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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 16, 2013

Best airlines for frequent fliers

By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


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 are 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!

BEST AND WORST AIRLINES FOR MILES REDEMPTION

According to a recent study I read about in The Wall Street Journal, the hardest major airline to redeem miles on is US Airways, followed by Delta. You have a 36% chance of being able to redeem as you wish with those airlines, which is pathetic.

The best airline for redeeming miles? Southwest, with a 100% redemption rate, followed closely by AirTran with a 95% redemption rate.

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