How Frequent Flyer Programs Work

Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles

Consider donating your extra miles to charity.
Consider donating your extra miles to charity.

Redeeming your miles is typically a straightforward process. You should always have your frequent flyer number handy when speaking with the airlines. You purchase a ticket with miles the same way you do with cash. They will use your number to access your account and subtract the appropriate amount of miles as you purchase the ticket. Tickets are available in paper form via regular mail or shipping carriers, and, of course, as an e-ticket.

But before you redeem, there are a few important issues that you should consider. They could affect how and when you use your miles. There are quirks in the miles/points redemption process. The actual monetary value is typically 2 cents per frequent flyer mile (reportedly the airline industry average). For example, if you want to redeem 25,000 miles for a free ticket, the number of miles multiplied by 2 cents per mile is $500. As some industry researchers have noted, it may be smarter to save your miles and purchase a lower cost ticket to your destination.

Furthermore, the airlines have a notorious reputation for blackout dates and limited seat availability for frequent flyer customers. One of the most important parts of your conversation with the ticket agent will be the answer to the question, "What's available for the dates and flights that I want?" The airlines are under no obligation to offer any more than they decide is viable as outlined in their terms and conditions.

Finally, you don't always have to use your miles for additional travel. You can use miles and points to purchase other goods and services with certain merchants. For example, registered users of can use extra miles and points to purchase gift certificates to hundreds of participating retailers. And don't worry, the list isn't a who's who of obscure store names. You'll find clothing retailers such as Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy and department stores such as TJ Maxx, Target, Sears and JC Penney. And, for an even broader selection of goods, you'll even find Amazon and eBay. users don't only benefit from the variety of shopping possibilities, the free registration also includes some other useful services. In fact, the main feature is that you can create one central location for monitoring several award programs. Let's say you're a member of three frequent flyer programs and you're thinking about joining a hotel program, too. But it's already a hassle to keep track of your miles and points as it is. enables you to house all that information in one online location called a balance tracker. From there, you can:

  • transfer or swap miles and points from one program to another
  • sign up for bonuses to earn extra points and/or miles
  • purchase points and/or miles
  • share points and/or miles with family
  • redeem points and/or miles for gift certificates at participating retailers

Next, we'll look at some of the hidden costs you might encounter when redeeming miles.