Which Miles & Points Should You Collect for Award Flights?
Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
Million Mile Secrets reader Alex writes:
I was wondering if you can give me advice on choosing the right credit card. I already have a Miles & More (Lufthansa) account and ~30,000 miles or so in there.
I’m located in Miami and I try to stick to Lufthansa or Star Alliance partners as my preferred airlines. I fly at least 2 times a year to Europe or Asia but also make some trips within the US.
Great question, Alex! It can be hard to decide which miles & points to collect for your trip, especially if you’re new to our hobby.
If you already have an idea of where & how you want to travel and which airlines or alliances you prefer, you can narrow down your choices of which credit cards to apply for.
And knowing which airlines serve your home airport will help a great deal in making a decision!
I’ll give you tips for how to decide which cards to apply for, depending on your home airport, airline preferences, and travel goals!
1. Where Are You?
One of the biggest factors in deciding which miles and points to collect is your home airport.
It doesn’t make sense to sign-up for cards which earn miles with an airline or alliance that doesn’t fly to an airport near you! And some folks in small cities might only have 1 or 2 airlines to choose from.
That said, if you live in an area served by multiple airports (like New York City or Washington, DC), you’ll have far more flexibility in redeeming your miles & points for flights!To find out which airlines serve your airport, check:
- The airport’s website (for example, there’s an “airlines serving ROC” section on the website for Rochester, New York airport)
- Wikipedia (for example, the Wiki for Dallas-Fort Worth airport lists the airlines that fly there)
- ITA Matrix (very useful if you have a particular destinations in mind, as they’ll list most of your flight options with the notable exception of Southwest)
- FlightStats (enter your airport and date and you’ll see a list of arrivals and departures, including code-share / partner flights)
Remember, if an airline is part of an alliance or partnership, you can usually use their miles to fly on any partner airline.For example, you can use American Airlines miles to fly on oneworld member airlines like Cathay Pacific, or non-alliance partners like Alaska Airlines or Etihad.
2. Where Are You Going?
Do you travel mostly within the US, internationally, or a mix of both? Knowing where you’ll be traveling can be a tremendous help in deciding which miles & points you need.
For example, if you usually travel within the US, you’ll likely consider airlines like American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, or United Airlines.
But sometimes the best miles to collect aren’t that obvious! For example, you can get terrific deals on short haul flights on Alaska Airlines and American Airlines using British Airways Avios points. Or use fewer miles for United Airlines flights by booking them with Singapore Airlines miles.
3. Stay Flexible!
I always recommend that folks starting out in our hobby focus on collecting transferable points because they’re the most flexible.
The 4 main transferable points programs are:
If you’re unsure of your plans, you can simply keep collecting points until you’re ready to book travel. Then transfer points to the partner airline or hotel program of your choice.
Each transferable points program has different airline partners (although there is some overlap – for example, you can transfer from all 4 programs to Singapore Airlines).My favorite flexible points program is Chase Ultimate Rewards. Because all 3 major airline alliances are represented with their transfer partners:
By collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards points, you can basically access award seats on any alliance member airline. Plus non-alliance transfer partners like Southwest and Virgin Atlantic.
4. Putting It All Together
Let’s look at Alex’s situation and see what his best options are. He’s in Miami, prefers Lufthansa and Star Alliance airlines, and travels to Europe, Asia, and within the US.
Airlines That Serve Miami Airport
- Air Canada
- Austrian Airlines
- Copa Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- TAP Portugal
- United Airlines
Options Within the US and to Europe & Asia
It’s interesting that Alex prefers Star Alliance airlines, because Miami Airport is actually an American Airlines (oneworld) hub! He may have more award flight options using American Airlines or other oneworld airline miles, depending on where he wants to travel.
And my favorite airline for domestic travel, Southwest, does NOT fly to Miami. But they do fly to Fort Lauderdale (~1 hour drive north).
For domestic flights, it makes most sense for Alex to focus on earning United Airlines miles. Because he can also use them for international flights on Lufthansa and other Star Alliance partners.To Europe and Asia, he can use United Airlines miles to fly from Miami on not only United Airlines itself, but Star Alliance partners Air Canada, Austrian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, and TAP Portugal. Or connect to another US city on United Airlines and continue on any other Star Alliance partner.
Cards to ConsiderChase Ultimate Rewards points-earning cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus are Alex’s best bet.
And remember, when you have one of the above cards (or the no longer available Chase Ink Bold), you can combine points from cards like the Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card then transfer them to airline and hotel partners.
These cards will give Alex the most flexibility. He can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines for flights on United Airlines, Lufthansa, and other Star Alliance partners.
Or if he decides he’d like to try out American Airlines service from Miami, he can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways to book American Airlines (or other oneworld airline) award flights.
He could even consider transferring to Southwest if he doesn’t mind getting to Fort Lauderdale airport. Southwest often has the cheapest award tickets for domestic flights, everyone gets 2 free checked bags, and there are never change or cancellation fees. So it might be worth it for Alex!
Other cards that might fit Alex’s situation:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express (personal or small business) – transfer points to Lufthansa’s Miles & More program
- Miles & More World Elite MasterCard from Barclaycard- to earn more Lufthansa miles
- Chase United MileagePlus Explorer (personal or small business) – to earn more United Airlines miles
If that’s the case, he might want to focus on earning Singapore Airlines miles (which can be used for award flights on United Airlines, Lufthansa, and other Star Alliance airlines).
Remember, Singapore Airlines is a transfer partner of all 4 transferable points programs. So cards that earn Citi ThankYou points or American Express Membership Rewards points could also be a good option.
If you’re having trouble deciding which miles & points to collect for award flights, consider:
- Which airlines fly from your home airport
- Your airline & alliance preferences
- Where you want to travel (domestic, international, or both)
Cards that earn transferable points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, are the most flexible. Especially if your travel plans aren’t firm or you like keeping your options open!
Hope this helps, Alex! Let us know what you decide!
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardAPPLY NOW
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)