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Should you change your loyalty to an international airline?

SmarterTravel

When we at SmarterTravel.com write about airline loyalty and earning or redeeming miles, we are referring to domestic programs. We cover 12 U.S. frequent flyer programs in depth and give advice about maximizing your miles on those airlines. But some of you may be wondering about the loyalty programs of international carriers. If you frequently travel overseas, should you switch your loyalty to a foreign program?

As we’ve said before, airline loyalty is a personal decision. The carrier whose flight schedule, destinations, and frequent flyer perks work best for you might not be the ideal choice for your friends or relatives. However, we believe that most U.S. travelers will be better served with a domestic program rather than an international one. Here’s why:

Convenience: It’s just more convenient to belong to a frequent flyer program for an airline that is based out of your country of residence. You’ll have easier access to customer service representatives in your area who speak your language, and mailings and offers will be more directly targeted toward your needs. An international airline might not have as many offices in the U.S. should you need to contact someone with a problem.

Product similarity: We researched several international frequent flyer programs and found that for the most part, they have similar practices and perks to U.S. programs. You can earn miles for flights and partner activity, redeem miles for free travel, and benefit from special services for elite members. A few international programs, such as British Airways Executive Club, do have a family membership, allowing you to share miles among relatives; however, in most cases, you won’t find an extraordinarily different product by looking overseas.

Global alliances: The biggest reason not to join an international frequent flyer program is that you don’t have to. With huge international alliances, such as the Star Alliance, oneworld alliance, and SkyTeam, you can earn and redeem miles on domestic airlines when you fly international carriers.

That being said, some U.S. citizens may benefit from joining an international program. Expatriates who spend more time abroad than on U.S. soil, or those who split their year between one home in America and another in a foreign country, may be better served by the loyalty program of a foreign airline. Or, if you routinely fly one foreign carrier, you might consider joining its program if its partner network is more robust than its U.S. counterpart.

If you want to look into switching your loyalty, some programs that might be a good fit include British Airways Executive Club, Emirates Skywards, SAS EuroBonus, SWISS TravelClub, TAP Air Portugal Navigator, Thai Royal Orchid, and Virgin Atlantic flying club.

Our best advice when choosing a preferred airline is to look carefully at its global network and the mile-earning rules on partner carriers. Whether you opt for a U.S. or foreign carrier, you’ll have made the right choice when you find an airline that suits your domestic travel needs and partners with international carriers that travel to your preferred overseas destinations.

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