Figuring out which frequent flyer or miles programs is best for you takes some research. Let’s begin with basics.

Best Miles Programs: The Basics

First of all, where do you live and where do you fly? This can make it pretty easy to choose the ‘best’ program if you only have one airline at your disposal. Or maybe you only fly to a city that’s serviced by a single airline (or only one airline offers the most/best routes). If you’re in a bigger city, you’ll need to do more.

Suggestions:

Tip: Check the date of any article or post you view to be sure it’s up-to-date. Miles program rules can and do change frequently!

Other Ways to Amass Miles

Credit cards: The number one way to amass miles outside of flying is by using an airline-branded credit card combined with a flexible hotel-branded credit card that has transfer capability. Some of these cards include a sign-up bonus of 10,000 to 50,000 miles so signing up at the right moment for the right offer is helpful. Also, many cards typically waive the fee for the first year, but factor in fees to come as well as whether applying for a particular card could create problems with your overall credit score. NerdWallet has ranked several credit cards, but there are other lists out there.

Look for specials: Some airlines advertise routes and time periods where you can earn two or even three times as many miles as you could normally earn.

When all else fails: Many airlines allow you to purchase miles which can be helpful if you’re close to meeting an awards trip or upgrade level, but only purchase miles to top off your account to trip level.

Advice to Infrequent Fliers

Should you join a miles program if you don’t earn many miles? Yes, because it’s free and there may be some intangible benefits (we’ve heard anecdotal reports of non-members being bumped from overbooked flights ahead of low status members). And who knows, due to work or a personal situation, you could find yourself flying more frequently in the future.

However, if you don’t fly a lot (and don’t expect to), don’t let loyalty blind you to savings you might get on another carrier. The number one thing every traveler should do when shopping for tickets is to compare airfare prices.