It is surprising how many travelers skip air-miles reward programs.  If you are an avid traveler on a budget, this is money left on the table.  There is one secret to getting the most of these programs and that is to understand the alliances.

Most travelers are familiar with the individual frequent flier programs.  To get the most out of your air-miles you need to think in terms of airline alliances first and NOT the individual programs.  This can take some homework. 

The three dominant alliances are the Star Alliance, One World and Sky Team.  Most major national and international carriers participate in one of these three programs. There are a few airlines that do not participate in an alliance.  Frontier and Southwest operate their own frequent flier programs and do not participate in any alliances.

If you’re a frequent traveler, the primary perks come with achieving status (Silver, Gold, and Platinum etc.). These include early boarding, free checked bags, lounges and complementary upgrades from economy class to name a few.  Nothing is better than getting an upgrade to first class for free.  Some of these benefits can be had by signing up for an airline travel card, others must be earned.  

The Gold CardCredit: T. James

Then there is the benefit of air mile redemptions.  If you love to travel like I do, this is the major incentive.  I took four vacations last year on air miles alone.  You can redeem miles for upgrades, hotels, rental cars, consumer goods or airline tickets.  In my experience the most valuable use of air miles is for additional air travel.

To manage your air miles efficiently and fast track your path to status, commit to accumulating your air miles in one airlines program within each of the three alliance’s.  For example, if you have committed to the United Mileage Plus program, your miles earned through travel with Air Canada or Lufthansa (Star Alliance Members) can be credited to the Mileage Plus program.   

You will need to accumulate your miles within one program to fast track status and maximize rewards.  It is possible to never fly on the airline you have your miles with.  As long as you fly partner airlines within the alliance, you can use the program number to credit your miles.

To supercharge your benefits, I recommend getting a travel credit card for each airline within the alliance that you choose to accumulate your miles with. Many programs will award between 30,000 to 40,000 air miles to a new card holder after the first use.  The specifics vary so be sure to read the fine print.

Good Travels! 

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