I get questions about getting airline credit cards and earning miles all the time. But the reality is that not all frequent flier programs are created equal.

Stick with these airlines for miles redemption

Sometimes having miles is like having fool's gold. Redeeming them can be difficult. But it's not a monolith across the industry. Some airlines do a bad job with their loyalty programs, while others do a great job.

Two airlines in particular are the easiest to redeem miles on. They are Southwest and Jetblue. Southwest has a 100% redemption rate with their Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa card. The offers change from time to time, but you can often get the equivalent of 2 free roundtrip tickets on Southwest just for signing up for the card!

At the other extreme, the worst airline for redemption is Delta, although they have improved from where they were. But they're still the most difficult to redeem on. American Airlines is just a hair above Delta as second worst.

Use these free sites to determine the best use of frequent flier miles

Are you sitting with a ton of frequent-flier miles and can't figure out how to best use them? A couple of free websites will take a scalpel to your rewards account to tell you the best use of your miles or points for a particular airline or hotel. These include GoMiles.com (recently acquired by Traxo.com) and AwardWallet.com.

You give these sites access to your loyalty accounts and they alert you to deals, warn you if any miles are expiring, and tell you about the best uses of miles at that moment. It's a great way to leverage the value in those miles, though not every site participates with every airline's loyalty program.

People usually try for domestic upgrades to first class. But as a general rule, the best use of frequent-flier miles is for front of the plane travel overseas.

That often means Asia (from the Eastern half of the United States) and Europe (from the Western United States,) plus the Southern hemisphere (from anywhere in the country.)

Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have been hostile to the idea of people using these sites mentioned above because they claim, among other things, that they own the frequent-flier mile account passwords. The truth is the travel provider can raise the cost of a reward like a flight or a hotel stay anytime they want. That's why you should always use a cash-back rewards card rather than a travel card; there's no devaluation or expiration date on cash!

 

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust. View More Articles

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