How do I know which miles I need?


On this week’s Frequent Miler on the Air podcast, Greg and Nick addressed a reader question which I think perfectly highlighted one of the common hangups for points and miles beginners. Namely, the misunderstanding that you should collect the miles of the airline you intend to fly.

It’s not that simple, unfortunately.

How to think through your earning strategy when you have a specific destination in mind

You can start by watching the Question of the Week segment below where Nick dismantles the (I think understandable) assumption that you should collect miles for the airline you intend to fly. It’s a little more complicated than that, which Nick and Greg will explain in the episode…

Below, I’ll include a summary of the discussion along with a few other helpful resources for those getting started.

Reader Example: Which miles should Alex collect to visit Korea?

Our reader Alex explained that they wanted to visit Korea with their family. They did some initial flight research and came up with three possible strategies for getting to their destination:

  1. Delta: Collect or transfer Amex Membership Rewards to Delta in order to book on Delta, flying Delta or Korean.
  2. Korean Airline Miles: Somehow collect Korean Airline Miles
  3. United: Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards, then transfer them to United to book Asiana flights on

Greg and Nick’s feedback for each suggested option:

  1. This would be more limiting than you might think, and Delta typically has pretty pitiful business reward prices
  2. There are no great transfer options for Korean Airline Miles, so that’s unlikely.
  3. This option is a possibility…if there’s availability once you’re ready to book…

So what is Alex to do?

You don’t necessarily know which points you’ll need the day you’re ready to book, so optimize for optionality.

The goal is to aim for the easiest-to-accumulate transferrable points currency (like Chase, Amex, Citi, Capital One, Bilt), because availability is a big factor in this equation and the reward options you see in your research now may not be a good demonstration of what you’ll actually see available when you’re ready to book. Collecting transferrable point currencies helps you maintain optionality, which helps with the problem of unpredictability for availability.

With this strategy, you would not transfer your points until you’re ready to book.

When you do find something available, then you’ll also have some flexibility to book the award with a currency well-suited for that booking. This is not always intuitive and there are so many partnerships that there may be more ways to book a specific flight than you think. As an example, if you find a suitable United flight, rather than just transferring Chase points to United and booking through, you may actually be better off transferring Amex Membership Rewards to ANA and using those miles to book the United flight. You could also book through Aeroplan or LifeMiles.

If this all sounds extremely complicated, don’t worry! There are tools to help show you what transfer options are available to you for a flight you have in mind. Points Yeah is a powerful but free award search tool which can help you see which points you could use for a given flight.

Points Yeah Screenshot

You may also want to familiarize yourself with some award sweet spots and anomalies. There could be amazing sweet spots or nuances which are specific to the destination you have in mind.

Like some of you, I don’t know all of these things off the top of my head, so I still have to lean heavily on our blog resources when I research awards.

For example, here’s what I might do when creating a strategy with a specific destination in mind:

  1. Browse our “Best Awards by Destination” resource, to familiarize myself with any of those award gems which may be useful for me.
  2. Use a tool like Points Yeah to familiarize myself with not only the flight options available to me, but the paths I could take for booking that flight.
  3. Then, I’d browse the Best Offers page to familiarize myself with the different bonuses available to me. Hopefully by this point I’d recognize some options that match with the things I just learned in step 1 and 2.

Some of you may already be award booking experts. Are there other resources you find yourself referring to during your award booking research? Comment below!

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