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A Beginner’s Introduction to Frequent Flyer Programs and Airline Miles

Airline Miles
Airline Miles
Airline Miles

Anyone who travels by plane has, at some point, thought about figuring out all “that frequent flyer card stuff” in order to earn miles and eventually travel for free. If you fall into this category, or even if you already have a variety of frequent flyer cards stuffed into your wallet pockets, this article is here to help you sort through all the complicated information.These days, frequent flyer programs offer many benefits – free air travel is just one of them. And best of all, you can earn & Buy miles while you’re home – you don’t have to travel anywhere.

Frequent Flyer Programs

Basically, a frequent flyer program, or an airline miles program, is a way for the airline to give customers an added incentive to remain loyal to flying with them, or “rewarding” a repeat customer. By traveling using the airline, you earn “free” miles. The more you invest in them, the more you get in return. The concept here is that they lower costs by retaining you as a customer, and the more lifetime customers an airline is able to attract, the more efficiently it can manage its costs.

The History of Airline Miles
In 1982, American Airlines pioneered the entire concept by introducing its AAdvantage program, seeking to reward valued customers and encourage brand loyalty amongst them. Using their customer database, American Airlines started tracking the number of miles flown by each past traveler and created a system denoting miles earned for miles traveled. Rental cars and hotel stays were also included in the programs – with partnerships with Hertz and Hyatt – and the entire concept was an instant success. Competitor United Airlines immediately followed suit with a similar program, bringing an competitive edge with an initial bonus of 5000 miles for every new customer.

Enter the Luxuries
Large hotel chains were not to be left behind, and while they initially cashed in on the frequent flyer market as partners and affiliates of the airlines, they decided to mimic the airlines themselves, and started introducing their own frequent-guest programs. These days, their relationship remains a mix of these two methods.

The rental car industry became involved in the same way – through partnerships – and to this day, companies like Hertz remain a major part of the frequent flyer scene. Hertz is a member of more than 60 frequent flyer programs worldwide.

Miles or Points
In today's market you can also earn "miles" or "points" (to be redeemed later as miles) for other travel and non-travel transactions. The former include hotel stays, rental cars, in-flight entertainment, etc. Non-travel-related transactions include credit card purchases (you usually earn at least one mile, and possible even more for every dollar charged), stock trades, mortgage options, etc. Lastly, by shopping at certain stores – including e-stores – you can also collect a healthy amount of airline miles or points. Mileage does not expire, but your account cannot remain inactive for more than two or three years. When the mileage total reaches a certain amount, you can "redeem” it for exciting awards!