How to Choose a Mileage or Points Program to Focus Your Earning

So, you’ve decided you want to collect miles for nearly free travel.

The obvious question is: where should you be focusing your efforts?

There’s the extreme approach which involves getting a little bit of everything.  It means signing up for all of the best credit card offers (of course, spacing out applications from the same institution).  This is the approach I take.  if it’s a good deal, you can bet I’m going to sign up for it.  I travel enough that it’s nice to have a full suitcase of miles and points to choose from when planning a vacation.

But I’m weird.  Certainly, only the minority of folks go all in.

Most of you would prefer to do an application or two and settle into your spending rut with that card.  It’s a simple approach without a lot of bookkeeping.

However, it’s even more important that you pick the best card.

How to Choose a Mileage or Points Program With a Domestic Destination in Mind

Let’s say that you and your family live in Omaha, and you want to plan a vacation to Disney.  You’d for sure like to get free flights for the trip.

  1. Does Southwest fly to the destination city?  Here’s a list of all Southwest destinations.  If so, check and see what you could expect to pay (on average) for the flight using points.
  2. Does American Airlines have a direct flight? Like many airports, Omaha flights typically go through either Dallas or Chicago.  The reason you ask this question is because if there is a direct flight, British Airways might have the lowest mileage requirement.  An alternative option is to visit to discover the lowest mileage requirement for your flight.

Remember that most US based airlines have a similar 25,000 mile requirement for domestic US flights.

Give preference to programs that allow you to feed miles from multiple sources.  Let’s say that you decide to go with Southwest. Then you can get both a Southwest card (current best 25,000 points) and a Chase Sapphire Preferred (current best sign up bonus 40,000) and end up with 65,000 points.  By the way, you should probably space out those applications by at least 30 days.

In this case, the same is true of British Airways.  You can get the British Airways card (50,000 sign up bonus after first purchase), the American Express Premier Rewards Gold (25,000 Membership Rewards points transferable to BA), and the Chase Sapphire Preferred (current best sign up bonus 40,000), and end up with 115,000 British Airways miles.

How to Choose a Mileage or Points Program With an International Destination in Mind

If you’re saving up miles or points for a trip overseas, the selection process may be a little more complicated.

  1. Determine what airlines fly to your desired destination.  For some obscure airports there may only be one airline alliance that flies into the airport.  Visit Open Flights to see what airlines service your airport.  That doesn’t mean you should collect points on that airline, but you should collect points on an airline that partners with the airline that flies to the destination.  To check airlines, here’s One World airlines, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance.
  2. Determine what mileage program offers the lowest mileage rates to your selected destination.  For this, I suggest you check out
  3. Add in a frustration factor by checking to see how the mileage programs rank in terms of redemption availability.  Visit the Web Flyer Award Index to get an idea of how often airlines release their lowest mileage seats.

Of course, for both of domestic and international flights, there is possibly a better way (with less work involved).  Request my free Customized Frequent Flyer Mileage Strategy.  The link takes you over to my site where I spend my time helping people customize their own travel plans.


  1. says

    ok, I booked my trip to Asia in December using miles way back in late January. I paid the lowest miles offered followed with a confirmation. So I know I on the flight but does anyone know when the seat is assigned? If I’m assigned a middle seat is it possible to upgrade to an isle seat? The carrier is Asiana. Thanks!

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