Have you taken a flight on an airline in another country and signed up for its frequent flyer program only to forget about the points you’ve earned? And then you end up with points scattered across countless programs but with balances so low that you don’t have enough points to book an award flight anyway?
Never fear, this is a common occurrence and you are not alone. However, the advice ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ actually doesn’t apply here—you should try to consolidate your points in just one or a few programs.
In this guide, I outline five steps you can take to maximize your points earning and make sure that you actually receive enough points to use them for free travel.
1. Get A Credit Card That Earns ‘Flexible Points’
Did you know that 6 out of every 10 frequent flyer points are not earned through flying? By far, the most lucrative way to earn points is through credit card spending. But how do you know which points to sign up for?
The name of the game is to earn ‘flexible points’. They’re the ones with the major banks that allow you to convert the bank’s points into frequent flyer points. The most versatile points to earn are Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Venture Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points.
If you’re earning these points (which never expire), then when it comes time to make an award redemption, you can choose which program to send them out to. For example, you can convert your Amex points into Delta SkyMiles in just a few clicks, and then use those miles to book a flight on Delta or one of its partner airlines.
Another tip: if you have multiple credit cards, try to keep them with the same bank. For example, having the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Freedom Unlimited cards means that both are pooling into the same points currency, Chase Ultimate Rewards. This gets you closer to your travel goals.
2. Choose Carefully Where To Credit Your Flights
Say you travel to Thailand and take a domestic flight or two when you’re there on THAI Airways. Is it worth signing up to their frequent flyer program, which is called Royal Orchid Plus?
Well, earning points on a flight is free, so I guess some points are better than no points. However, the question is: are you going to earn enough points for a redemption? When do those points expire? Will you just end up forgetting about them?
A more effective strategy is to work out if THAI Airways has any partner programs with whom you already have an account. If you’re looking for the quick answer, just Google ‘THAI Airways partner airlines’. You’ll see that THAI is part of the Star Alliance, which also counts United as a member. So you could credit your flights on THAI to United MileagePlus. Easy and effective!
If you are looking for a more lucrative way to earn points and are happy to do some more research, you can compare the points earned on your specific flight across multiple programs. Head over to wheretocredit.com and input your flight details, including your fare class (which is one letter, and is found on your itinerary).
You can see in the example above that this particular Economy Class flight from Bangkok to Phuket will earn you 500 miles with Air China, which is a partner of THAI. However, you may instead choose to credit your flight to a program that is more popular with US travelers, like Singapore Airlines, Air Canada or Avianca, all of which partner with the banks mentioned before.
3. Set Up Family Pooling
What’s one of the quickest ways to boost your points earning? Work together! There are select airlines that allow you to earn points into what is a family or household account. You, your partner and/or children can work together to get closer to an award redemption.
Here in the US, there are only three airlines that have this valuable feature. JetBlue’s TrueBlue program is the most generous and is definitely worth setting up if you fly on the airline frequently. HawaiianMiles and Frontier Miles also allow family pooling, but only if someone in the family has a credit card with the airline.
If you’re willing to look further afield to international airlines, the best options are: Air Canada Aeroplan for United and its Star Alliance partners; British Airways Executive Club for American and oneworld flyers; and Virgin Australia Velocity for Delta enthusiasts.
4. Keep Track Of Your Points Across Different Programs
You probably have been or are in the situation where you have points scattered across so many programs that it’s hard to keep track of.
The most popular tool to keep a grip on your frequent flyer balances is AwardWallet, which is free to use. You just create an account and then link it to your existing frequent flyer accounts. Then it will update periodically and show you your current account balances at one glance.
In my opinion, it’s worth paying the $30 annual fee for the Plus version of the tool. This will include the expiry date of your points on your dashboard, and will send you email alerts before points are due to expire.
5. Use Your Small Balances First
Say you have 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles, 20,000 United MileagePlus miles, and 30,000 Delta SkyMiles sitting around. If you’re looking at booking a flight, especially a short domestic one, and all three airlines fly on that route, which points should you use? Try to redeem the AA miles first.
Using up your smaller points balances first means that you have one less account to worry about, and you can then focus on building a more substantial balance with the other airline/s.
Can You Transfer Points Between Airlines?
I get this question a lot: can I transfer my points between programs? So, for example, could I convert my United miles into Delta miles and just have them in one account? The short answer is: no.
There is intense competition between frequent flyer programs and they generally do not permit you to move points in and out.
There are just a few programs that allow you to do this. Given that they are owned by the same company, British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus allow you to transfer Avios between your accounts in each of the three programs.
Virgin Australia Velocity and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer also allow you to convert points between the two programs, but there’s usually little value in doing so.