Frequent Flyer Programs

The High Miles Club

If you fly frequently for business or to visit family several times each year, then you’re probably already familiar with the magic of frequent flyer programs. American has AAdvatage, Continental calls it OnePass, Delta uses SkyMiles, United offers Mileage Plus and so on. There will always be the headaches and hassles associated with any corporate reward program, but there are benefits to be had when you choose the right program and use it to your best advantage.

Pick A Program

To make sure you get more benefits, either in free flights or elite traveler perks, consolidate your miles into as few airlines as possible. The more miles that you can build on one card, by using that airline or its partners, the faster you get your rewards. How do you narrow your choices down to one major carrier?

If your local airport, or the airport to which you travel most, is the hub of a major carrier you will most frequently fly with that airline. Another key factor is the type of traveler you are, business or leisure. If you are a business traveler who flies multiple times in a month, then your goal is probably not a free flight but the perks and service that come with your elite traveler status.

Leisure travelers, on the other hand, may only travel once or twice a year, meaning that elite status is out. Leisure travelers are often in the market for that promised free flight. One important condition that leisure travelers should keep in mind is the expiration date on their mileage programs. Most of the major carriers have eliminated expiration dates as long as there is some activity on the account every couple of years. Less frequent travelers should pay close attention to any expiration dates when considering a program.

Alternate Mile Earners

You don’t have to fly to earn miles anymore. Credit cards are now an alternative way to build mileage while you shop. As you choose your frequent flyer program, you’ll likely want to consider the affiliated credit card for that carrier. After all, why not earn miles while you shop? Before signing on to any card, though, some important considerations are the APR and annual fees. Many airline affiliated credit cards will charge anywhere from $25-125 in annual fees and the interest rate will be significantly higher than a normal credit card. However, if you pay your card off in full each month and use it often enough to accrue a significant amount of miles (typically you’ll be offered one mile for every dollar charged), then this may be a viable source of mileage.

Another way to build out miles is with a card such as American Express or Diner’s Club that awards points for each purchase. These points can then be converted to miles for participating airlines. You might get better interest rates and your annual fee may be less, but you also may have to pay your balance in full each month. The points you earn will not count dollar for dollar as they do for airline affiliated credit cards, but they do offer more flexibility among airlines, so if you do have multiple frequent flyer accounts you can distribute them accordingly.

What You Get for Your Miles?

Very frequent flyers will enjoy the benefits of an elite status within the club, giving them greater access to upgrades and more recognition from the airline. To gain elite status, a traveler must typically fly at least 25,000 miles, or 30 flight segments, within a calendar year. To gain a free flight, infrequent leisure travelers will need to build 20,000-25,000 miles over a period of time (most carriers will not expire the miles as long as there is activity on the account every couple of years).

Start Adding Miles

The biggest way to build miles is to fly frequently and with one carrier or the carrier’s partners as often as possible. Know your partners carriers and always provide your frequent flyer number when booking your flights. Make sure to read your statements carefully and compare your mileage figures with the airline’s figures (it’s not often, but airlines can drop the ball). Read your program’s newsletter, and always watch the “bonus box” for additional ways to earn miles.

The Breakdown


Free US Flights

Elite Status



8 flight credits

10 flight credits in 90 days or 25 flight credits in 365 days

Expires after 1 year


Restricted: 20,000

Unrestricted: 40,000

MVP: 20,000 miles/30 segments per year

MVP Gold: 40,000 miles/60 segments per year

MVP Gold 75K: 75,000 miles/90 segments per year


Expires after 2 years of inactivity


Off-peak: 12,500

Restricted: 25,000

Unrestricted: 40,000

Gold: 25,000 miles/30 segments per year

Platinum: 50,000 miles/60 segments per year

Executive Platinum: 100,000/100 segments per year

Expires after 18 months of inactivity


Off-peak: 12,500

Restricted: 25,000

Unrestricted 40,000

Silver: 25,000 miles/30 segments per year

Gold: 50,000 miles/60 segments per year

Platinum: 75,000 miles/100 segments per year

Diamond: 125,000 miles/140 segments per year

Never expires


Starting at 12,500 miles

Ascent: 15,000 miles/20 segments per year

Summit: 25,000 miles/30 segments per year

Expires after 2 years of inactivity


Starting at 5,000 miles


Expires after 1 year of inactivity


Business select: 120 points per dollar

Anytime: 100 points per dollar

Wanna get away: 60 points per dollar

A-List: 35,000 miles/25 segments

A-List Preferred: 70,000 miles/50 segments

Companion Pass: 110,000 miles/100 segments

Expires after 2 years of inactivity


Off-peak: 12,500

Restricted: 25,000

Unrestricted: 40,000

Premier Silver: 25,000 miles/30 segments

Premier Gold: 50,000 miles/60 segments

Premier Platinum: 75,000 miles/90 segments

Premier 1K: 100,000 miles/120 segments

Expires after 18 months of inactivity