Are frequent flier programs even worth it if you don’t fly often?

With other ways to earn miles, a frequent flyer program is worth considering

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
Contributor, New Orleans
Woman wearing red on airplane
Photograph: Shutterstock/Air Images

It’s peak travel season, and many vacationers will be jetting off to popular spots around the country or exploring underrated summer travel destinations. If one or two flights a year—say, summer vacation and a trip home for the holidays—is all you take, you might think a frequent flyer program is not for you. But even if you don’t fly often, you could be earning enough miles for a last-minute flight sooner than you think (especially if you brush up on tips like the cheapest day of the week to book your flight).

Is a frequent flyer program worth it?

For frequent flyers, absolutely. If you’re loyal to a single airline and fly often, you’ll quickly collect miles (the airline term for rewards currency, not the distance you fly) that you can apply towards free flights. But frequent flyer programs are not just for jet-setters. Even if you don’t fly often, you could earn rewards and perks that can make future flights easier or even free.

Frequent flyer programs are not just about earning miles for flights. Some airlines offer perks like free Wi-Fi, even before you earn any miles. You can also earn miles or points towards perks like lounge access or upgrades. The more you fly, the more you earn of course, but even if you don’t fly often these perks can make flying a little more comfortable.

It’s easy to sign up for a program, just take a few extra minutes next time you book a flight.

How often do you need to travel to be a frequent flyer?

The more you fly, the more miles or points you earn, but you don’t need to actually fly to earn miles. Some airlines offer credit cards that give you bonus miles for signing up, and then reward you with miles every time you use your credit card. Some even offer double if you spend with partner businesses. Be aware, however, that some cards carry an annual fee.

Should you join multiple frequent flyer programs?

It can be a hassle to sign up for multiple frequent flyer programs, so it’s best to focus on the airlines that you typically fly. However, many airlines are part of alliances, meaning if you sign up for one airline’s program, your frequent flyer number applies to all airlines in the alliance. This saves time and earns you miles towards any of the partner airlines.

Are there any disadvantages to the program?

There are no downsides to signing up for frequent flyer programs, other than marketing emails and having to remember your frequent flyer number. Sure, they’re collecting your information, but only to track preferences so future flights can be more comfortable for you.

For more specifics on the pros, cons and how-tos, check out Nerdwallet’s step-by-step guide to frequent flyer programs.

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