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Is There a Single Miles Program for All Airlines?

Dear Tim,

I travel quite a bit for work; however, I have to find the cheapest flights to my destinations. I was wondering if there is a frequent flyer program for all airlines?

Matt F.

Dear Matt,

There is no single program that awards flight miles for all airlines, and there never will be. If there were, it would render airline-specific programs superfluous. To understand why, consider the underlying purpose of mileage programs.

Airlines launched the first frequent flyer programs in 1981 to encourage travelers to channel as much of their travel purchases as possible to a single airline. In the ensuing 25 years, the programs have been expanded to include multiple partners, including other airlines. But the goal remains the same: to keep program members’ loyalty focused on a targeted group of companies.

A program that allowed members to earn miles for flights on any and all airlines would have no loyalty effect whatsoever since members would be rewarded no matter which airline they choose to patronize. No airline would participate in such a program.

Price is always an important consideration in choosing an airline and can interfere with maximizing frequent flyer miles if it’s the deciding factor in every case. Still, the best approach is to concentrate your mileage-earning in a single program whenever possible, and augment those flight miles with miles for credit card use, retail purchases, and other partner transactions. In the end, you’ll get the most both for your money and for your loyalty.

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