Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Disclosures.

There are three main types of frequent flyer programs and how they allow you to redeem miles – traditional region/zone-based programs, distance-based programs, and revenue-based programs. The first two types of a frequent flyer program have both their positives and negatives, while there are rarely any positive aspects about revenue-based programs since you can’t usually get any good value from them.

These three different types of frequent flyer programs refer to how you can redeem your miles for flight awards.

Region/Zone-Based Frequent Flyer Program

The traditional frequent flyer programs are region/zone-based. This means that the cost of your award ticket is determined by:

  • the zones/regions you fly from and to
  • your cabin class

For example, a flight from New York to London is going to cost the same as a flight from San Francisco to Athens because the award price is based on the region/zones you fly from and to and in this example, New York/San Francisco and London/Athens are in the same regions and therefore the award is going to cost the same.

Most frequent flyer programs are region/zone-based since this is how a majority of the programs were started and when they change or devalue, they usually change negatively and make miles harder to use. For example, some of these programs have added restrictions like not allowing you to transit via a third region or implementing stricter maximum permitted mileage flown on tickets.

Region/Zone-based programs will always be king because that’s where you can find the most value for your miles. These programs include Avianca LifeMiles, Lufthansa Miles & More, etc.

Distance-Based Frequent Flyer Program

Distance-based frequent flyer programs price their award tickets based on:

  • how far you fly
  • the cabin you fly

The higher the cabin and the longer the flight, the more in miles/points you will pay.

Miles from distance-based programs are usually really good for redeeming on flights that are short-medium haul and usually in Economy Class, with some potential sweet spots appearing for really short First and Business Class flights. There are a few distance-based programs out there and they all work a little bit differently – for example, some programs will price the whole award by combining the individual cost of all of your flight segments, while other programs will price the award based on the distance between your origin and destination.

British Airways Executive Club is a distance-based program and those points are very useful for short-medium haul oneworld flights.

Revenue-Based Frequent Flyer Program

In a revenue-based program, the airline basically determines how much a mile is worth and that number is usually:

  • 1 mile = $0.01 in value towards flights, upgrades, seat assignments, etc.

Since the value of a mile is determined in most aspects, it is hard to get any phenomenal redemption value as the value is already fixed and tied closely with the cost of the actual product in cash. These programs are dynamic so if the cost of a ticket in cash goes up, it does as well if you want to use miles for it.

Revenue-based programs were sometimes good for redeeming on partner airlines (since it is much harder to have dynamic pricing for a partner award), but that little value has already changed with partner awards costing the same – and therefore any good value being removed.

Delta SkyMiles is a revenue-based program almost entirely and therefore there are no incredible ways to redeem your miles.

Combination: Region & Distance Programs

There are a few programs out there that allow you to redeem your miles based on a combination of region/zone and distance flown. For example, Air Canada Aeroplan has award charts that are a combination of both regions/zones and distances – so even though New York and Los Angeles are in the same region, a flight from New York to London would be cheaper because the distance is shorter.

Aeroplan is a really powerful program and has a ton of amazing ways to use miles with their combo approach when it comes to redeeming points for flight awards. It is possible to get great value for short flights and also long-hauls, depending on what zones you fly from and to. Generally speaking, Aeroplan does let you get creative and create custom routings that could span the whole world on just one ticket – making this program really attractive to many.

All in All

In general, the best types of frequent flyer programs are those that are region/zone-based when it comes time to redeem your miles. That’s because these programs follow the traditional way of allowing you to book flights using miles and you can often find great value for your points. Distance-based programs are great for short-medium haul flights, and finally, revenue-based programs aren’t generally worth participating in as you almost never get any phenomenal value from a redemption.

Travel Miles 101 has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel Miles 101 and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.