We hear and talk a lot about miles, but the amount of miles is meaningless if we don’t look at the following aspects:

1. Award space availability: Regardless of how many miles you may have amassed, award availability makes all the difference in the world. For instance, at least anecdotally, I have heard that American Airlines award space to Europe can be very hard to come by. My friends tell me that domestic award space is a lot easier to be had. Then, Delta might have lots of award space available, but the number of miles needed might be prohibitive.
2. Ease of getting those miles. You signed up for the co-branded credit card and got 15,000, 50,000 or 70,000 miles after meeting the required spend during the first 3 or 4 months. However, after the big sign-up bonus you only get 2-5 miles per dollar spent on airfare with this airline and only one mile on everything else. Getting the miles needed for a business class roundtrip ticket to Europe could require spending $100,000+! Unless you fly a lot with such airline or make use of shopping portals and other extra mile-earning opportunities. There are times, when the only way to turn points into miles is through the SPG card which just like the airline co-branded card only gives you one mile per dollar spent on non-SPG/Marriott expenses.
3. The loyalty program: Is the program stable or are the miles needed changing every few months? Are there countless restrictions when it comes to using your miles? For instance, you can’t book business class on partner airlines or you’re not allowed to use miles for first class. While we were away on vacation, United which was our favorite program, changed the way its program works and it now resembles that of JetBlue, Delta and others. United switched from miles flown to the dollars spent flying those miles. Before, you could take advantage of a cheap trip to Asia to rack up your miles, now it’s how much you spent on that ticket that counts.

On the next post we will cover the other 4 items to keep in mind:

4. Alliance membership & partners
5. Quality of the product

6. The program elite status

7. The value of the miles

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