Should you always collect frequent flyer miles?

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A big part of my job is advising clients about travel, and then booking it for them.  My clients usually follow my advice about frequent flyer programs, the cornerstone of which is to pick one airline and alliance and stick with it for most travel.  This strategy helps to build a larger mileage balance, earn and maintain elite status, and upgrade frequently.

But sometimes a flight with your preferred airline (or its partners) just isn’t possible. There could be a large cost differential, where your airline is several hundred dollars more expensive than its competitors.  Or the route you need to travel might not be served by your usual carrier.  If your primary airline is United but you have to fly a trip on Alaska Airlines, is it worth capturing the 954 miles to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle?  In other words, should you have a secondary mileage account?  Or just not bother capturing those miles?

Always get the miles.  It costs you nothing and may provide benefits down the road.

Looking at the example above, here are two easy ways to extract mileage value out of that short flight on Alaska:

  1. You could post the miles to an Alaska Airlines account. If you have future trips where you need to fly Alaska again – or any of its partners – you could continue to accumulate a balance in your Alaska account.  Alaska has more than a dozen partners, including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines in the U.S.  So if future non-United trips are on Alaska, American, Delta or any of Alaska’s international partners, you could post those miles to your Alaska account, continuing to biuld a balance and possibly earning a secondary elite status.
  2. You could post those miles to the account of one of Alaska’s partners.  If you have an existing account with American, Delta or British Airways, for example, you could add those 954 miles to your balance in one of those accounts.

Either way, it’s to your benefit to capture the flight miles one way or another.

With either of these options, the miles get posted somewhere and don’t go to waste.  And since savvy travelers value miles at five to ten cents each (or more) you have captured at least $47.70 – $95.40 in value toward your next first or business class ticket.

Even if your secondary account balance never builds high enough to redeem for a first or business class ticket, you can still extract some value from those miles.  While I don’t normally recommend purchasing retail items with your frequent flyer miles, this is a way to get some value from miles that are truly “orphaned” in an account you seldom use.  Economist subscription, anyone?

One last tip for international travelers: If you’re flying an international airline and you’re not familiar with their mileage program, always check to see if they have partners you can post the miles to.  I recently booked clients in business class on Qatar Airways.  Instead of opening a Qatar Airways mileage account (which they likely would never use again) the miles will post to their US Airways Dividend Miles accounts instead.  That’s far more useful for a U.S.-based traveler, and those miles can then be redeemed for flights on any Star Alliance airline.

Do you ever not collect the miles you’re entitled to from flights?  Why or why not?

Broken Plane

I don’t think this airline awards miles anymore.

About the Author

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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