How Do Air Miles Work?

Passengers are flying in an airplane.
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Nearly every major airline offers an airline miles program that rewards customers for loyalty to that particular carrier. As of 2015, more than 70 airline miles programs existed between domestic and international airlines, according to FrequentFlier.com. Airline miles programs, also called frequent flyer programs, have even crossed over into the hotel industry, with several major hoteliers offering hotel points that the customer can transfer into air miles.

How to Earn Miles

Most airlines require you to sign up for their particular frequent flyer programs to earn and redeem miles. An airline typically awards one reward mile for every mile flown in the air. The American Airlines AAdvantage program, for example, gives members one mile for every mile flown and 1.5 miles for every mile flown for Elite members. You can also earn miles through hotels, cruises, rental cars and vacation packages, with some airlines sponsoring credit cards that give you even more miles for making certain purchases.

What You Can Get

Through each frequent flyer program, you can trade in miles for airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, vacation packages and cruises. Each program differs in the number of miles it takes to get certain rewards. For example, when you search for flights through the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, you see how many points each flight requires. Websites like WebFlyer.com help you navigate the numerous programs, providing detailed information on each program including how many miles you earn, what you can spend miles on and how many miles different rewards cost. You can also refer to that airline's frequent flyer website.

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