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The ultimate goal of award travel is redeeming points and miles to pay for flights, saving the cash outlay required to purchase revenue fares. But if you travel regularly, for business or pleasure, a significant portion of the flights will be revenue tickets that earn miles in the airline’s respective frequent flyer program.
Unless you are loyal to one airline, collecting miles in a single program, you could wind up with small balances spread across several frequent flyer programs. Amassing just enough miles to get absolutely no value from any of them! The critical thing to know is that you don't need to credit miles to an airline's frequent flyer program just because you took a flight with them — you can credit your mileage earning to any of their partners!
The problem with having miles spread over multiple programs is it’s hard to accumulate sufficient miles for even economy award tickets, let alone the more aspirational redemptions of flying business or first class. While AwardWallet can help keep track of all your account balances, you can’t combine miles from different programs to pay for an award ticket.
The best way to avoid having miles spread across a multitude of frequent flyer programs is to credit the miles earned from different airlines to a small handful of frequent flyer programs, building a usable balance of miles in each account.
Why Credit Airline Miles to Partner Frequent Flyer Programs?
Let’s say you fly United on a regular basis. You are most likely signed up to the United MileagePlus® frequent flyer program, and your frequent flyer account is added to your booking when you sign into United’s website to complete your reservation, crediting your miles to United. But what happens when you're overseas and flying domestic or international routes that United doesn’t service? Or you catch a fare that’s too good to resist, but it’s on different Star Alliance carrier?
For example, if you catch a revenue flight on Air New Zealand traveling between New Zealand and Australia. Air New Zealand operates a frequent flyer program called Airpoints. You could open an account and credit your miles to Airpoints. But you would be left with a small, unusable balance stuck in a program you can’t transfer points out of, and those points will expire after four years whether there is account activity or not.
In this case, crediting those miles to almost any Star Alliance partner will net you a better return than crediting your miles to Air New Zealand. You could credit to United MileagePlus, adding to the balance you already have. Or credit to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer program, a program that counts all four flexible rewards currencies as transfer partners, allowing you to scavenge points from multiple rewards programs to redeem an award. If you collect Membership Rewards, you could credit to ANA Mileage Club, or if you collect Citi ThankYou Rewards, you could credit to Avianca LifeMiles, allowing you to top off your account with ThankYou Points to reach a redemption.
Airline partnerships and alliances let you credit miles from any airline within that partnership to one or more partners whose miles offer the best value. You can focus all your mileage earning capacity on a handful of programs that provide top value. The trick is to select frequent flyer programs that offer excellent redemption value, and, are transfer partners of one or more flexible points programs so you can top off your account using points that are easier to accumulate.
How Do You Credit Miles to a Partner Frequent Flyer Program?
You have several opportunities to credit miles to partner frequent flyer programs when purchasing a revenue ticket. If you’re booking directly through the airline, you can typically add your frequent flyer number during the booking process when you enter the passenger details portion of the reservation. Yes, if you book a ticket with Air New Zealand, when you're going through the check out process you'll be able to enter your United MileagePlus account number.
If for some reason, the system doesn’t accept your number, or there isn’t an option to add your frequent flyer number to the booking, you can call the ticketing airline after the ticket is confirmed and have the frequent flyer number added to the reservation manually.
There are also chances to add the number at the airport when you pass through check-in or at the gate, and if all else fails, you can try and claim the miles retrospectively after you’ve completed the flight.
When Does It Make Sense to Credit Miles to Partner Programs?
Perhaps the hardest part of the equation is working out where to credit your miles. How many miles you receive in the partner program depends on the fare bucket of the ticket you’ve purchased, typically shown in the ‘Flight Details’ section of your confirmation email as ‘Booking Class’ and a single letter, as shown in the picture below.
Our favorite resource when deciding where to credit miles is WhereToCredit.com. Just select your airline and booking class and hit ’Show Me‘ and it displays the portion of miles you’ll receive when crediting to different partner programs. The percentage of miles you receive differs between fare buckets, and some discount fares won’t receive any miles at all on partners, to get the most accurate result you’ll need to know the booking class of the fare.
Another factor to account for is whether the program you credit to partners with flexible rewards programs. Transferable points provide ultimate flexibility and allow you to top off accounts when aiming for a specific redemption. If the program you credit towards has more than one big transfer partner, it will be easier to reach your goal than if you’re required to earn the miles within that frequent flyer program’s ecosystem.
The other circumstance which warrants crediting miles to partner programs is if you’re chasing status. Crediting miles to your preferred frequent flyer program allows you to leverage flights on partner airlines to achieve elite status with your chosen airline. We’ve detailed fast tracks to elite status with Star Alliance using this method, where you can reach Star Alliance Gold by crediting flights to Egypt Air.
Crediting airline miles to the right frequent flyer partner has a significant impact on the number of usable miles you bank. Like most things in award travel, it’s best to have a plan and know in advance to which airlines you want to credit miles.
By targeting programs with flexible partners, you can transfer points from everyday spend combos like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card paired with the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, or The Platinum Card® from American Express paired with The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, to top off your accounts and land that big award travel redemption.
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