With constantly changing rules and limited seat allotment, redeeming miles can be frustrating. However, do not let this stop you from travel planning! With 30 years of experience accumulating and using miles, I will help you get the most value for those precious miles in today’s marketplace.

1) Sign up for the airline’s frequent flier program.

It’s free to join. Register even if you only plan to fly with the carrier one time. This will prevent future regrets if you find yourself flying with them again.

In my case, I belong to 7, but have concentrated mile accumulation to two carriers: Delta and Alaska.

2) Research frequent flier programs.

Not all programs are alike. Nowadays, some airlines credit miles based on the price of the ticket. Others remain “traditional” and award miles for the actual distance flown. Some programs have times of the year where certain routes are considered “peak” and require more points.

Another huge consideration is airline partnerships.

3) Pay attention to airline partnerships.

This is very important to me, so I’m making this consideration its’ own point. Many airlines have alliances with multiple carriers. This enables you to earn and redeem miles with your preferred airline.

Although I rarely fly on Alaska Airlines, this is my preferred program largely due to its’ partnerships. I currently live in New England, where Delta Airlines and American Airlines have a good presence. Delta and American are Alaska Airlines’ frequent flier partners, allowing me to fly on Delta or American and get awarded miles on Alaska.

Alaska also has a number of global carrier partners. Recently, I booked tickets for Business Class seats to SE Asia. Looking at Alaska’s partners, Korean Airlines and Cathay Pacific fit the bill.

4) If you have a preferred airline, apply for their credit card- and use it.

Airlines have credit cards that will apply miles for dollars spent. If you are using your debit card or spending cash for purchases, why not charge all of these expenses and get rewarded with miles? Pay your entire statement balance off at the end of the billing cycle to prevent finance charges. Most companies also give you 30k-50k bonus miles, with no fee for the first year.

Naturally, I have an Alaska Airlines Visa card. I charge all of my day to day purchases on this card. I even set up some bills to be paid with this card, just to keep the miles rolling in on already predetermined expenses.

Several years ago, I needed a business credit card. I have an American Express Platinum Business card, which has an alliance with Delta. This is the primary reason why I have accumulated so many miles with the airline. Not necessarily because of their program, but because of its’ alliance with American Express.

5) Decide what is most important for you.

Is it a particular airline? Do you prefer to use or bank miles?

For me, it’s all about the frequent flier program. My preferred airline program, Alaska Airlines, gives me the greatest return for my hard earned miles. For example, I recently redeemed miles to fly from JFK to SE Asia Business class on Cathay Pacific (outbound to Singapore and return from Bangkok). It required only 100k miles per ticket, roundtrip. Whereas, a similar ticket redeemed with American Airlines miles (the next “best” program, in my opinion) would be 110K miles for a return ticket. It’s also much better than Delta. As you’ll see below under #6, the trip to SE Asia required 70k fewer miles than our trip to Hawaii on Delta!

I’m also one of those people who banks miles. I think it makes much more sense to use 100k miles for a Business class ticket to Asia that typically costs over $6000 than redeeming 25k miles for a domestic ticket that is priced at $400.

6) Be flexible when redeeming miles.

If the closest airport is unavailable, open your search to another one. Or see if your schedule allows for some flexibility.

For example, early this year, I redeemed miles to fly both Tom and I from Boston to Kauai on Delta, first class (135k miles per ticket, roundtrip). We would have preferred to fly out of Providence or Hartford, but it would have required 180k miles per ticket, roundtrip. We were flexible and drove an extra 45 minutes to Logan airport to save 90k miles.

Every traveler has their own needs and wishes. With a little research, you too can figure out the best frequent flier program for your needs. We would love to hear if you have a recommendation on how to accumulate or redeem miles! What is your favorite program?