A week ago, I spent a little time reading about frequent flyer miles and how people go out of their way to boost their points or optimize their earnings. It’s a little crazy how people use a combination of airline branded credit cards and flight schedules in order to maintain their elite flying status. Of course, an elite flying status comes with a lot of perks. When I was reading about these programs, I started fantasizing about upgrades to first class for international flights, priority check-in, waived baggage fees, and airport club access. All wonderful benefits to have.
When I was thinking about a new credit card reward program, I even considered an airline miles credit card. My first search was to figure out exactly which airline to start it with. That’s where I started getting into trouble. There are so many different opinions and experiences on all the major carriers out there. I have a lot of great experiences flying with Southwest Airlines and jetBlue domestically, but have limited experience with airlines that fly internationally. I figured if I was going to dive into a mileage program, it might as well be with an airline that flies everywhere, or at least has a strong international network.
The 2012 Airline Scorecard
- US Airways
Of the airlines listed in the 2012 Airline Scorecard, The Points Guy ranks the frequent flyer programs in the following order:
The Best Frequent Flyer Programs
- US Airways
Comparing that list to the rankings of airlines, you should seriously consider your flying experience when selecting a frequent flyer program to join.
What Airline Miles Are Worth
Like most people, I usually select the cheapest airfare I can find to get to my destination, regardless of the airline. The only exception is that I will filter out results I find that have unusually long layovers or more than one stop.
I never did find an airline miles credit card worth joining. Most of them were disqualified on the basis that they had an annual fee alone. However, I highly suggest joining every frequent flyer program you can when you actually end up flying with their airline. Even if you’ll never fly enough to get bumped up to a preferred status or redeem for a reward flight, many airline rewards programs will let you use the points to order magazines or newspapers for free. I used my expiring frequent flyer miles at US Airways to renew my The Wall Street Journal and subscribe to Money magazine.
Using the miles to order publications also counted as a transaction and renewed the expiration date for the miles. A good bonus since I’ll be flying with US Airways again this summer. If you’re not interested in ordering any reading material, you can also donate your miles to a good cause. A worthy reason to join to frequent flyer program, if not for yourself.
My suggestion: Since each mile is generally worth 1 cent and credit card rewards are generally earned at 1 mile per dollar, it is equivalent to a 1% cash back credit card. Go with a cash back credit card that nets you at least 1.5% and purchase your travel through that. Join the frequent flyer program for the airline and rack up your points from flying. You’re getting much more value with the cash back option than earning miles with a credit card.
Do you have an airline branded credit card? What has your experience been? Which airline is your favorite?