Expert Tips To Maximize Points And Miles With 3 Top Frequent Flyer Programs

Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200LR

Frankfurt, Germany - June 3, 2010: Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200LR taking off from the Frankfurt International Airport.

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I reached out to Alex Miller, the founder of Upgraded Points (UP), for his expertise on making the most of your airline reward points. Miller launched Upgraded Points in March 2016 with a mission to show travelers the real value of points and miles. Alex and his wife Erin work together on Upgraded Points. When they’re not traveling, they live in Austin, Texas.

Here’s a look at Alex’s advice for getting the most of your frequent flyer programs with American Airlines, Delta and United.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

What do you think is the best way to get good value from your AAdvantage points?

My favorite sweet-spot for American Airlines AAdvantage redemption tickets are round-trip business class tickets from the United States to South America. These tickets cost just 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles round-trip, making for an excellent value.

This redemption is especially valuable on routes with lie-flat seating. Some of these routes include Miami (MIA) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG), Santiago (SCL) and Lima (LIM), among others.

Is there any time of year that is especially good for booking with AAdvantage points for those routes or others?

AAdvantage miles—like most airline miles—are best redeemed for off-peak travel. Think fall time, early spring, and any time during the winter that isn’t the holidays. A good rule of thumb is to avoid holidays and go for times when school is in session. However, you can still find availability during peak seasons if you’re diligent and search frequently.

What are some other smart ways of using your points?

Likewise, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for reasonably priced one-way business class tickets to Europe. A ticket costs just 57,500 miles, making it cheaper than the same routes on Delta or United.

What should every frequent Flyer of American Airlines know?

American Airlines partners Etihad Airways and Japan Airlines offer luxurious jaunts around the world. Tickets on these carriers recently became bookable on AA.com, so keep an eye out for tickets on these carriers if you want to fly to The Middle East or Asia in comfort.

Are there any drawbacks to using AAdvantage points?

Just beware: American Airlines partner British Airways levies huge taxes and fuel surcharges on British Airways operated award tickets; sometimes, this can be over $600 per one-way ticket. Thankfully, you can avoid this by booking American Airlines operated flights, or flights operated by other partners like Finnair and Iberia.

Are there any other tips for using points with American Airlines?

Finally, American miles can also be useful for short-haul flights. Flights under 500 miles can be booked for just 7,500 miles one-way. This can be especially helpful on routes like New York (LGA) to Boston (BOS) that get very pricey at the last minute.

Delta SkyMiles

What do most Delta SkyMiles members not know about the program?

Delta Airlines switched to a dynamic award chart in 2015, meaning that award prices are variable and change based on demand, route, and other factors.

And while this change made international business class redemptios hard, the airline introduced Flash Deals. Delta offers these discounted redemptions multiple times per year on a variety of routes.

What should every Delta SkyMiles member know?

Search for domestic award tickets more than a month out. This increases your chances of finding super cheap tickets—for example, I just booked New York to Houston for 6,500 SkyMiles one-way in economy! However, the ticket was booked three months in advance. This same ticket would cost over 15,000 SkyMiles one-way if booked two weeks in advance.

What are some trips that SkyMiles members may expect to book with their points?

My favorite example of Flash Deals was New York-JFK to Zurich (ZRH) for a low 22,000 SkyMiles round-trip. Granted, this is in economy class, but it’s still a relatively short and comfortable trip when flying nonstop from the East Coast.

Is that typical for what others can expect to book?

These sales come and go pretty often, so keep your eyes on the Flash Deals page. We see Flash Deals to Europe pop up a few times per year.

Can you offer any other tips on getting the best deal with Delta SkyMiles?

But, like I mentioned earlier, award pricing is still variable, so you may not always score such a great deal. Keep an eye out and play around with your dates, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what you can find.

United Airlines — MileagePlus

What are some of the best deals for MileagePlus members?

United has an awesome perk called Exhibitionist. This perk lets you add a free one-way leg to any round-trip award ticket to a single region. On top of this, you can have book an open-jaw award ticket on any round-trip award, meaning that you fly in and out of different cities in the same region.

For example, if you book an award ticket from Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Prague (PRG) to New York (EWR), you can add a one-way Frankfurt to Prague ticket on United partner Lufthansa for free.

This example itinerary costs 60,000 round-trip in Economy or 120,000 in business. Just keep in mind that—if the long haul portion of a business class ticket is operated by a partner—it’s 140,000 miles round-trip in business.

What should every MileagePlus member know?

United recently implemented its own version of dynamic pricing. While it hasn’t had as much of a drastic change as Delta’s switch did, some redemption tickets have gone up in price. However, saver tickets can still be found if you have a bit of flexibility.

Should business travelers and those who travel often for leisure be aware of any other frequent flyer programs?

British Airways Avios is a very versatile frequent flier program. Short-haul flights within the US (under 1,151 miles) on partner American Airlines cost just 9,000 Avios, making it cheaper than booking the same award using AAdvantage miles. You can also use miles to book flights on other Oneworld partners like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways.

You can earn British Airways Avios by flying on Oneworld airlines, or by transferring in points from American Express, Chase, or Marriott Bonvoy.

What do you wish you had learned earlier about booking travel with points?

I wish I had learned to diversify my points portfolio. This will keep you safe from devaluations and give you flexibility to redeem miles for flights on all of the major airline alliances.

Do you have any other advice for booking flights with points overall? 

Like mentioned earlier: stay flexible. This will give you the best shot at getting on the best flights—especially if you’re looking for business class award seats.

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Whether you fly multiple times a month for work or take a vacation every now and then, you can benefit from signing up for free frequent flyer programs. Some of the most popular in the United States are the Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage and United MileagePlus programs. Once you start accruing points, it can be exciting to start keeping track of them and planning how you want to spend them.

I reached out to Alex Miller, the founder of Upgraded Points (UP), for his expertise on making the most of your airline reward points. Miller launched Upgraded Points in March 2016 with a mission to show travelers the real value of points and miles. Alex and his wife Erin work together on Upgraded Points. When they’re not traveling, they live in Austin, Texas.

Here’s a look at Alex’s advice for getting the most of your frequent flyer programs with American Airlines, Delta and United.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

What do you think is the best way to get good value from your AAdvantage points?

My favorite sweet-spot for American Airlines AAdvantage redemption tickets are round-trip business class tickets from the United States to South America. These tickets cost just 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles round-trip, making for an excellent value.

This redemption is especially valuable on routes with lie-flat seating. Some of these routes include Miami (MIA) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG), Santiago (SCL) and Lima (LIM), among others.

Is there any time of year that is especially good for booking with AAdvantage points for those routes or others?

AAdvantage miles—like most airline miles—are best redeemed for off-peak travel. Think fall time, early spring, and any time during the winter that isn’t the holidays. A good rule of thumb is to avoid holidays and go for times when school is in session. However, you can still find availability during peak seasons if you’re diligent and search frequently.

What are some other smart ways of using your points?

Likewise, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for reasonably priced one-way business class tickets to Europe. A ticket costs just 57,500 miles, making it cheaper than the same routes on Delta or United.

What should every frequent Flyer of American Airlines know?

American Airlines partners Etihad Airways and Japan Airlines offer luxurious jaunts around the world. Tickets on these carriers recently became bookable on AA.com, so keep an eye out for tickets on these carriers if you want to fly to The Middle East or Asia in comfort.

Are there any drawbacks to using AAdvantage points?

Just beware: American Airlines partner British Airways levies huge taxes and fuel surcharges on British Airways operated award tickets; sometimes, this can be over $600 per one-way ticket. Thankfully, you can avoid this by booking American Airlines operated flights, or flights operated by other partners like Finnair and Iberia.

Are there any other tips for using points with American Airlines?

Finally, American miles can also be useful for short-haul flights. Flights under 500 miles can be booked for just 7,500 miles one-way. This can be especially helpful on routes like New York (LGA) to Boston (BOS) that get very pricey at the last minute.

Delta SkyMiles

What do most Delta SkyMiles members not know about the program?

Delta Airlines switched to a dynamic award chart in 2015, meaning that award prices are variable and change based on demand, route, and other factors.

And while this change made international business class redemptios hard, the airline introduced Flash Deals. Delta offers these discounted redemptions multiple times per year on a variety of routes.

What should every Delta SkyMiles member know?

Search for domestic award tickets more than a month out. This increases your chances of finding super cheap tickets—for example, I just booked New York to Houston for 6,500 SkyMiles one-way in economy! However, the ticket was booked three months in advance. This same ticket would cost over 15,000 SkyMiles one-way if booked two weeks in advance.

What are some trips that SkyMiles members may expect to book with their points?

My favorite example of Flash Deals was New York-JFK to Zurich (ZRH) for a low 22,000 SkyMiles round-trip. Granted, this is in economy class, but it’s still a relatively short and comfortable trip when flying nonstop from the East Coast.

Is that typical for what others can expect to book?

These sales come and go pretty often, so keep your eyes on the Flash Deals page. We see Flash Deals to Europe pop up a few times per year.

Can you offer any other tips on getting the best deal with Delta SkyMiles?

But, like I mentioned earlier, award pricing is still variable, so you may not always score such a great deal. Keep an eye out and play around with your dates, and you may be pleasantly surprised with what you can find.

United Airlines — MileagePlus

What are some of the best deals for MileagePlus members?

United has an awesome perk called Exhibitionist. This perk lets you add a free one-way leg to any round-trip award ticket to a single region. On top of this, you can have book an open-jaw award ticket on any round-trip award, meaning that you fly in and out of different cities in the same region.

For example, if you book an award ticket from Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA) and Prague (PRG) to New York (EWR), you can add a one-way Frankfurt to Prague ticket on United partner Lufthansa for free.

This example itinerary costs 60,000 round-trip in Economy or 120,000 in business. Just keep in mind that—if the long haul portion of a business class ticket is operated by a partner—it’s 140,000 miles round-trip in business.

What should every MileagePlus member know?

United recently implemented its own version of dynamic pricing. While it hasn’t had as much of a drastic change as Delta’s switch did, some redemption tickets have gone up in price. However, saver tickets can still be found if you have a bit of flexibility.

Should business travelers and those who travel often for leisure be aware of any other frequent flyer programs?

British Airways Avios is a very versatile frequent flier program. Short-haul flights within the US (under 1,151 miles) on partner American Airlines cost just 9,000 Avios, making it cheaper than booking the same award using AAdvantage miles. You can also use miles to book flights on other Oneworld partners like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways.

You can earn British Airways Avios by flying on Oneworld airlines, or by transferring in points from American Express, Chase, or Marriott Bonvoy.

What do you wish you had learned earlier about booking travel with points?

I wish I had learned to diversify my points portfolio. This will keep you safe from devaluations and give you flexibility to redeem miles for flights on all of the major airline alliances.

Do you have any other advice for booking flights with points overall? 

Like mentioned earlier: stay flexible. This will give you the best shot at getting on the best flights—especially if you’re looking for business class award seats.

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I am a vegan travel journalist and the author of 'Santa's First Vegan Christmas.' I wrote my first novel when I was seven years old, and my love of storytelling has onl

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