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Oct 27

Choosing a frequent flyer program: Which one is for me?

So you’re just getting started and about to build your frequent flyer account.  You’re now ready for the most important question: What airline’s program should I choose?

And the single best answer is: It depends.  Sorry about that, the answer may not be so easy.

Truthfully, like many things in life, the best program for you may be chosen for you, rather than the other way around.  If you live in a city where one or two airlines dominate, such as Philadelphia (US Airways), Seattle (Alaska Air), Dallas (American Airlines or Southwest) or many other major cities, the best option is simply to choose to fly the dominant airline.  That airline will have the most options for you, including non-stops, and it simply doesn’t make sense to choose a program that is going to make flying inconvenient for you.

But if you live in an area where there is no dominant carrier, you have some options.  So here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Is there a city that you fly to often?  If so, see what airlines have non-stop flights.
  2. Do you have family members that like a particular airline?
  3. Do you have a preference for an amenity on a particular airline?  For instance, if you have a family with small children, you may want to choose an airline that has television onboard, such as Jet Blue.  If you need wi-fi on every flight, try a carrier with strong wi-fi coverage, such as Southwest or Delta.

But here’s the bottom line: When you’re just starting out, choose your flights based on price and convenience (and not necessarily in that order).  It is rare that you should be choosing a flight based solely on frequent flyer miles (although there are a few occasions, which I will discuss over the next several weeks), so when you’re starting anew, do what’s going to make your travel easiest and let the program choose you.  You’ll probably find that you are flying one carrier more than others over time, and you can take it from there.  Eventually, factors such as elite status and alliances (relatively simple concepts that I will discuss next week) will also impact your choices.

 

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