How To: What's the Deal With Airline Miles? (Part 1)

TRAVEL HACKING

Miles


Ooh, shiny

Zip your way to the front of the queue and into cushy seats with the first installment of our travel hacking series

 Catching up with some work in Cathay Pacific's fantastic lounge in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport

Catching up with some work in Cathay Pacific's fantastic lounge in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport

Ever wondered what someone is talking about when they start discussing ‘miles’? Also, how the hell are people flying first class for only 200 dollars? 

Just like credit card reward points or bubble tea drink stamps, airlines have their own loyalty programs as well and at 30,000 feet, miles are the airline industry’s equivalent of loyalty points. Traditionally, miles could only be earned via what I call the ‘bum in seat’ method, which is to say, only accruable when one actually flies with an airline. 

However, in recent years, with the expansion and monetisation of frequent flier programs, the methods of earning and redeeming these miles have greatly diversified. Therefore, it is actually now possible to accrue huge amounts of miles without even stepping foot on a plane. A caveat - it’s actually quite easy, but you’ve got to be really crazy about it. 

 
  Warning: miles and status can make you more pretentious than you are   - photo from Cathay Pacific

Warning: miles and status can make you more pretentious than you are - photo from Cathay Pacific

There are two types of miles that can be ‘earned’; elite miles and award miles. As I’ll outline below and explain in greater depth in a future article on earning miles, the general consensus here is that the seat in bum method is the only way to earn BOTH types of miles while the other strategies will only yield award miles. There are also other issues like premium qualifying dollars and other miles shenanigans that come in to play with the US carriers, but that’s been more than adequately covered here.

For the time strapped reader, here’s a very brief rundown of both sides of the ‘equation’ for mile earning and redeeming. I’ll have future follow up articles for each side of the miles game, going into greater depth on how to maximise the value you can get out of your precious miles. 

Earning Miles
1. Bum in seat
2. Spending using ‘air miles’ credit cards
2. Using apps that award miles for daily/leisure activities
3. Shopping rewards portals

Redeeming miles
1. Flight upgrades (business class woohoo)
2. Free flights (woohoo x2)
3. Products like travel chargers and USB drives (less woohoo)
4. Pay for flights with miles and cash (oh god why no)

Keep your eyes peeled

If you thought that frequent flyer programs are the mainstay of elites, you can’t be more wrong. These programs just aren’t the travel exclusive gilded clubs they used to be. Heck, they’re even classified in annual reports as a source of revenue for an airline.

Hence, you should feel no remose for being a mile pinching auntie travel hacker especially when it's going to let you enjoy a glass of champagne while cruising over the Pacific Ocean.

Head over to Part 2 to learn more!