymore.

If you're in the UK:
You can keep your account (for the time being), but the only way left to earn miles is through a BMI credit card, and you can only use them if you transfer them to British Airways. Miles don't expire if you have any account activity once every 24 months (transfering miles to BA doesn't count as account activity).

If you're in the South West Pacific:
Your BMI account is frozen until BA decides what to do with non-UK BMI accounts.

If you're in the rest of the world:
Your account is closed and all your remaining BMI miles went up in smoke.
.
   
  El Al El Al charges a registration fee for joining their frequent flyer program. Yes, really.

You can earn El Al miles with Aeromexico, American, CSA, Iberia, Qantas, South African Airways, and Swiss.
You can redeem them for flights with American, Quantas, and South African.
.
   
  Jet Airways India Miles expire after about 3 years (up to 13 quarters), account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.
   
  jetBlue Miles expire after 12 months. The only way to postpone expiration by one year is by flying jetBlue every 12 months or by using their branded American Express card. Any other account activity does NOT extend the deadline.
.
   
  norwegian Miles ("cash points") are valid until the end of the second year after you earn them (i.e. they expire two to three years after you earn them). Account activity does NOT extend the deadline.


My programs:
SkyTeam
KLM Flying Blue, because I live in Amsterdam (so I fly 'em enough to keep my miles alive), and because membership lets me check in a free bag on economy tickets.
Delta SkyMiles, but only until I can trade my miles for a ticket. That's notoriously difficult, because award availability at Delta is worse than any other airline.
OneWorld
British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus, because I can transfer miles between them to get the cheapest possible award ticket.
Star Alliance
United because BMI Diamond Club is dead (RIP), and because miles from the Lufthansa M&M cartel expire regardless of account activity.

Good programs turn bad, bad programs may see the error of their ways, and things keep changing all the time. And I make typos too. Always read the small print before trusting an airline with your miles. To see what's new, have a look at the discussion that led to this site on the FlyerTalk forum.

If you have any additions, corrections, or suggestions for this list, please mail 'em or drop 'em in this FlyerTalk discussion.


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