What are airline miles?

Airline rewards miles can take many forms. But in general, they’re a form of travel rewards that can help cover the cost of flights and other travel expenses. 

One way to earn miles that can be used to book flights is by making purchases with a travel rewards credit card. Another common way is to earn miles through an airline loyalty program, such as a frequent flyer program.

Key takeaways

  • Joining an airline’s frequent flyer program is one way to earn airline miles.
  • Frequent flyer rewards miles can be redeemed for things like free flights, seat upgrades, hotels and rental cars.
  • Factors that determine the redemption value of airline miles can include the airline, flight destination and cabin class.
  • One way to maximize travel rewards is to use a travel rewards credit card that also rewards you for everyday purchases.

Earn 75,000 bonus miles

Redeem your miles for flights, vacation rentals and more. Terms apply.

Learn more

How do airline miles work?

A common way to earn airline miles is by joining an airline’s loyalty program. Programs can be appealing for people who travel often. For that reason, airline miles might also be called frequent flyer miles. 

Participation in frequent flyer programs is typically free. And if a member meets certain requirements, they may qualify for enhanced status and benefits. Requirements can include things like flying a designated number of miles with the airline in a year.

Earning airline miles

There are a number of ways to earn airline miles. One major way is by flying with an airline as a member of its frequent flyer program. Other ways include shopping with an airline’s retail partners or using its shopping portal.

One way to maximize travel rewards is to transfer miles or points earned by using a travel rewards credit card to a frequent flyer program. In fact, with Capital One travel rewards cards, miles can be transferred to the loyalty programs of more than 15 miles transfer partners.*

Redeeming airline miles

Airline miles can be redeemed for things like free flights, seat upgrades, hotels and rental cars. Some airlines partner together to offer additional flexibility by allowing fliers to earn and redeem rewards across multiple airlines. 

Airline miles vs. credit card miles

Airline loyalty programs are just one way to earn travel rewards. And some airlines even partner with credit card issuers to provide their own credit cards. But the ability to earn rewards might be limited for purchases other than flights.

That’s where a general travel rewards credit card might come in. Cards like Venture and Venture X allow cardholders to earn unlimited miles on every purchase—plus, depending on your card, you may be able to earn even greater rewards for booking through Capital One Travel.

How much are airline miles worth?

Lots of factors go into determining the redemption value of airline miles. They can include things like the airline, flight destination and cabin class. Check an airline’s frequent flyer program details to learn more.

Airline miles FAQ

Here are additional details on earning and redeeming airline miles through a frequent flyer program.

The miles required to pay for a flight through a frequent flyer program typically vary by airline. For more information, check with an individual airline’s program.

The decision to use airline miles versus paying for a flight can come down to personal preference. For example, do the airline miles cover the entire flight? If not, it might be worth saving them for a different flight that they will fully cover. 

And there’s an upside to paying for a flight when airline miles don’t cover it: That purchase will still generally earn miles that can be used for future flights.

It’s possible. If someone wants to book a flight that requires more airline miles than they’ve earned, some programs may allow them to complete the purchase with a credit card or cash.

Airline miles in a nutshell

Earning airline miles through a frequent flyer program can help travelers make the most of their getaways. Another way to maximize rewards is to use a travel rewards card.

Capital One travel rewards cards allow cardholders to earn rewards for every dollar they spend, on everything from groceries to getaways. Cardholders can then redeem their rewards for travel and much more. Compare travel rewards cards today to find out more.

Related Content