Frequent Flier Miles are Pointless? Heresy!

Listened to this recording over the weekend between Marketwatch reporter Kelli Grant and Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Deal discussing the value of frequent flier programs. While they concede that frequent flier programs have value for those who fly, well, frequently, both feel the benefits are very limited for those who fly infrequently.

In part, their point is okay but it is also somewhat shortsighted. If you are savvy enough to learn the best ways to accumulate miles – even if you fly only once a year – it is quite easy to earn enough miles to fly at least economy for free on an airline. And I am not talking about churning credit card accounts, which can easily earn you way more than enough for an airline ticket. Just follow some basic steps and free flights will come your way…

  • Focus on the best airline and alliance that works for you. Some airlines offer better award travel than others but sometimes those whose inventory is not so good offer much better deals from their partner airlines.
  • Look for co-branded cards that match your airline or alliance. Some for example, work with American Express while others partner with Chase or Citibank or Barclays.
  • No favorite airline? Maybe a general card that earns travel points – say, American Express Platinum Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred – works best for you.
  • Many who accumulate lots of frequent flier miles max out by having two cards, one for business and another for personal use.
  • And don’t forget, hotels also offer co-branded loyalty cards. If you don’t fly, these hotel points would be much more valuable to you.
  • Watch for credit card signup bonuses. These vary in quality from time to time but you will see virtually all of them posted here on Boarding Area.

Absolutely the most important thing is NEVER overspend to earn points and miles. If you cannot pay off your credit card bill in full every month, the hole will only increase over time. Better to avoid credit cards, both for financial reasons and personal peace of mind, until a time when your finances are under control.

I am not a points & miles blogger but there are some outstanding ones right here on Boarding Area. They can guide you to successfully using your accumulated miles the best way possible, more than enough to prove the journalists above are quite wrong about frequent flier programs.

DISCLOSURE NOTE: Bank names above are cited as examples only.  I am not an affiliate of any of the banks mentioned above and I do not earn any commissions.


  1. They are right for the average person on the street. If you don’t travel often (and don’t play the game) the points don’t add up enough to matter much and you won’t likely earn elite status either.

  2. A breath of fresh air. Someone had to state what should be common sense, don’t spend mor ethan you can on offers.
    I truly believe this was the first blog I saw that discloses that there is no affiliate relationship-WAY TO GO!

  3. I certainly agree with your post, but at the same time I can see how FF programs can be very frustrating for people who don’t fly that often, and how fixed value programs (i.e. Southwest, Jetblue, etc…. and probably where DL will be heading in a few years) would have some appeal to them. I’ve noticed that some airlines (i.e. AA) that used to be very good with award availability have really tightened up in the last few years. I rarely redeem for free flights b/c I always need the EQMs, but I’ve been shocked at how pitiful the availability has become for some routes, particularly international.

  4. Agree with you about higher elite status, DaninSTL. Almost impossible for very infrequent travelers unless you have either very substantial credit card charges or, as in the case of US Air, outright buy it. However, it is quite easy for points to accumulate even for those who rarely travel. Without going into tips & tricks here, it is not difficult at all to use credit cards for non-travel purchases that earn more than enough free points for travel.

  5. Hi DW, agree that low award availability is often more limited but that’s not the same as impossible. Sometimes it requires more planning, i.e., different travel dates/routing or looking at partner availability. Definitely agree about intl travel, especially Asia, but careful planning works to your benefit.

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