The original way to earn air miles and points! We all know that if we have a frequent flyer account with an airline and we enter our number at the time of booking our flight we’ll earn air miles.
What you may not know is that you don’t have to have or use a frequent flyer number for the airline you’re flying to collect miles. You can instead use your frequent flyer number for a partner airline and have the points credited to that airline account. This works if both airlines are in the same alliance.
As an example, American Airlines and British Airways are partners; they are both part of the One World Alliance. Therefore, when flying on British Airways you can credit your miles earned to your American Airlines account instead of British Airways.
This way you can concentrate air miles with your preferred airline, instead of having small amounts of miles with lots of airlines - giving you a greater chance of collecting enough miles for a free flight.
The main airline alliances are:
One World (American Airlines is a member)
Star Alliance (United Airlines is a member)
Sky Team (Delta Airlines is a member)
There are smaller alliances (Vanilla, U-Fly and Value) however no American based airlines take part in these.
There are also airlines that are not part of any alliance and in this situation, you can only earn air miles with the airline you are flying. American based airlines that are not part of any alliance are: Alaska, Frontier, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit and Virgin America. You can see the full list of airlines that are not part of an alliance here.
Not all miles are created equal.
If you’re using the strategy of accumulating all your air miles in one frequent flyer account, then you don’t need to think any further than the alliances. If you are based in the U.S. then accumulating miles with United, American Airlines and Delta is the simplest strategy, and will provide a lot of flexibility for redeeming the miles.
If you fly a lot and are accumulating air miles in multiple frequent flyer accounts within each alliance then you need to think about which airline (within the alliance) will net you the most miles for the flight. For example, when flying on a United partner airline if your ticket was anything lower in status than a full fare economy ticket (economy, discount economy or deep discount economy) you’ll earn less miles if you credit to United than if you credited the miles to the airline you flew. This can be a complicated area and the best advice is to check each airlines air miles award chart to make the decision.
You should never miss out on earning air miles for a flight as long as you have an eligible ticket (some fare classes and flights booked on points do not earn air miles). If you forgot to enter your frequent flyer number at the time of booking your tickets, you can add it anytime online prior to checking-in and even right up until the time you board (a gate agent can add it into the system for you). Also in most instances, you can retroactively apply for the miles after the flight by providing flight details to the airline (there is a time limit imposed, usually 9-12 months after the flight to apply).
Here are links to request miles retroactively from the three U.S. airlines that are part of the main alliances.
It can seem like it takes forever to accumulate enough points from flying to earn a free flight - use these strategies and you'll get there much faster!