One of the biggest mistakes you can make with frequent flyer miles, aside from not redeeming them at all, is using miles on an airline-to-airline basis. Make the most out of the points you earn flying by accumulating your frequent flyer miles in one place and thinking in terms of airline alliances. The best way to do this is by signing up for three specific US-based airline mileage programs – United Mileage Plus, American AAdvantage, and Delta SkyMiles – which will allow you to collect points from over 60 airlines as though they were a single carrier.
The Importance Of Funneling Your Miles
There are three major airline alliances: Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam, founded by United, American Airlines, and Delta, respectively. What most people don’t know is these three airlines – United, American, and Delta – accept miles flown on any of their partner carriers. The reverse is not true however, meaning partner airlines won’t accept miles from each other (in most cases).
For example, say you fly twice this year on Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines (both Star Alliance), 3,500 miles each. Most people would claim the first 3,500 miles with Lufthansa’s Miles and More program, then 3,500 with Turkish Airlines’ Miles and Smiles. That leaves you with 3,500 miles in two accounts that cannot be combined. Instead, if you were signed up for United’s Mileage Plus, both of those Star Alliance member flights would go into the same account – now you’ve got 7,000 miles. The best part: all partner airlines must accept points from United’s Mileage Plus. The same goes for American Airlines with oneworld members and Delta for SkyTeam carriers.
You want to avoid spreading out your frequent flyer miles when possible, even if you regularly fly the same airline if it happens to be one of those listed below:
Star Alliance – Use United Mileage Plus When Flying Any Of These 25 Airlines
- Adria Airways – Aegean Airlines – Air Canada – Air China – Air New Zealand – ANA – Asiana Airlines – Austrian – Avianca – Brussels Airlines – Copa Airlines – Croatia Airlines – EGYPTAIR – Ethiopian Airlines – EVA Air – LOT Polish Airlines – Lufthansa – Scandinavian Airlines – Shenzhen Airlines – Singapore Airlines – South African Airways – SWISS – TAP Portugal – THAI – Turkish Airlines
oneworld – Use American Airlines AAdvantage When Flying Any Of These 16 Airlines
- airberlin – American Airlines – British Airways – Cathay Pacific – Finnair – Iberia – Japan Airlines – LAN – TAM – Malaysia Airlines – Qantas – Qatar Airways – Royal Jordanian – S7 Airlines – SriLankan Airlines – Mexicana
SkyTeam – Use Delta SkyMiles When Flying Any Of These 19 Airlines
- Aeroflot – Aerolineas Argentinas – Aeromexico – Air Europa – Air France – Alitalia – China Airlines – China Eastern – China Southern – Czech Airlines – Garuda Indonesia – Kenya Airways – KLM – Korean Air – Middle East Airlines – Saudia – TAROM – Vietnam Airlines – Xiamen Airlines
You don’t ever have to fly United, American Airlines, or Delta to use their mileage programs as giant point collectors. All you have to do is follow to follow a simple process when checking in at your next flight.
Every Time You Fly Any Of The Airlines Listed Above Remember This When Checking In
Although the best flight search engines give you the option of adding a frequent flyer account number when booking, it’s much more reliable to work with the person at the check-in counter. When you hand over your flight details and identification, make sure to tell them you’re a member of (i.e. United Mileage Plus, American AAdvantage, Delta SkyMiles) and hand over the appropriate account number. Then, hold on to your boarding pass stubs for at least 4 weeks afterwards in case you notice the miles were never credited. This way you can call United, American, or Delta, with details (and proof) to make sure you get the points you’ve earned.
In Case You’ve Been Lazy You May Be Able To Redeem Past Flights
Once frequent flyer miles are credited to an account, they can’t be moved elsewhere under most circumstances. So if you’ve got your miles scattered across airlines, the best thing to do is begin concentrating them for the future, now that you know how. For the procrastinating travelers out there who might not have bothered collecting points for past flights, United lets you go back 18 months, American Airlines 12 months, and Delta 9 months. Browse through your inbox to find the specific flight details and with a single phone call you’ll be on your way to earning a free flight or upgrade in the most efficient way possible.
In case you’re still not completely convinced on using frequent flyer programs, here’s an 8 minute guide to getting set up for reluctant travelers and 7 ways to bump up your earning a notch with and without getting more credit cards.
Great and easy-to-understand breakdown, sir! We’ve made this mistake before, and it’s crazy annoying to realize after you flew 5,000 miles that you put it on the wrong account.
I’m sure they purposely make it this confusing so people get the least out of their miles, so it’s always good to learn which ones to actually use.
I am convinced they make it confusing on purspose too!
Absolutely, though I think it would probably get them more business to do the reverse.
Excellent post. I actually got all of these 2 months ago, on top of the Barclay card. I would like to add some stuff if I may.
Different airlines charge different miles for the same routes. For example, I will soon move to New Zealand and will fly from Bangkok, Thailand. The flight costs 17,500 miles with skymiles, but over 30,000 with AA. Domestically however, I have seen great deals with AA, but terrible ones with Skymiles.
I still feel that the Barclay card is the best bet. While the first 3 offer 30,000 starting bonus miles, the barclay gives 40,000. It works differently for barclay though. 40,000 is exactly $400 refund on any flight. Other mile programs pay for the flight, but don’t count the taxes (which are substantial in some cases).
Personally, my mom is helping me use the card (I got all 4 under her name too) to spend the required $1000 USD for each of the 3 you mentioned and $3000 for Barclay. It is a great way to get free miles.
For the miles redeemed for former flights, it should be known that they only allow that if you were already a points member BEFORE you did the flight. I recently tried to do this with American, Delta, and United and they all told me the same thing.
It is also worth noting that for Korean residents, Korean air miles (skyteam) expire in 10 years, and they accept other skyteam mile member programs, as does China Eastern, China Southern, and Thai Airways.
Thanks for sharing!
I have to disagree. I used to be based in the USA for 7 years, and yes, I have accounts with AAdvantage, Delta Skymiles, and United Mileage Plus. One for each of the alliances, and I was lucky that I still had an account for each major alliance even after the series of mergers that happened (NW + DL, UA + CO, and now AA + US).
Then I moved to Berlin in 2012. Even though I fly European carriers now for the most part, I still hang on to these three accounts I have. However, they tend to be annoying now. See, even though airlines are in alliances, they still have different rules on whether you can credit partner airline trips on their own accounts. Just check how difficult it is to earn Delta miles by flying Korean Air. Personally, I find that I only get credited 25% by American Airlines on the miles I flew on AirBerlin; if I want the trip to be credited a maximum 100% I should have paid for the highest-tiered ticket. Same thing with my Lufthansa flights on United Mileage Plus.
Bottom line: it is easy to earn miles when you fly the home carrier of your account. You earn 100% most of the time even with the lowest-tiered ticket. But most of the time, if you fly partner airlines, you’ll only get full credit if you buy a more expensive ticket. There have been several trips I took on Lufthansa that would have earned me 100% if I were a Miles and More member, but I only got credit for 25% for being a Mileage Plus member.
So, instead of recommending people who are NOT based in the USA to sign up for these three American mileage accounts, I’d recommend otherwise. Sign up for a mileage account that makes sense given where you live instead. For me, being based in Berlin, I’m slowly being tempted to sign up for AirBerlin’s TopBonus (oneworld), Lufthansa’s Miles and More (Star Alliance), and Air France-KLM’s Flying Blue (Skyteam). Chances are, the more “local” flights you fly, the less restrictive earning rules are.
Thanks for the feedback. SkyMiles is notoriously difficult to work with, probably why so many refer to them as Sky Pesos:
Lufthansa on Mileage Plus will credit 100% of miles, except when the flights are solely in Europe. Here are the exceptions for the member airlines, though with many they are few. Also, having some status, Silver, Gold, etc. will go a long way to ensuring full or bonus credit:
That said, I’ve never had a problem with United crediting me even restricted miles when I call.
EVA Air are Star Alliance, and you earn miles with their programme for travelling on any Star Alliance carrier. I don’t think what you’re saying about Star Alliance is right. This is taken directly from the Star Alliance website:
“If you belong to a frequent flyer programme offered by any Star Alliance member airline, and fly with another member airline, you can earn and redeem miles or points. All on one card1.
For example, if you’re a member of the Lufthansa Miles & More frequent flyer programme, and you travel with Singapore Airlines on qualifying flights and eligible booking classes, you’ll automatically earn miles on your Lufthansa Miles & More account2. Simply provide your frequent flyer number at check-in.”
I think that’s correct Tom. When I booked my flights from Brussels to Québec with Air Canada in January, I booked straight from the Air Canada site and could select Miles & More as the program I wanted to earn miles for.
This is not the case for all partner airlines, for an example:
Hi Anil: US Airways was purchased by American a while back and their frequent flyer miles are being merged with American. I can only assume that they will also become a one world partner airline as well.
They already are 😉
In my case, I had a Star Alliance Card, United refused to acknowledge miles collected on Singapore Airlines for an upgrade! Ever since I’ve given up on miles. The time before I had enough miles with Ansett to fly AUS-Bali and return – and then they went bankrupt. So why bother if you’re only flying once or twice a year? By now frequent flyer benefits are always the first to get the chop when an airline wants to save money. You have almost reached enough points for your free flight to X and the benchmark gets raised by 50%.
That’s strange, what was the reason United gave?