You know what’s not fun? Reminiscing about all the miles you should’ve earned. Thinking back on all the crazy things you’ve managed to do with the heaps of miles you’ve wrangled is so much better. Like – so much. But there’s one crucial mistake aspiring frequent travelers regularly make. We know this, because we get daily emails asking this very question. If you’ve got a few miles with a lot of airlines, you’re doing it wrong.

The Mistake

People naturally assume you can only earn miles or elite status points from the airline you’re physically flying with. That’s just not correct.Β Travelers fail to take advantage of airline alliances. What are those you may ask? They’re partnerships between many airlines, where you can earn miles and airline status with just one airline, while actually flying on any airline within the alliance.

For Example

Let’s say you’re flying Korean Airlines, China Eastern or KLM. It doesn’t matter which one, or all of them. If you’re a Delta fan, you can enter your Delta frequent flyer number to earn miles from all of those flights. You don’t need to earn Korean, KLM or China Eastern points. By pooling points to just one program, you earn lots of miles you can redeem for free flights, and status points to help you earn cool perks like free checked bags – MUCH quicker.

Choosing

Savvy frequent travelers are willing to pay a few extra bucks (within reason) to stick to one alliance for their travels, when possible. By doing this, you accumulate a single stack of points with higher value, allowing you to redeem for things like upgrades and business class flights. If your points are scattered, you cannot combine them – and will likely never earn enough to go anywhere. You’ll want to choose the programs which offer the most rewards for the least earning and also are amongst the easiest to earn elite flyer perks. Here’s a list of our favorites.

Fixing

So hopefully by now we’re on the same page. Pick a frequent flyer program from each alliance such as SkyTeam, Star Alliance and OneWorld. Once you’ve got your programs picked, try to earn points from all your flights into one or two of those. You can essentially earn points with one airline while flying on as many as 27 different airlines. Can you imagine how worthless your points would be if you were just earning 1,000 points with 20 different airlines, rather than 20,000 with one. And no, before you ask – you generally can’t combine points from different airlines.