A Brief Intro to Points & Miles

It wasn’t until well after the beginning of the jet age that the first frequent flyer program made its debut. While frequent flyer programs date back to the early 1970s, it wasn’t until American Airlines introduced the airline’s AAdvantage frequent flyer program in 1981 that the concept of an airline loyalty program took off. The AAdvantage program was quite successful following its launch. Other major airlines, including Delta Air Lines and United, soon introduced their own frequent flyer programs. Today, frequent flyer programs have been radically transformed. However, the first loyalty programs that allowed travelers to earn points and miles can be traced back to the early 1980s.

Frequent flyer programs now engrained in the airline and hospitality industry. For many airlines and hotel chains, frequent flyer programs have become a significant source of revenue. However, this hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the world of points and miles we know today truly took off.

Frequent Flyer Program History

Frequent Flyer Programs Today

Frequent flyer programs and loyalty programs have become a staple in the airline and hospitality industry. Points and miles have even made their way into pop culture. Just look at the popular 2009 Academy Award-winning film Up in The Air. The film, which stars George Clooney and Anna Kendrick, follows Clooney, a frequent flyer obsessed with airline miles as he travels the United States during the financial crisis tasked with laying off workers at large companies. The film Up in The Air isn’t just about points and miles; however, it’s a significant theme throughout the film. Up in The Air isn’t the only example of points and miles, making their way into pop culture. Now, frequent flyer programs have made their way into the topic of climate change with activists hoping to have the programs banned.

It goes without saying that points and miles go beyond travel blogs and elite frequent flyers. With these loyalty programs extremely popular and continuing to grow, what makes these programs work? Why are they so popular?

What Makes Up a Frequent Flyer Program?

Frequent flyer programs were, at one time, relatively simple. Today, they have morphed into a rather complex concept that’s attracted a number of travelers to look for ways to maximize the return on their frequent flyer miles. While some programs are indeed extremely complex, all frequent flyer programs consist of a few basic elements.

Earning Miles

The ultimate purpose of a frequent flyer program is to incentivize a traveler to remain loyal to one airline. Airlines compete not only on route networks and services offered but also on the value of the airline’s loyalty program to frequent travelers. Airlines award frequent flyers for their business by allowing them to earn miles for every mile flown or dollar spent. The more you fly and the more you spend, the more frequent flyer miles you earn. It’s a simple concept that has become surprisingly complex.

Redeeming Miles

To reward an airline’s frequent flyers, airlines allow travelers to use the miles they’ve earned from flying, co-branded credit cards, or purchases made with partners for complimentary flights. Initially, miles could be used for upgrades of free companion tickets. Today, airlines allow frequent flyers to redeem miles or points not only for complimentary flights on their airline but also partner airlines. Some airlines also allow travelers to use miles for things like upgrades, Wi-Fi passes, in-flight purchases, and other travel expenses like hotels.

Elite Status

Elite status is awarded to an airline’s most frequent of frequent flyers. Elite status was originally awarded purely on how many miles a passenger flew with an airline in a calendar year. This meant that passengers who booked the least expensive fare or erroneously priced fares could easily earn elite status. Today, elite status is awarded not only based on miles flown but also dollars spent. Upon earning elite status, travelers receive benefits like complimentary business or first class upgrades, free seat assignments in the main cabin, extra baggage allowance, lounge access, and dedicated customer service, among other benefits.

Hype Behind Points and Miles

The Hype Around Points & Miles

In recent years, there has been a lot of hype around frequent flyer programs. To infrequent flyers or travelers unfamiliar with loyalty programs, this hype can seem unnecessary and unwarranted. In many cases, the hype is entirely overblown. However, some of the hype around points and miles is warranted. Frequent flyer points and miles enable everyday travelers to experience the world’s top first class cabins or take that trip of a lifetime. The hype around frequent flyer programs is typically around what The College Points refer to as aspirational award travel. Aspirational award travel includes using airline miles or hotel points for redemptions like Emirates First Class or a water-front villa in the Maldives.

However, there isn’t much hype around the more useful and common uses of frequent flyer points and miles. Ultimately, while aspirational award travel is great, travelers should not overlook everyday award travel including last minute flights in economy or a standard hotel room in an expensive city. So, while there’s not much hype around using points and miles for domestic economy class or a standard room at a mid-tier hotel, there should be. These redemptions are far more common and more realistic than what’s found on popular points blogs.

Getting Started With Points & Miles In College

There really isn’t a better time to get started with frequent flyer or loyalty programs than during one’s college years. If you wait until you’re raking in some significant cash or have a job that takes you around the globe, you’ll likely have missed out on exciting trips and adventures perfect for college students. Just take a look at the majority of points and miles blogs, the majority of trip reports and reviews feature a 30, 40, or 50 something-year-old on business or traveling with family. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing business and family travel experiences, there are far more ways to use points or miles than a hotel room near Disney World or a 20th anniversary trip to Fiji.

There’s honestly no better time to explore the globe than when you’re in college. However, traveling can be quite pricey. Frequent flyer miles and travel rewards points can help alleviate the financial burden that comes with traveling. Additionally, accumulating points and miles during college makes it much easier to earn enough miles for that first class flight you’ve been wanting to take once you’re raking in a steady salary at your first job.

So, how do college students get started with points and miles? For college students ready to get started earning and redeeming travel rewards, points, and miles, we recommend checking out our guide for college students looking to start earning frequent flyer miles or rewards points. That guide can be accessed here. Additionally, make sure to check out the next section of The College Points’ Points 101 course to learn more about points and miles.

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