There are a number of ways to use frequent flyer miles, ranging from redeeming them to fly for free, to donating them to charity. Flyers who are enrolled in frequent flyer programs may want to think ahead about the various ways in which they can use their miles, as it doesn't always necessarily make sense to just use them for free air travel. Each airline also has slightly different policies about how and when miles can be used and when they expire, and it's a good idea to read the airline's policies carefully when enrolling in a frequent flyer program.
Airlines initiated frequent flyer programs to build up customer loyalty. Originally, the idea behind such programs was very basic: as customers racked up miles flying back and forth, the airline kept track of them, and customers could opt to redeem the miles for free flights. For people who flew a great deal, these programs made flying more affordable, and they built up customer loyalty for airlines because they were usually not transferable. It is still possible to use frequent flyer miles to buy plane tickets, but there are some other options.
For customers who want to use frequent flyer miles to buy an airline ticket, the customer should call the airline's booking number, and explain that he or she wants to book a flight with frequent flyer miles. The airline personnel will look up the customer's number to determine how many miles are available, take the booking, and deduct miles from the customer's account to pay for it. Customers should be aware that airlines don't offer a mile-for-mile option; in other words, if a customer flies from New York to San Francisco, he or she can't turn around and use the miles from that trip to pay for the flight home. Many airlines also have blackouts and travel restrictions for people who book with miles, and such customers may even be bumped from flights to accommodate people who paid full fare.
If an airline does not offer travel to a location someone wants to reach, it may be possible to use frequent flyer miles to buy a code sharing ticket. Many airlines have partner or code sharing agreements to extend their services. Domestic Airline A, for example, may partner with International Airline B to offer flights.
Before using frequent flyer miles to book a trip, passengers should think about the cost efficiency. It may be cheaper to buy a ticket in cash, and to use the miles for something else. It can help to keep track of how much each airline ticket costs so that the value of the frequent flyer miles can be understood in terms of cash spent.
Some airlines allow people to purchase upgrades with their frequent flyer miles, which can be a very efficient way to use them. On a long flight, for example, someone might pay cash for a regular coach ticket, and then upgrade with miles to business or first class. Customers who rack up a lot of miles may also be entitled to things like access to an airport lounge and other perks, such as priority booking and check-in. Airline customers can also use frequent flier miles to pay for a variety of goods and services. Many airlines partner with hotels, rental car companies, and retailers to allow their customers to spend their miles on these products.
Another option for frequent flyer miles is donation to charity. The donated miles can be used to provide travel to members of the armed forces who are trying to get home on leave, or to people who need to travel for medical care. If miles are about to expire, it is well worth considering charitable donation.