This is part of our seven-step series Beginner’s Guide to Free Travel & Rewards.
In this post we will explain things like:
- What are the difference between transferable points and airline/hotel points?
- What does it actually mean to use airline points?
- What are airline “alliances” and how does this help me book a great flight?
While hotel points and free nights are relatively easy to redeem, airline rewards can be pretty complicated.
What is the difference between transferable points and airline/hotel points?
As explained previously in Step 4: Understanding Transferable Points, Chase, AMEX, Citi, and Marriott points can be transferred to various airline and hotel loyalty programs, making these points very versatile and valuable. However once these transferable points are transferred to a certain loyalty program (Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Hilton etc) they cannot be transferred back, so make your decision wisely. It’s this flexibility to transfer to multiple loyalty programs that makes these points so valuable.
Airline and hotel points on the other hand are generally “stuck” with the loyalty program you earned them in. For example if I earned 500 United Airlines points, I would not then be able to transfer to another hotel, airline or even one of United Airlines’ partners. However there is some versatility in these United Airlines points in that I can use them to book a flight on United Airlines itself, or on any of United Airlines partners. Ok now you’re really confused, so keep reading.
What does it actually mean to use airline points to book an award ticket?
A few very important points to note about redeeming AIRLINE points:
- Using airline points/miles means that you are using those points to book a flight on that airline or any of the airline’s partners.
- You will need to need to understand point redemption and routing rules for the airline whose points you are using.
- You are NOT transferring those airline points to another airline to book the flight.
The best way to understand this is through an example:
Using United Airlines (UA) points, I can book an award flight on UA, or any of UA’s partners (Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss Air, ANA etc). However I will need to look up the UA award redemption chart and understand UA routing rules on award tickets. Even if my flight ends up being on Lufthansa or another partner, I will need to call UA (or book on united.com) to book the flight and use my UA points. I will NOT be transferring my UA points to Lufthansa to book the flight (remember airline points are “stuck”). Lufthansa is not involved in the transaction at all. Their only involvement is when you call them to choose your seat assignment and to fly the plane once you have that comfy first class seat 😉
What are airline “alliances” and how does this help me book a great flight?
Remember there are three major airline alliances. Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam. There are varying terms and conditions, but generally you can credit flights you take on one airline to another member in that same alliance. Additionally once you obtain elite status with an airline, certain perks like free checked bags, priority checking and boarding, and lounge access will apply to the entire alliance.
When it comes to booking award flights, you are able to use one airline’s points to book a flight on any member in that alliance. As in the example above, you could use United points to fly to to South Africa on South African Airways, or fly to the Maldives on Singapore airlines.
If you have any questions about hotel/airline points (and I’m sure you will!), you can reach out to us at [email protected] or leave a comment on this post!