Loyalty Program Strategy for Beginners – Part 1

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Loyalty Program Strategy for Beginners

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Loyalty Program Strategy – Introduction

You’ve just discovered the world of points and miles, and you’re eager to get started! Perhaps you have someone in your circle who’s a points and miles enthusiast. You’ve seen their videos on social media flying in business or First Class, and you’re intrigued. It’s time to develop your own Loyalty Program Strategy!

Many points and miles enthusiasts will boast about how their flights in premium cabin were practically free. They may also claim they saved thousands of dollars. In reality they’re unlikely to have booked a seat in the front cabin if they had to pay it all in cash.

Redeeming points and miles for travel can be very rewarding.  Yet, it does come with a considerable investment of your time, and it’s not free! This guide is the first in a series that breaks down some of the considerations and strategies you may wish to put into action when you’re first starting out in this lucrative hobby.

This Loyalty Program Strategy for Beginners is part of a guide series:

Loyalty Program Strategy for Beginners – Part 2

Loyalty Program Strategy for Beginners – Part 3

Waldorf Los Cabo Pedregal

Waldorf Astoria – Los Cabo Pedregal

Loyalty Program Strategy – Establish A Goal

Maybe you’ve already started dabbling in various airline and hotel loyalty programs based on your friend’s recommendations. Yet, when you went to make your first redemption, you realized that you didn’t amass enough points in any particular program to get you to your destination.

Before giving up quickly, think about having a concrete goal that aligns with your travel aspirations. Whether it’s the allure of soaring in the premium cabin of renowned airlines, indulging in the luxury of an aspirational property or slashing your travel expenses, having a well-defined goal is your compass in this journey.

Bodrum Edition

Bodrum Edition

Developing a Loyalty Program Strategy

With your first points and miles goal set, think about how you can achieve it. For instance, let’s assume you want to redeem miles to fly in a premium cabin to reach your desired destination. To figure this out, you would need to look into:

  • Which airlines fly from or near your home base to your destination?
  • Are these airlines part of or have a partnership with any of the three airline alliance groups (Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam)?
  • If there are multiple options to get to your destination, which airline frequent flyer program should you pursue for your flight redemption?
Airline Alliances

Airline Alliances

Being equipped with this information will guide you in developing your strategy. Next, you need to determine which airline loyalty program to invest in by considering factors such as:

  • Whether you can easily earn or collect miles in this program
  • The cost of the flight award redemption under different airline programs
  • Award availability
Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines

For example, let’s assume you want to fly to Honolulu, Hawaii, from Toronto using miles. A quick search on Google Flights shows multiple options:

  • Delta Airlines (SkyTeam)
  • Air Canada (Star Alliance)
  • United Airlines (Star Alliance)
  • American Airlines (Oneworld)
  • Westjet (has partnerships with various SkyTeam airlines, such as Delta Airlines)
Google Flights - Honolulu

Flight options – Honolulu

You can find the airline alliance using Google Flights and filter under “Airlines” to select the alliance you’re interested in. Based on the number of connections, you will find that Air Canada, United Airlines, and WestJet have only one stopover, so you decide to pursue one of these three options.

Google Flights - Airline Alliances

Google Flights – Airline Alliances

Let’s start with Air Canada and United Airlines. They are both part of Star Alliance. This means it’s possible to book an Air Canada flight on United’s frequent flyer program, United MileagePlus. Likewise, you can book a United flight on Aeroplan, which is Air Canada’s frequent flyer program. This is of course subject to availability.

Air Canada Signature Class

Air Canada Signature Class

Another consideration is the ease of collecting miles in both programs. With a bit of research, you’ll discover that the options for collecting United miles are very limited in Canada. There are no credit cards in the Canadian market that can be earned or transferred to United MileagePlus.

This leaves the hotel loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy. It is the sole option to transfer to United MileagePlus in Canada unless you have access to US credit cards. If you fly frequently on United or United partners, where you can credit to United MileagePlus, you can certainly accumulate miles this way. However, it will take many flights to earn enough miles to make a meaningful redemption.

Turning to WestJet’s frequent flyer program, WestJet Rewards, you’ll find that they don’t use a miles system. Instead, you earn WestJet Dollars by either flying on WestJet or their partner airlines or earning or transferring WestJet Dollars via credit cards. One positive is you don’t need to worry about navigating flight reward charts!


Redeeming WestJet Rewards is easier than Aeroplan in the sense that you book your flight the same way as when you book a cash fare. When you reach the payment page, you just apply your WestJet Dollars to your booking, to reduce your flight cost. While this is simpler, you’ll find that you can generally extract more value on Aeroplan redemptions, particularly when booking premium cabin.

To sum it up, sometimes it’s not about the most optimal redemption price as other variables come into play. This includes the ease of collecting a particular miles and points currency, what is bookable on the various airline frequent flyer programs and then finding award space. Arming yourself with this info will drive you to focus on the relevant points and miles currencies to bring your goal to fruition.

Embrace Flexibility to Find Award Availability

Booking an award flight is different than booking a revenue (i.e. cash) fare. For starters, when doing a search on an airline reward program, you may notice that there are no award flights available for your desired dates. Another issue you may run into is only finding one award seat available when you need four seats for your family trip.

How do you get around these obstacles?

  • Booking far in advance or last-minute
  • Change your flight departure and arrival dates
  • Flight positioning
  • Diversifying your points and miles portfolio

Flexibility, strategic planning and a touch of serendipity can go a long way in this hobby. Consider this: planning ahead by booking 8 -12 months in advance increases your likelihood of finding coveted award seats for your preferred dates.

Alternatively, if you’re very flexible and willing to take risks, then consider booking last minute. Often, more award seats may open as you approach your desired flight departure date. Another option is to change the dates of your trip. For instance, you may find availability on a Wednesday instead of a Friday.

You can also explore booking a flight from a nearby city that you find available instead of flying from your home airport. Then, you can book a short-haul flight on cash or miles to connect from your home city. This is referred to as flight positioning.

QSuite Quad

QSuite Quad

When starting out, I think the optimal strategy is to focus on one or two points and miles currencies. Don’t spread yourself too thin, as you may struggle to have enough points in any particular program to make a meaningful redemption. However, as you become more immersed and at ease with accumulating points and miles, you can start branching out to multiple frequent flyer programs.

Having a diversity of points and miles currencies at your disposal provides you with flexibility. For example, if flying to the Middle East, you can book your outbound flight on Qatar Privilege Club and your inbound flight on Aeroplan. This is what I did when I travelled to Amman, Jordan. Being able to mix and match different programs is a fun away to get a taste of airlines under the different alliances, while presenting you with more options.

In a nutshell, flexibility is a key ingredient when booking your flights using miles. Being more adaptable becomes even more essential when aiming for premium cabin award seats, in contrast to booking revenue fares. Don’t be too picky, and embrace a mindset of flexibility!

PMB recommends the following credit cards to start your points and miles journey:

American Express Cobalt Card

American Express Aeroplan Card

Westjet RBC World Elite Mastercard

RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card


1 comment

Chris S. March 14, 2024 - 12:28 pm

Alitalia hasn’t existed for three years, I would update your Skyteam alliance graphic. Otherwise a good starter post.


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