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Keeping track of different airlines’ frequent flyer programs to get the best deal can be a full time job (and is, in fact, for a handful of travel bloggers). Rules are constantly changing, points expire and racking up miles just doesn’t go as far as it used to.

But for a comprehensive overview of the main U.S. carriers’ plans, this New York Times Frugal Traveler breakdown helpfully outlines the main differences.

Airline Alliances

You can sign up for as many frequent flyer programs as you’d like, and as most are free, there’s no harm in doing so proactively.

But also remember that international airline alliances exist, which can give you more bang for your buck. Alliances between carriers are mutually beneficial: Carriers can feed passengers to a cooperating airline, instead of a competitor, and passenger perks—like redeeming miles, sitting in business class or lounge use—often transfer seamlessly. In terms of your big U.S. carriers, United belongs to the Star Alliance, American belongs to One World and Delta belongs to Sky Team. If you’re traveling to different parts of the country or world, these alliances will prove beneficial.


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American Airlines

American Airlines’ AAdvantage program requires travelers to fly 25,000 qualifying miles and spend 3,000 qualifying dollars to attain its base elite level, Gold, which comes with perks like a free checked bag and seven miles per dollar spent.

Its highest rewards level, Executive Platinum, requires 100,000 qualifying miles and 12,000 qualifying dollars, and will get you a free checked bag and priority boarding.


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Delta

Delta’s SkyMiles program gives basic members five miles per dollar spent on Delta flights, and it goes up from there. Diamond Medallion status, which is the most exclusive, nets you 11 miles per dollar spent, but you need 125,000 qualifying miles and $15,000 qualifying dollars to reach it.

You’ll earn Silver status, which is the tier above General status, if you travel 25,000 qualifying miles and spend 3,000 qualifying dollars. You’ll get a free checked bag and occasional upgrades.

One big benefit of Delta’s program is that your SkyMiles never expire, but the Times notes that Delta has devalued its points multiple times without warning. So that’s something to keep in mind.


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United Airlines

The United Airlines MileagePlus program requires 25,000 qualifying miles and 3,000 qualifying dollars to reach its lowest level, Silver, which will get you a free checked bag and Economy-plus seats. To attain 1K status, the highest tier, you’ll need 100,000 qualifying miles and 12,000 qualifying dollars.

Gold status—which requires 50,000 qualifying miles and 6,000 qualifying dollars—will qualify you for Star Alliance Gold status, which will get you access to lounges around the world.

Breaking Down the Frequent Flier Mile Programs | The New York Times



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