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Understanding Programs

TL;DR Programs are generally divided into zone-based, distanced-based and fixed-value types. Learn what makes each unique and how to make them work for you.

Regardless of your goals, make an effort to join airline loyalty programs. Our database of 63 airline programs can help you get started. There are three type of programs:


Award ticket cost depends on origin and departure regions. Programs include: American Airlines AAdvantage or United Mileageplus).

In this kind of program, the ticket cost depends on program-defined zones, which are generally grouped by geographic location. For example, if origin and departure on JFK-SFO ticket fall under a North America zone, you would then determine the cost of a North America—North America ticket in the award chart. However, a JFK-NRT ticket would end in an Asia region; you would then find the cost of a North America–Asia ticket.


Award ticket cost depends on the flight distance. Programs include: British Airways Executive Club or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

In this kind of program, the actual total distance of the ticket determines the cost of a ticket. For example, a one-way JFK-SFO ticket (2,586 miles) may fall in a program's 1000-2500 mile pricing bracket. On the other hand, a round-trip LAX-NRT ticket (5,451 x 2 = 10,902 miles) may fall under a 9000-12000 mile bracket.

One caveat: keep in mind that connecting flights affect total distance of itinerary (and therefore, the price of the award ticket).


Award ticket cost is based on actual ticket price. Programs include: Southwest Rapid Rewards or JetBlue Trueblue.

In this kind of program, a point has a fixed-value so that an award ticket is proportional to the retail cash price on a ticket. If a fixed-value progam sets a point's value at 1 cent, it will take 10,000 points to redeem a $100 ticket. It will take 30,000 points for a $300 ticket in the same program.

Things to Consider

All programs have their unique strengths and weakness—user our program guide to find the ones that benefit you. Things that you should consider:

  • What are the ways that you can earn points?
  • Does the program have any transfer partners?
  • How much do award tickets cost? (our original pricing tool prices out itineraries across 16 award programs)
  • What airlines does this program serve?
  • What kind of partner airlines opportunites are availabile to this program?

Next: How To Earn Miles and Points »

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