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How to Score Free Tickets from Your Frequent Flyer Program

Aug. 24, 2018
Loyalty Programs, Travel
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Frequent flyer programs from airlines can be confusing to travelers. There are blackout dates during peak travel seasons when you can’t use your accrued miles or points to redeem for free flights and upgrades. And it can take years to earn loyalty rewards if you fly less often or on multiple airlines with different redemption prices for the same tickets.

If you’re like half of the respondents in a recent J.D. Power study who said they don’t understand how to earn or redeem their miles from frequent flyer programs, here’s what you need to know to improve your skills at scoring free plane tickets:

Try JetBlue if you live in a city served by the carrier. JetBlue had the best overall member satisfaction score among airlines for the second year in a row, according to the study. The carriers’ TrueBlue program is simple with no blackout dates for award bookings on flights operated by JetBlue. And families can pool their miles together to to buy a ticket.

Consider flying Alaska Airlines. The carrier’s Mileage Plan has a good network of airline partners, and you can earn rewards based on actual miles flown, regardless of fare paid, which makes it easier to boost your points even if you buy a discounted ticket. That perk is not the same at most other U.S. airlines, which award rewards based on dollars spent.  Mileage Plan is especially beneficial if you live on the West Coast. Award tickets begin at 5,000 points for one-way for flights of 700 miles or less — and Alaska Airlines has many flights that fit that criteria.

You might want to save up your frequent flyer miles. Almost three-quarters of loyalty program members in the study kept collecting their frequent flyer miles to save enough to redeem larger rewards. That might be a good strategy for you, too. Redeeming miles too early could cost you your dream trip.

Take the time to research frequent flyer programs. When signing up for a frequent flyer program, research the website to see if it’s easy to redeem miles, call customer service if you’re confused by the program conditions, learn about upgrade options, and make sure you can get to your desired destination when paying for flights either by miles or cash. You generally can get the best value from a loyalty program if it’s from an airline you fly the most and if you can easily understand it and take advantage of its benefits.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
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9 easy ways to earn travel rewards you’ll actually use

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