Frequent Flyer Programs You Might Want to Join Without Ever Intending to Fly on that Airline

Delta aircraft on Portland Airport (Source: Unsplash / Avel Chuklanov)

One of the more common mistakes that people make is to ignore airline partnerships. You might book a flight on, for example, Emirates, and assume that you must join the Emirates frequent flyer program to earn miles. Inevitably, those miles will expire a few years later as most people don’t fly to Dubai (and beyond) that often…

Once you become a bit more familiar with airline partnerships, you come to understand that you can credit the miles from your paid flights to a frequent flyer program offered by a partner. Taking my Emirates example, you could credit those flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. You might also sign up to a credit card program that offers dozens of airline partners – American Express, Chase, Capital One, Citi, etc. – but ultimately still send miles in the direction of a frequent flyer program (or hotel chain) that you are comfortable with.

But once you get to a much more advanced level, you start to realise that you should sign up to certain frequent flyer programs despite having absolutely no intention of flying with the airline in question.  Here are a few candidates and their sweetspots…

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can use their miles to fly on a number of different partners. One of my favourites is Cathay Pacific, where you can:

  • fly between Europe and Hong Kong for 42,500 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First Class (each way)
  • fly between Hong Kong and Australia in First Class for 45,000 miles (each way)

You can also:

  • fly between North America and Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, stopover for as long as you like in Hong Kong, before continuing onwards to Johannesburg, Dubai or Tel Aviv (among many other options) in First Class for 70,000 miles
  • fly between North America and Tokyo on JAL, stopover for as long as you like, before continuing to anywhere else in Asia that JAL flies… for 70,000-75,000 miles

Asiana Mileage Club

Asiana is a member of the Star Alliance, allowing you to spend your miles on Star Alliance partners. It also partners with Etihad, allowing you to:

  • fly between Europe and North America in First Class (i.e. Lufthansa) for 50,000 miles (each way)
  • fly between North American and South America in Business Class for 35,000 miles (each way)

You will still pay Lufthansa’s outrageous fuel surcharges, but when only paying 50,000 miles for their First Class product (whenever it starts flying again), it might actually be worth it!

Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles

Turkish Airlines is also a member of the Star Alliance. I’m not going to pretend that booking partner awards is easy, but you might be willing to make the effort in order to:

  • fly between Hawaii and the North American continent on Air Canada or United in Business Class for 15,000 miles (each way)
  • fly between North America and Europe in Business Class for 45,000 miles (each way)

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

You certainly might want to join Virgin Atlantic Flying Club in order to fly to London. But you are probably more interested in:

  • flying between North America and Tokyo on All Nippon Airways for 45,000-47,500 miles in Business Class (one way) or for 55,000-60,000 miles in First Class (one way)
  • flying between North America and Continental Europe (NOT the UK) on Delta Airlines in Business Class for 50,000 miles (each way)

Avianca LifeMiles

It often appears that the entire existence of LifeMiles is based around selling miles to members, who then turn around and redeem them on Star Alliance partners. Click here for details of a recent offer. Lifemiles earns more money from selling miles than they spend reimbursing their partners for those award seats.

Of course you might want to fly on Avianca to Colombia or beyond, but many Lifemiles members are looking further afield…

Etihad Guest

The world’s number one sweetspot might be gone (Prague <–> Seoul), but you shouldn’t be signing up to Etihad Guest with the intention of booking award flights on Etihad itself, as great as that airline might be. Instead you would be looking to:

  • fly between North America and Brussels (Belgium) on Brussels Airlines for 44,000 miles in Business Class (each way)
  • fly between North America and anywhere in Europe / Africa that Royal Air Maroc flies for 44,000 miles in Business Class (each way)
  • fly between North America and South America on American Airlines for 50,000 miles in Business Class (each way)

The Bottom Line

If you only think about joining frequent flyer programs of airlines you are actually planning to fly, you will probably end up with a few expired miles. Even worse, you miss out on many sweetspots only available when booking partner awards. I hope this list has given you something to think about.

What about you? What is your favourite frequent flyer program for booking partner awards? Let us know in the comments section…

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