A guide to how airline miles work

There’s a lot that goes into planning a trip, including paying for and booking your flights. Luckily, rewards miles can help you pay for flights if you’re a frequent flyer or use a travel rewards credit card. 

Whether you’re constantly planning your next trip or are new to earning travel rewards, learn more about how miles work and the ways you can use them.

Key takeaways

  • Airline miles and credit card rewards miles are similar programs that can allow you to use your rewards to help cover the costs of flights.
  • You may enroll in frequent flyer programs and use your travel rewards credit card to further maximize your rewards.
  • You might be able to redeem airline miles to upgrade your seats on a flight, book a hotel or rent a car. 
  • With Capital One travel rewards cards, you can transfer miles to more than 15 travel partners’ loyalty programs.

Earn 75,000 bonus miles with Venture

Redeem your miles for flights, vacation rentals and more.

Learn more

Airline miles vs. credit card rewards miles

Airline miles

Airline miles or frequent flyer miles are rewards that you earn by being a regular customer of a specific airline. Typically, these rewards are earned when you book flights through the airline or its partner airlines. To enroll, you’ll usually sign up with the airline you’re interested in or the one you travel most frequently with.

Credit card rewards miles

Credit card rewards miles are earned when you use your travel rewards card to make purchases. Travel credit card issuers might allow you to earn rewards on every purchase you make, whether it’s travel-related or not. Some cards, like the Capital One Venture Rewards card, allow you to use those miles toward flights or things like event tickets, cash or gift cards.

Both types of rewards can help you save on travel costs. And you could even combine credit card rewards miles and frequent flyer miles to make those savings even greater.

How to earn miles

There are several ways you can earn miles:

Sign up as a frequent flyer with your preferred airline

Different airlines offer various rewards programs. It’s a good idea to sign up for a frequent flyer program with the airline or partner airlines you use most often or ones with flights going to destinations you want to visit. You’ll usually earn miles based on how much you travel. So the more you travel with an airline, the more miles you can earn.

Apply for a travel rewards card

You could consider a general travel rewards card like the Venture card. Travel rewards cards let you earn rewards that you can use toward flights, hotels, dining and other travel-related purchases. You may be able to earn miles with every purchase you make, whether it’s related to travel or not—something that may not be true for airline-specific credit cards.

How you can use your miles

You may be able to use your points or miles for the following:

Purchasing flights

You could use your rewards miles to cover the cost of your airfare or reduce the amount you pay out of pocket. And if you’re a Venture cardholder, you can even use your rewards miles to cover travel purchases made within the past 90 days, book trips through Capital One Travel and transfer your miles to more than 15 travel loyalty programs

Upgrading your seats

If upgrades are available, you may also be able to use your rewards for a seat upgrade on your flight.

Paying for hotels and rental cars

Your rewards might also be used to help pay for hotel stays and rental cars on your trip. Keep in mind, you may need to book at specific hotels that your airline or travel credit card partners with. So it’s a good idea to review the details before you make a reservation.

How airline miles work FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about how airline miles work so you can better understand your options:

Credit card miles and frequent flyer miles are similar, but they’re separate programs. Credit card miles may be offered through travel rewards cards. Frequent flyer miles are offered through airlines. Both types of miles can be used to cover travel expenses, but travel rewards cards may provide more flexibility and reward options. 

With frequent flyer miles, you usually earn miles when you fly, but you may also earn miles by making purchases through an airline’s shopping portal. Once you have enough miles, you can usually use those miles toward the price of your flight.

You may be able to use both credit card miles and frequent flyer airline miles on the same trip, but how you combine and redeem your rewards might vary based on the airline and credit card issuer.

A travel rewards credit card like Venture from Capital One may help you save even more on your trips. Because you can earn miles on every purchase—like double miles for every purchase with Venture—you could end up earning more with your card than through frequent flyer programs alone. Plus, you might be eligible for additional benefits.

How airline miles work in a nutshell

Rewards miles you earn through your credit card issuer or an airline can be used to cover the cost of things like airfare, hotels and rental cars. 

If you’re interested in maximizing your rewards potential, you may want to consider a general travel rewards card. Capital One’s travel rewards cards let you earn rewards on every dollar you spend, whether you’re buying a plane ticket or stocking up on groceries. Compare travel rewards cards online today.

Related Content