I read stories such as http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/11/30/flyingblue-promo-awards-december/ . Now I understand that such stories are something to do with flying the same airline or alliance over and over again and you get points which can be redeemed for a ticket to some place. Are points and awards the same thing, or do they mean different things?

  • 1
    Although the answers given thus far refer to points as currency, this is misleading and it is extremely important that you do not think of them as some kind of money. They have no intrinsic cash value. You cannot trade points, you cannot usually combine totals from multiple accounts, and you cannot ever combine points from different programs, even if the programs are partners. Moreover, you gain no benefits at all from a high balance (as opposed to a high earning rate).
    – choster
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 21:15
  • That's a good point @choster. They are a currency, in the form of a "store of value," but they are absolutely not money. They are entirely under the control of the airline and can even become worthless over night (which, come to think of it, occasionally happens with money too). Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 21:45
  • @ZachLipton Right, and we use lingo about depositing miles and the best program to bank them in, but I know many a newbie crushed that they couldn't combine the miles from their shiny new BA credit card with the 10K in their AA account. One bit of the metaphor that does hold up in economic terms is that price floors lead to massive shortages (e.g. unavailability of award flights), inevitably followed by massive devaluation/inflation (e.g. those award flights suddenly require double the miles). Given the devaluations, I consider FF programs more important for status than redemptions.
    – choster
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


Points are currency handed by the airline. Awards are what you buy with that currency.

As a member of an airline frequent flyer program, you earn points for certain actions. Flying on a paid ticket is the most common example but you can also get points for purchasing or getting services from partners, such as renting cars with Avis to get American Airlines AAdvantage points. You can even get points for things that do not cost money such as watching sponsored videos or filling out some surveys. One thing that you do not get points for is flying on an award ticket.

With accumulated points, you can purchase awards, including an award ticket on the airline issuing the points or on one of its partner airlines. For example, Delta is member os SkyTeam, so if you get points from Delta you can also use them on AeroMexico. You can also buy non-flight awards which can be hotel stays or even items for purchase. The amount of points an award costs is published on the website of the frequent flyer program.

Keep in mind that most frequent flyer points expire after a certain time of inactivity. For example, this is 18 months for American AAdvantage points. Delta Skymiles on the other hand do not expire. To reset your last activity date, you must either earn or spend points. Some partner credit cards prevent points from expiring.

  • Note that some jurisdictions may prohibit the expiry of frequent flyer points just as they do for gift cards. Ontario, for example, is set to vote on a bill to do just this in the coming weeks.
    – user42547
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:11
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    @FighterJet Hmm... If that passed, it seems more likely that a lot of loyalty programs - especially those not based in Canada - would just ban Ontario residents rather than actually change their rules. I'm not aware of any jurisdictions that currently have such a rule. Judging from that article, that legislation appears to be motivated primarily by the seemingly-shady business practices of one particular (non-airline) Canadian company.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:26
  • @reirab: I was reading up on this, and several scenarios were presented: a) Ontario residents are not eligible for the loyalty program, b) loyalty programs extend non-expiry of points to all Canadians in order to avoid the nightmare of two sets of rules and to reduce the chance that non-Ontarians would use false Ontario addresses to get non-expiry, c) only Ontario residents are eligible for non-expiry, with all the complexity that ensues, and d) other Canadian provinces also pass similar bills. Option d) is apparently quit likely to happen, like with gift cards.
    – user42547
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 0:58
  • @reirab: Note that due to the backlash, Air Miles has since changed their decision to add an expiry date.
    – user42547
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 0:59

"Points" or "miles" are the currency you earn in the frequent flyer program as you travel. They are deposited to your account if you include your frequent flyer number on your reservation when you travel. They can also be earned by other actions, such as using a credit card associated with the loyalty program, staying in a hotel that offers frequent flyer miles, renting a car from a company that offers frequent flyer miles, and other earning opportunities you'll find listed on the program's website.

Awards are the things you "buy" with your miles. The most prominent such item are "award tickets," where you exchange a certain number of miles for a free flight ticket (in many cases, especially with international flights, you still have to pay taxes and fees, which may be substantial). There may also be "upgrade awards," where you redeem miles for an upgrade to first or business class. And many programs have non-travel awards, where you can spend your miles on consumer goods, magazine subscriptions, and other items. All of these will also be listed on the program's website. Some people become rather obsessive about maximizing their "bang for their buck" and getting the most value out of their miles.


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