Note: This post is regarding most U.S Airline Frequent Flyer Programs but will use examples from Delta SkyMiles. Delta SkyMiles has been voted best Travel Rewards Program for 2018-2019 for US News. This is not a paid post.
Travel is becoming more accessible these days, with the booming tech industry bringing better ways to shop for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and vacation packages right to the fingertips of consumers. Competition is fierce as companies compete to get your dollars by offering incentives to join memberships or to book with them. Frustration and anxiety may be at an all-time high as you dig through all that clutter just to find the best deals online. One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your airline ticket is by racking up a frequent flyer, airline points, or Skymiles®.
What is a Frequent Flyer card?
A frequent flyer card, airline points card, or in some cases, although its a trademark, many refer to them as “Skymiles” cards, airline loyalty programs, or membership programs that allow members to earn points and redeem for travel and rewards. They are typically offered in the form of a Credit card, carry an annual fee, and in some cases an application fee. Some airlines may offer them in the form of debit cards, or you can become a member with no specific card at all.
The way you earn points or miles is by simply using your card anywhere that credit cards are accepted. If you have the debit card option you can use your debit card to earn points, however, in most cases, the debit card purchases require a signature to earn points. If you have a linked account with no credit card or debit card option you can earn in the form of using services like shopping partners or apps like Lyft and Airbnb.
What are the frequent flyer miles worth?
Point values will vary between different membership programs, but members can typically expect their points to be anywhere between 1.2¢ to 1.9¢ per 1 mile. Whereas the average U.S airline frequent flyer program mile is valued at about 1.3¢ per 1 mile.
Most U.S Airlines will offer an introductory frequent flyer amount of about 25-30,000 miles or points. Most airlines will tell you that 25,000 miles or points are typically good for one round trip ticket anywhere in the U.S. Keep in mind that this does not cover any additional costs associated with airline tickets such as taxes.
For me the best way to get a somewhat accurate calculation of what my miles are worth has always been this:
Every 100 Miles = $1
Every 1,000 Miles = $10
Every 10,000 Miles = $100
Every 100,000 Miles = $1,000 (Yes some people do have this amount)
How to Earn Miles/ Points
As mentioned earlier, The way you earn points or miles is by simply using your card anywhere that credit cards are accepted. If you have the debit card option you can use your debit card to earn points, however, in most cases, the debit card purchases require a signature to earn points. If you have a linked account with no credit card or debit card option you can earn in the form of using services like shopping partners or apps like Lyft and Airbnb.
However, Most purchases done at retail locations, restaurants, or gas stations will typically only give you 1 mile for every dollar spent. The Average frequent flyer program pays 1 mile for every dollar spent. So when airlines give 25,000 miles as an introductory incentive for new members, they say that is good for one round trip ticket almost anywhere in the U.S. In Contrast, to get a round trip ticket to almost anywhere in The United States by only racking up points with spending, you would technically have to spend $25,000 to get an equivalent of 25,000 miles or points.
That can take a long time!
How to Earn MORE Miles/ Points
There will always be a downside to these memberships, but if you play your cards right you can take advantage and rack up an insane amount of points in a short amount of time without having to spend tens of thousands of dollars. Or at least not your own! See, there’s a few tips and tricks that I want to share with you that can help you get more miles/points and get them fast. Read below to see what I do to rack up points:
Shopping & Dining partners
I've been a Delta Skymiles® member for about 9 years now and since I created my account I have accumulated well over 350,000 SkyMiles. There was a time when I had about 170,000 miles just sitting in my account waiting to be used. That year I took trips for as little as $28 round trip during the peak travel season. It wasn’t easy but with a little bit of research and with the help of family and friends I was able to rack up points very fast.
For Delta, members will usually use SkyMiles Shopping. The way Skymiles shopping works is, you’ll have a list of vendors or retailers who have offers on the Dollar amount spent. For example, Nike may have a special offer of “5 Miles for every $1 spent at Nike.com and offer free shipping and 10% off orders over $100”. So, if you buy something at Nike.com for $100 you’ll earn 450 Skymiles. If you purchased the same item with your SkyMiles card without going through SkyMiles Shopping you will only earn 100 Points. The catch is to use the SkyMiles Shopping website to find the deals and be redirected to the websites of retailers.
So what I did was, I would purchase anything and everything I possibly could through the SkyMiles Shopping website. Whenever I needed something I would check there first, If my family or friends would tell me they were interested in purchasing something I would tell them to check on SkyMiles Shopping and if they found the item they were going to purchase through the same retailer, Just buy it under my log in and use my credit card. Of course, I would make sure they would give me the money first.
I allowed someone to purchase a TV under my login and credit card, They gave me the cash and a couple of weeks later I had racked up 7,200 Skymiles on a $2400 purchase that I spent 0$ on.
There are other offers from companies like Wall Street Journal, Enterprise, Hilton Hotels, etc… Booking a rental car or Hotel will usually give you a good amount of points, Other Frequent Flyer Cards will work the same way. They have third party vendors and retailers who offer incentives to purchase or book things online using your frequent flyer card and you get more earning potential. The benefit is that you spend less money than you normally would rack up points or miles. Using friends and family is a great way to use other peoples money to rack up points for yourself. But remember, make sure you get the money first. Do not get into massive amounts of debt with untrustworthy people.
Also, remember that most frequent flyer programs don’t require a Credit Card to become a member. You can sign up for frequent flyer memberships and use the shopping partners, retail partners, hotel and flight partners with your bank card and still earn points for travel.
Dining at certain restaurants will give you additional miles. I once went to a local bar that had a limited time offer of 7 miles per $1 spent. I treated my brother and cousin to some food and drinks which It was my turn to pay anyway, and racked up a few hundred points in the process. Be sure to check your frequent flyer program to see which restaurants are participating in your area.
If your frequent Flyer card has a pretty good spending limit than it may be a good idea to use your card as an Automatic payment card. Any bills that you may have that can be paid using a credit card will get you miles. Car Insurance, Utility Bill, Phone Bill, Cable, Water Bill, Gas, etc… These are bills that you already pay, why not use your frequent flyer card and rack up points while you’re at it.
Use family and friends to your advantage, have them give you the money they are going to use on their bills first, and then let them use your Credit card to pay their eligible bills. Although I don’t do this too much now, I used to pay some bills for some family and put it on my card and get the points that way. At times I would rack up as much as 1,500 points a month just from paying bills. That's pretty good!
Third Party Apps
Just like retail shopping & Dining, Airlines want you to use third party apps with whom they have partnerships with. Uber, Uber Eats, Lyft, Airbnb are just a few that are very popular and have great offers when used with a frequent flyer card or membership ID. I recently took a trip to Havana, Cuba and earned 900 points for booking with Airbnb as a “First time user” and got $25 off my total price. I took a Lyft to the airport and spent about $30 and got 2X the points!
The good thing is you don’t have to be a card member to earn the miles. By simply being a frequent flyer member, most airlines will allow you to earn miles when using third-party partner apps and your Frequent Flyer ID.
Upgrading During Tax Season
Most Airlines have different tiers of frequent flyer cards. Take me for example, when I first started my Delta Skymiles Membership, I started with a Checking bank card (No longer available through Suntrust Bank) which only gave me 5,000 bonus points for signing up. It had a $95 annual fee and would only pay 1 mile for every $2 spent. That was Horrible. However, it was a great starting point. I Later upgraded to the American Express Delta Gold SkyMiles card and received 30,000 bonus points for upgrading after spending $1,000 in my first 3 months.
The day after I received my new card in the mail I spent $1350. 2 weeks later I brought my new card balance down to $0 with a one-time payment. It was Tax Season 😎 and my car needed to get a timing belt change and tune up at Lexus, and Lexus ain’t cheap.
Because most people will usually get a generous tax return during tax season, it is a great time to spend money you will usually spend anyway to meet the Spend requirement on frequent flyer cards and obtain the bonus points. After you spend the required amount to get the bonus points you can submit a one-time payment to your credit card and bring your balance down to $0 and avoid paying interest.
If I were to upgrade to the Delta Platinum SkyMiles card, for example, I would earn 25,000 points after spending $2,000 in 3 months. That is easily attainable during tax season. Likewise, frequent flyer membership cards from other airlines have tiers that can be upgraded and also carry a spend requirement during a specific time. The same tactic can apply to various memberships or airline programs.
The Power of Referrals
A great way to earn rewards, points, extra cash or prizes is through referrals. This is true for almost any industry, business or app. The more you refer your friends and family to something, the more you’ll earn. Most airlines will give you bonus miles at a certain cap per the calendar year for every qualify new member you refer to a frequent flyer program.
Again because my main frequent flyer program is Delta SkyMiles, I will use them as an example. For Delta, I can refer friends and family and earn up to 55,000 bonus miles per the calendar year. Friends can earn between 30-60,000 bonus miles when they are approved, apply through my link before a certain date and meet the spend requirements. I, however, will earn 10,000 bonus miles per referral within 8-12 weeks under 2 conditions. 1. that the friend follows my link to apply, and 2. they must be approved. The spending requirement and extra bonus points for the referral would be up to them to meet regardless of my bonus miles.
Business Before Pleasure
This tip may not be for everyone but if you’re in or have been in a similar situation to mine you may be able to take advantage of your job to earn miles/points and lots of them!
For starters, you may already know that businesses have to spend money to make money, those are called expenses, or overhead. Expenses can be anything from Rent, Utility, restocking inventory, or materials to make things. If you have a trustworthy bookkeeper or boss you can talk to them and see if they will allow you to put some expenses on your credit card and then have them write you a check afterward, or give you cash.
This doesn’t sound like a wise idea to most, and I repeat, make sure you have a good relationship with a trustworthy bookkeeper or boss that will definitely pay you back. On the flip side, I've done this before a few times. Our office was in need of some supplies and equipment and I asked if I can have a check written out to the amount we were going to spend and I would put it on my credit card to earn points. In total, I was able to rack up about 19,000 points by doing this.
The second way to earn miles or points through your job is by traveling on your company’s expense. A lot of jobs require people to travel out of state or out of the country and a lot of times those expenses are paid for by your job. If your job pays for your travel expenses a good thing to do is to make sure your tickets are booked with your frequent flyer membership ID and with the Airline you wish to rack up points with.
If your job always books your flights with American Airlines and pays for it then you can earn points just for traveling with American Airlines. If your job reimburses you for the trips you book yourself, you can rack up points on both the cost of the trip for using your own credit card and for traveling with your airline that you carry a frequent flyer membership with.
I booked a trip to Europe for 30 days in 2017 and Departing from Atlanta to London our Airline was Air France. I did not book the trip myself, but I called the airline to add my Skymiles # to the ticket and I earned 4,400 points just for flying with them. Likewise, I've flown with Jetblue and Delta and rack up points for business-related trips just by adding my Skymiles or JetBlue Miles Member ID to my ticket. Trips I don’t spend money on but still earn miles on.
The third tip would be to use your frequent flyer card for things like food and gas that are business related and are reimbursed to you.
To wrap things up I just want to give everyone a reminder that Credit Cards are not something you should take lightly. Please spend your money wisely and always be sure to try and have the cash or money first before using your credit cards so that you can pay it off quickly and keep a low or zero balance during every pay period as to not hurt your credit utilization and credit score by racking up debt.
If you rack up tons of debt and only pay the minimum each month, the interest will accumulate and make the whole frequent flyer thing worthless.