If you still believe that your frequent flyer miles are directly correlated to the number of miles you can travel, your travel know-how could use an upgrade. Today, miles are an arbitrary number of “points” that you can exchange for free or upgraded tickets. And airlines may not even give you that unless you pay additional fees or have the correct “upgradable” tickets.

But if you pay attention to the fine print and use the right combination of airlines and miles cards, you can still make those miles you’ve accumulated worthwhile.

Choose your airline

When you decide to buy a ticket, be certain you know the fine print of its frequent flyer miles program and pay attention to the applicable deals in the areas you are flying.

* (All of the following numbers are taken from North American – Europe flights, other restrictions may apply, see airline website for more details).

  • Continental

Available classes for upgrade: All

Travel Rewards: Economy – 50,000 points; Business – 105,000; First Class – 135,000

Cost for upgrades: Sliding scale: 20,000 points + $0

  • American

Available classes for upgrade: All

Travel Rewards: Economy – 30,000 points; Business – 50,000; First Class – 65,000

Cost for upgrades: For economy fares booked in Y, B — 15,000 pts; for other economy fares — 25,000 pts + $350

  • Delta

Available classes for upgrade: The elusive “select fares” (contact Delta for more details)

Travel rewards: Coach — 30,000 points to 62,500 points; Premium – 50,000 to 175,000

Cost for upgrades: Full economy fare – 15,000; “select fares” – 25,000

Use the Right Card

But it’s not just the airline you use that matters. The credit card you use to get these miles can also contribute to not only how many miles you receive with each flight, but also your ability to redeem them.

  • American Express Gold/Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card

With this card, you can use Pay with Miles to completely cover the total fare of a ticket. 10,000 points for $100, and 5,000-point increments for every $50 after that.

  • Citi Platinum/Select/Business AAdvantage Cards

With a Platinum, Select or Business AAdvantage Card from Citibank, you can earn 30,000 AAdvantage bonus miles with no blackout dates if you sign up and make $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months.

  • Chase Continental Airlines OnePass MasterCard

When you make your first purchase with your Chase Continental Airlines MasterCard, you will automatically receive 25,000 bonus miles, as well as two miles for every dollar spent on Continental Airlines tickets.

So shop around before you redeem your miles and be sure to pair the right card with the right airline to maximize the number of miles you get this summer travel season.

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