Fly for Free with Air Miles – We Do!

Photo by Flickr member The Voyager
Photo by Flickr member The Voyager

John and I are getting to ready to book our next trip with our airline reward miles. This is our fifth free flight in the last year and a half.

We are always surprised at how many travelers we meet who don’t take advantage of air miles. Studies have shown that about 50% of the people who fly are not affiliated with frequent flyer programs. I’ve always wondered why? I can understand the reasoning behind someone who only flies once or twice a year, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the expats and long-term travelers that I meet over here who don’t collect air miles, and I’m not just talking about a few. The majority of people that we meet over here do not take advantage of these programs. We’ve talked at length with several friends about this, and while they are interested, they never seem to get around to signing up.

John and I take full advantage of these programs, and the rewards definitely pay off. There are two ways to get more bang for your buck when it comes to frequent flyer programs. It’s easy to enroll in a program and start collecting air mile points for each flight you make. I joined Air Canada’s Aeroplan program back in 1990 just to cash in on frequent flyer miles for my trip to South America. After that, I got my own air mile reward card which I used to gain more miles.  It became a matter of using my card at affiliate shops and services, and before long, I had racked up a lot of points.

Every trip we make home and back earns us an easy 16,000 miles. We have never used our reward miles for flights from North America to Asia. We don’t want to miss out on collecting more miles! We have, however, used our miles to upgrade on our intercontinental flights. We almost always use our miles for short flights within the US and Canada. Continental flights within the U.S can be purchased with air miles for as little as 25,000. As for Asian flights, just last year, we were able to fly from Taipei to Japan on free reward miles.

When I met John, we started collecting on his United Mileage Plus Visa. We quickly realized the benefits of using his credit card everywhere it is accepted. We earned extra miles with each purchase and continued to build up our miles. By 2005, we were using our miles to purchase tickets for expensive flights between Minneapolis and Ottawa and saved ourselves $700 every time we flew to visit each other. We’ve always been careful to make purchases that we can afford and have never had any payment problems.

There are pros and cons to each program. The first danger lies in being able to pay off your balance in full each month. No reward scheme is worthwhile if your interest payments outweigh the rewards. However, if you do avoid the interest, you will essentially earn by spending. It’s also important to check whether or not you can pay cash to go further than your accrued points will allow. Most programs will allow this, but some airlines apply restrictions, such as where you can fly to. Some cards offer discounts at partner stores. We’ve taken advantage of this by staying at hotels that offer triple reward miles or a discount on room rates. Hidden costs can also be added when claiming free flights. Usually, this  involves applicable taxes and surcharges. For example, the flights that I mentioned above charged us tax, but we paid less than $100 for a $700 flight.

Another thing to be aware of is instant cash transactions. Interest starts adding up as soon as you make a transaction, so we almost always avoid taking out any kind of cash advance on our credit cards. You’ll also want to check to see if the card you are using has an annual fee. There are lots of cards out there with no yearly fee. We pay an annual fee on our card, but we get great miles out of it. However, on my Canadian credit card, I don’t pay any annual fees at all and I’ve still enjoyed free flights.

Today, with a conglomeration of major airlines across the world, frequent flyer programs are becoming even more beneficial to regular flyers.

Chris Guillebeaue, author of The Art of Nonconformity has made an art of traveling on air miles. Check out his impressive stats and helpful hints to find out how he manages to flee for free almost everywhere he goes.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions in Asia. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for AS, fibromyalgia, and chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline.

25 thoughts on “Fly for Free with Air Miles – We Do!


    (April 2, 2009 - 5:28 am)

    Good ideas Carrie, especially for those of you crossing the Pacific. For people like me who only make short hops within Asia with whatever airline is available, it'd take me a lifetime to earn a free flight.


      (April 3, 2009 - 5:38 am)

      Ah, yes. Have you taken advantage of any budget airlines recently?


    (April 2, 2009 - 6:04 am)

    I too am surprised that more people don't take advantage of these programs. Don't forget that members often do not have to pay for their first checked bag and in some cases, can carry additional weight. Weight matters to expats! I recently used my continental OnePass miles to purchase three round trip tickets between Vancouver and the US. I'm contemplating what to do with my thousands of points I have accumulated using the Chinese online travel service elong. Maybe a trip to Vietnam or Hong Kong.


      (April 3, 2009 - 5:31 am)

      Hi Global Gal,

      Great points. John and I received an extra baggage allowance when we flew back to Taiwan in January. I\\'ve used elong as well, but not in a while. I didn\\'t know you could accumulate points with them. We used their services quite a bit when we lived in China. You\\'ll have to let me know where you decide to go and how you decide to use the rest of your miles.


    (April 3, 2009 - 5:15 am)

    I am one of the idiots who doesn't really do much with free travel miles, which is strange; Only recently did I sign up with EVA air and manage to get a discounted fare to HK on the strength of some mileage collected on my last US – Taiwan trip


      (April 3, 2009 - 5:37 am)

      With the amount of traveling you guys do, I\\'d have thought you\\'d be an expert on air mile programs. I\\'m glad you\\'ve finally joined and started collecting. Have you checked out the Star Alliance program?


    (April 3, 2009 - 7:42 am)

    I do travel alot but never bothered to collect airmiles. As it will be a different airlines on everyt trip. I love drawing portraits than clicking portraits. I love reserved moods of women..maybe that inspires me to draw women. Usually my sketching is'nt that great. Thats why I send just that one. But have a look at my blog of sketches.
    Thanks alot for your compliments. I'm looking forward for more critics on my photographs.


    (April 3, 2009 - 8:28 am)

    Hi Nivin,
    There are plenty of airlines that work together. For example: the Star Alliance network partners at least twenty airlines together. You aren\\'t limited to just one airline. Fly on any one of them and you can collect air miles.

    Star Alliance works with Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, BMI, EgyptAir, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, South African Airlines, SpanAir, Swiss International Airlines, TAP Portugal, THAI Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United, and US Airways.

    That\\'s the beauty of frequent flyer programs.

    Regarding your artwork, I\\'ll be sure to check out the link you left for me. Thanks again!


    (April 3, 2009 - 6:03 pm)

    Thanks Carrie. I'll give it a try..Thanks for the info.


      (April 4, 2009 - 3:35 am)

      My pleasure. I hope you’re able to start collecting.


    (April 3, 2009 - 6:50 pm)

    hey Carrie! I'm one of the idiots too! Yeh it's so frustrating that I go on at least 10 trips a year, and fly btw Asia and Europe at least once a year, and actually NEVER collected any miles. I'm mad at myself really. Only recently when we flew back from Egypt to Singapore, we signed up with Lufthansa since they work with the Alliance network, but procrastination really got the worst of me, and I never collected the miles we're accumulated before that. I swore to Alberto that we are going to start collecting.

    Thanks for your post, it's really useful, and a wake-up call for me! Just 1 more question – so now that I've joined Lufthansa Miles high program, when I book my flight on Lufthansa or its partnering airlines, do I just enter my miles program membership number, or when do I present it to them? (I'm such a lazy ass!)


    (April 4, 2009 - 3:42 am)

    Hi Nellie,

    AHHHH!! Think of all those wonderful free flights you're missing out on. Time to start collecting! Lufthansa is part of the Star Alliance team. You can present your card or membership number at the airport when you check in and they'll take care of the rest OR quote your number when you book your flight. Make sure you hold on to your boarding passes until your account has been credited. That way, if you run in to any problems, you can prove what flights you were on. Here's a link for the Star Alliance benefit programs which will answer any other questions you have.


    (April 4, 2009 - 11:08 pm)

    Hi Carrie! Nice post. I am a huge proponent of FF programs. It is due to my membership in the AAdvantage FF program in conjunction with having the Aadvantage credit card that I am able to travel so much. Through Aadvantage, I have flown for free on Japan Airlines and gotten upgraded (and earned AA miles) when taking Quantas. I learned most of my "tricks" through FlyerTalk. It is so worth it to join and learn all the tricks if you fly internationally.


    (April 6, 2009 - 10:04 am)

    Hi Sandy,
    I\\'ve never heard of FlyerTalk, so I\\'ll have to check that it. I\\'m glad someone we know is cashing in on miles. I was just speaking with a friend earlier this week who has been grid-skipping all over the world on regular flights and never thought about collecting miles. After my first year abroad, I was upgraded to first class with Air Canada from Korea to Vancouver. Let me tell you, I was one happy chickie on that flight!

    Expatriate Games

    (May 2, 2009 - 3:22 am)

    Back in the real world I used to fly free three of four times a year. The nice thing was, I was earning the free miles while flying for the company.

    Between the airline miles and Marriott points I didn't pay for a vacation for years. Well, there was food. Oh, and toys. Surfboards. Cameras. OK, maybe not free but it was "easier…".


      (May 4, 2009 - 7:36 am)

      I hope you are still collecting. That haul to China is worth mad points!

    Eric Mesa

    (May 5, 2009 - 4:19 pm)

    I've been collecting miles for about 10 years not and already got one free flight. BTW – I discovered your blog from Digital Photography School.


      (May 8, 2009 - 8:48 am)

      Hi Eric,
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Where did you fly to with your free miles?

        Eric Mesa

        (May 8, 2009 - 12:27 pm)

        Hmm…I tried commenting by email, but I'm not sure if it worked.

        "I just used it for a routine trip to visit my parents in Tampa. Worked out great because I didn't have the money for a trip at the time."


    (May 27, 2009 - 12:54 am)

    I was like the others I never realised that I can actually use my miles. I kept thinking that to use it it has to be a big number of flights before I do. I lived in Canada for 7 years almost and traveled back and forth to see my family mostly on Air Canada and I signed up for a card and kept using it my flights inside Canada and out side and before I knew it I had a lot of air miles. I didn’t know how to actually use till my fiancee was left to study in new york and I was living in Montreal at that time. So I had to travel back and forth a lot. when we were checking how much it costs to fly there I checked how many air miles it needed. Wow! I had enough to travel 4 times on my air miles. I used them once even to attend New Years eve in New York! as long as you book ahead I also had a credit card that I use that gets you more points when you purchase your next flight with it as well. I always sign up for mileage especially with Star alliance affiliates and I also have a Hotel miles that I always like to use on my travels and that got me many times free nights stay at that hotel on many of my trips. Miles! It was so funny one of my friends in Montreal wanted to use his credit card to pay the rent so he can add up on Air Miles.


      (June 3, 2009 - 9:48 am)

      Hi Lilliy,

      First of all, I’d like to thank you for dropping by so often and leaving so many comments. I’ve been traveling, and haven’t had a chance yet to return the favor. It sounds like you are using your air miles wisely. We always use our air miles for short distance flights. I think your friend, Miles, is clever to use his credit card to collect miles. We do, too. There’s no harm in using your credit card for everything – provided you have the money to pay it off!

    Chris Watkins

    (May 31, 2009 - 2:53 pm)

    I often don’t earn them, as hunt for cheap flights on special, which may not qualify for frequent flyer miles. E.g. the $205 dollar flight I just took from LA to Taipei with Malaysia Airlines, and my next flight with Jetstar (bought to keep Taiwanese immigration happy) which is a “JetSaver” fare – both earn no miles, but cost well under half the common prices for these routes.


      (June 3, 2009 - 2:02 pm)

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for commenting and for dropping by as well. Yes, sometimes we do this, too. We’re not above taking a super cheap flight and giving up our air miles. However, on most long flights, we tend to pay a little more so we can get the air miles. We hate to pass up the free flights we can get with these miles.


    (April 5, 2010 - 9:05 pm)

    Can someone send me some airmiles? I d like 25000 would someone be so generous to lend me some


    (January 10, 2011 - 12:03 pm)

    Hi there Carrie,
    I’m one of those silly ninnys who flies long haul 3 or 4 times a year. I have boarding passes going back years – and have just created an account with after someone said I was being stupid not claiming my miles for India, South Africa, Egypt etc all from just this year.

    How do I add my miles from these boarding passes? And what is the time limit for these paper boarding passes?

    Thanks for your kind help

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