To my fellow FlyerTalkers, this will not be a strange question at all.
Frequent Flyer Program (FFP) - a program that basically allows you to earn rewards when you travel.
It is not difficult to understand how it work - you took a qualified travel, and you earned something back for the future.
But how many people, for real, have thought about what are best for them anyway?
Here are my 2 cents on FFPs:
1. Don't earn because you can...
Funny, right? A lot of people think that when you travel, and you are offered a chance for earning reward, you should jump to take the offer, right?
No. You should only earn when it is the right moment.
A lot of programs gave incentive for new members for simply joining. Somehow the incentive may be more than what you can earn for your initial flight. For example, American Airlines, in some occasions, may offer a 1000-mile opening bonus. But if you open your account for a round-trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles by AA, you are in fact only earning 672 miles.
Beside, airlines do make money when you allow them to share your information.
2. Have a target...
I love "Up In the Air". When Natalie asked Ryan what is his target at Hilton, he said. "It's 10 million miles," Such a big target...
Of course - I am not asking you to do a copycat as Ryan did (as Ryan was meant something else, which like Tom Stuker (FlyerTalk User ua1flyer), which is referred to butt-in-seat (BIS) mile.) But still, you should have some ideas what you want to save up from.
For example, if you want to earn an award ticket for traveling to Asia, then you should plan on how you can earn these miles.
3. Choose the right program...
No offense to airlines - but not all airlines programs are right for you.
Like everything else in your life - you have to pick one (or a few) that fit your need the most.
For instance, unless in extreme cases, you should not choose a program that there is no way that you are related with. Let's say you live in San Francisco. Unless you do some travelings to Sake Lake City or Atlanta or another other SkyTeam partners per year, you should never be attracted to Delta SkyMiles.
The easiest way to earn miles are through traveling and credit card. However, it takes years if you want to earn from credit card. For example, if I want to earn an award ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong by using my United Mileage Plus Card, I will need to spend USD$65,000 to get these miles (assuming no bonus has involved).
4. Watch out the program's expiration policies...
A key issue with FFP - mile expiration.
AFAIK - there are 3 kinds of policies - 1) never expired; 2) expired with certain time regardless; and 3) expired after certain time of non-activities.
For instance, Delta SkyMiles will be type 1. Most Asian airlines programs (like Asian Miles) will be type 2, and most American airlines (American, United/Continental) will be type 3.
I will always try to avoid type 2 - unless you can earn miles quickly, your miles will be expired way before you can use it for something meaningful. In other word, you are basically back to square one each time.
5. Check out all related policies for partner airlines.
In most of the cases, no airlines will require the passengers to have their own program in order to earn award (except those who go for elite status, or small programs like SouthWest Rapid Reward 2.0).
Using me as an example, I never used my miles from United/Continental and got United award ticket (in fact, all reward tickets are all traveled on Singapore Airlines).
Singapore Airlines Krisflyer program is considered as type 2 mile expiration policy - you can't use it for something meaningful. But you still want to earn reward for traveling with Singapore Airlines. Then partner airlines program (like United in my case) will be your perfect solution.
Miles like money. If you know the tricks well, it is not difficult for you to earn reward...