With more and more US airlines going from a “miles flown” to “dollars spent” award mile accrual system, extremely cheap flights are becoming less and less rewarding.
The “big three” airlines (American, Delta, and United) all follow this principle in that award miles – those used for redemption for future free flights – are based on how much you spend and what your status with the airline is. As a rule of thumb, you earn 5 award miles per USD spent as a general member, 7 at the lowest tier, then 8, 9 (if there are 4 tiers), and 11 miles per USD at the highest tier. Status qualifying miles, however, are still earned based on the miles you spend in the air.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though you earn status with the airline you credit your mileage to, since you are using that frequent flier number on your reservation, you will not earn status with the actual airline you are flying. That is to say, if I use my KrisFlier (Singapore Airlines) frequent flier number when booking flights on United Airlines I will:
- Earn KrisFlier miles – minimum earning rate of 100% of the miles flown
- Earn status with Singapore Airlines
- Earn StarAlliance status (derived from KrisFlyer status)
However, upgrades will be severely impacted. This is because cross-alliance upgrades are not an advertised benefit for any of the alliances (OneWorld: American, SkyTeam: Delta, or Star Alliance: United). However, if economy is overbooked and there are unsold seats in a higher class of service and they cannot upgrade anyone from their own program, they might take alliance status into account. Since this is at the airline’s discretion, it’s hard to predict, so it is best to assume you will not be upgraded.
With the recent news that American Airlines will be going to a revenue based system, following the example set by Delta and United, many individuals who do not have high levels of status with American have considered crediting miles to other airlines in the OneWorld family. The primary target for this transition has been Etihad as you still earn based on distance flown.
Because it was the first of the “big three” to make this transition, many credit Delta with starting the transition to revenue based mileage earnings versus the traditional flown-miles model. Between this change and the removal of award charts, and subsequent change to “dynamic award pricing”, it can be tricky to plan mileage earnings for trips!
FlyingBlue, the frequent flier program belonging to AirFrance (and inherited by KLM after the merger in 2004), is particularly attractive as an alternative in that you still earn redeemable miles based on distance flown, even if at a reduced rate for discounted Economy fares. Additionally, they frequently run sales for their award flights, and will always give at least 500 miles for a domestic flight (750 for international) – regardless of fare and distance flown.
Another option is Virgin Atlantic, which offers at a minimum 75% of distance flown.
Both AirFrance and Virgin Atlantic will add fuel surcharges to tickets, though, depending on which airline partner you are flying with. Both have some very interesting options in that regard: Air Tahiti Nui, Singapore Airlines, and Kenya Airlines, to name a few.
When it comes to StarAlliance, there are a few options that still offer a relatively high rate of accrual based on miles flown, but the airline that comes out at the head of the pack is Singapore Airlines. In addition to earning 100% of the miles flown, you get access to reasonably priced awards charts (with some of the best in-flight experiences available). The only down-side is that the awards will come with fuel surcharges. A full table regarding earnings can be found on the KrisFlyer website.
Another option is AirCanada’s Aeroplan program. Your mileage earnings will vary based on the fare-class: where discount-economy will come in as low as 50% of distance flown, with higher priced tickets earning more. The award chart is fairly competitive, which is also a nice perk.