Earning “miles” or points towards the redemption of free flights or other bonuses related to flying (such as upgrading to the next class, choosing a preferred seat, airport lounge access, etc.) is a great strategy to save some money and improve your flying experience. However, not all miles programs are created equal.
What purchases count towards your miles?
Some miles programs only allow you to accumulate points by making purchases directly with the airline. This means you can only earn points by buying flights. The best miles programs are those connected to your credit card that allows you to accumulate points for every purchase you make. Buy groceries: earn points. Pay your rent: earn points. With this type of miles program, even if the rate of points earned per amount spent is very low, you can earn points quickly simply by being a normal consumer.
When do the points expire?
All miles expire, but the expiry varies from as little as a year to as long as three years. For some airlines, the points never carry over, while for others all you have to do is earn more points before the expiry date to allow already accumulated points to carry over.
Each airline calculates the value of your points differently, but it is common for points to be calculated by distance rather than by ticket price. Getting the best value out of your points, therefore, is often a matter of maximizing the difference between listed price and distance based on factors like class and time of booking. So, for example, you typically get more value from your points if you use them to buy a business class ticket at the last minute when, if you had paid cash, the ticket would have been much more expensive.