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Frequent Flyer Miles

Find tips on how to use frequent flyer miles.

The frequent flyer program has more than 80 million participants. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The frequent flyer program has more than 80 million participants.

Frequent flyer miles are a system of points used by airlines that travelers can accrue and utilize by flying to locations for free or at discounted rates. According to Frequent Flier, the program is one of the most successful marketing programs with universal currency exchanges and more than 80 million participants.

Program History

Before the dawn of frequent flyer miles, S&H Green Stamps and Raleigh cigarettes offered repeat customers Green Stamps with their purchases. These stamps could be pasted into books and redeemed for merchandise.

In 1981, American Airlines was the first on the market with their AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Created as a way for the airline to reward its loyal flyers, the program tracked travelers' miles and offered upgrades and additional miles at discounted rates.

Not long after the AAdvantage program was unveiled, United followed suit with Mileage Plus, which was similar to AAdvantage but offered alternate mile bonus options and had no mileage expiration. Within the year, TWA and Delta created their own frequent flyer programs and by 1983, Holiday Inn and Marriot followed with programs offering visitors free stays and discounts on airline travel and car rentals.

As of 2009, frequent flyer and other air-travel related customer loyalty programs are everywhere. Rental car companies, phone companies, hotels, florists and airline-sponsored credit cards provide travelers with plenty of options of ways to rack up free and discounted miles.

How to Use Frequent Flyer Miles

According to Aviation, making an airline reservation over the phone opens up more options than booking a flight online. Flying midweek helps travelers get the most out of their miles when seat inventory is at its peak. Some credit cards offer overall flyer miles that are not tied to any single airline.

Keeping an eye out for flexible ways to spend miles works well for those looking to save up for a certain five-star hotel or expensive meal. Still, for most, focusing on one airline's program is the best way to maximize benefits and eliminate the hassle of trying to keep tabs on bonus miles strewn across accounts.

More Tips on Miles Usage

According to Budget Travel, airlines can be tricky when it comes to allowing frequent flyer members to cash in their miles. Airlines will often delay opening up seats to their freebie-seeking loyalists until they have reaped all they possibly can from fully-paying customers. Members who have accrued a higher amount of points may be able to gain access to last-minute seats more easily than members with fewer points.

Travelers should be on the lookout for hidden charges and frequent changes to frequent-flyer program rules. In recent years, for example, charges have been added to tickets between the U.S. and Canada where previously these tickets were fee-free. Rush charges are another new inconvenience, adding to travelers' costs anywhere from $25-75 U.S. dollars.

Some airlines may begin charging passengers for booking flights with frequent flyer points. By booking trips early, travelers have the best chance at securing flights "purchased" with points.

For additional information on how to join a frequent flyer program, or for information on how to earn or cash in accrued points, contact a local branch of the desired airline or visit Frequent Flier. For simple point and mileage conversions, current promotions within programs, flight schedules, travel links and program reviews, visit Web Flyer.

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