airline miles and deals

Smart Sports Traveling: Unlocking Savings with Airline Miles and Points

Flying to sporting events can be expensive, but if you’re smart about it and prepared to do some research, you can save a lot of money by using airline miles and points to cover your trip. In this guide, I’ll show you how to fly smart to sporting events like Olympics, Euro or other regular leagues with airline rewards and other travel hacks, keeping some extra beer money in your pocket for gameday! 

What Are Airline Miles, and Are They Worth It?

Because airlines know they’re constantly competing against each other, most of them have some sort of loyalty program to try to keep you coming back (even though we’re way more concerned about lost luggage and flight delays, but whatever). 

These loyalty programs are usually in the form of “miles,” which you accumulate with flights. The exact specifics vary from program to program and airline to airline, but your miles can usually be used towards future flights, seat upgrades, or other add-ons. 

Benefits of Airline Miles

Are airline loyalty programs actually worth it? Speaking as someone who almost never signs up for anything and clings to my personal information like it’s my life buoy in shark-infested waters, yes – I wholeheartedly believe that airline programs are worth it. Here’s why: 

  • They’re free – signing up costs you nothing
  • If you take long-haul flights regularly, you’ll accumulate miles before you know it 
  • Sometimes, you get access to really good sales and deals before everyone else
  • Some airlines give other perks like priority boarding for their program members

There’s a lot to love about airline miles, and almost no downsides as far as I can see. It usually takes about two minutes to sign up, and is a great way to start earning your way to travel discounts and airline savings. 

What Are the Disadvantages of Airline Rewards Programs?

Joining a rewards program doesn’t come with any big risks, and is generally worth it for almost everyone. However, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of: 

  • Your points may expire if you don’t travel frequently
  • You may get sucked into buying flights with one airline when others are cheaper
  • You may not be able to redeem points for flights on your desired route or travel dates
  • Still, if you’re cashing in your points for free or discounted flights (or other perks like lounge access or free checked bags), joining a loyalty program is generally worth it. 

Why Your Airline Matters When Traveling for Sports

Before we explore the best airline miles programs, I want to take a second to caution against booking flights based on loyalty programs alone. While they’re a big perk, you also need to think about: 

  • Flight convenience: Does the airline fly in and out of the right airports, and have flights at the right times for you?
  • Cancelation policies: This is especially true if your sports travel plans could change based on the results of earlier fixtures.
  • Prices and sales: You don’t have to stick to your loyalty program if there are much better deals out there
  • Costly add-ons: Be aware that budget airlines often make you pay out of pocket for everything, and can sometimes end up not-so-cheap after all. 

The take-home message is that while airline programs are great for accumulating miles, don’t be afraid to shop around or feel like you’re married to your program. If there’s a better deal out there that will put money back in your pocket, go for it! 

expedia banner

Which Airline Has the Best Miles Program for Sports Travelers?

If you’re not already part of an airline loyalty program but you’re flying to a sports event, now is the perfect time to join! But what airline has the best miles program? If you haven’t booked your flights yet, you might want to consider the airlines below, based on their valuable loyalty programs. 

If you’ve already secured flights but you’re not part of a loyalty program, most airlines will let you join and then claim points on flights after the fact. There’s usually a window in which you can do this, so make sure you get on it before it’s too late! 

So, let’s take a look at the most rewarding points programs for sports travelers. I’ve broken these up into two categories – flying within Europe, and flying internationally. That’s because there seem to be so many different programs within Europe, but a different set of programs for international travel. Let’s check them out.

Flying Within Europe

If you’re flying within Europe, like if you are a Spain or Belgium national team fan on your way to see your team at the next European Championships, these airlines have miles programs you should definitely check out, especially if you’re traveling on a budget: 

Lufthansa – Miles and More

Lufthansa is based in Germany, and the airline’s Miles and More program is one of the best out there. If you’re traveling to a sporting event in Germany, or regularly fly to other destinations via Germany, this is a great choice.

Although the program is called Miles and More, you actually earn points. You have to earn a certain number of points each year to qualify for the program (get the details here), but you can earn and redeem points on a huge number of partner airlines. 

KLM – Flying Blue

KLM shares its Flying Blue program with Air France, and if you fly either of these airlines, this program is well worth a look. The program has four tiers based on experience (XP), which is accumulated from previous flights. You also earn miles for each flight. XP can be used for upgrades like free checked bags, while miles can be redeemed for future flights. 

Scandinavian Airlines – SAS EuroBonus

Scandinavian Airlines’s EuroBonus program is another great choice for European travelers. There are four status tiers, and you can earn points on every SAS flight as well as their 28 partner airlines in the Star Alliance network. As well as redeeming points on flights, you can enjoy other perks like free upgrades, extra baggage, and hotel or rental car discounts.

Flying Internationally

If you’re traveling to in and out of Europe for sporting events, here are some international airline programs that offer good value: 

Air Canada – Aeroplan

As well as having a cool name, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program offers some good perks. It’s also part of the Star Alliance network, making it easier for members to earn points from flights with partner airlines. Not only is it easy to earn, but it’s also easy to redeem points for flights and upgrades. 

Virgin Atlantic – Flying Club

Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club rewards program works with all Virgin airlines, including Virgin Australia. The program allows you to earn points on each flight you take, and you can unlock extra rewards (like free lounge access) as you move up through the tiers. 

Should You Redeem Airline Miles for Sports Travel? 

I’ve talked about earning points for traveling to sporting events, but what about redeeming points? If you’ve already racked up some points or miles with a particular airline, here’s what you need to know about redeeming them to save next time you’re planning a trip to a sporting event. 

Verify Your Miles Balance and Miles Needed

Of course, the first thing you need to do is check whether you actually have enough miles or points to work with. If you only have enough miles to upgrade your seat or check a free bag, you might be better off saving your points (and accumulating more) so that you can put them towards something more valuable in the future. 

Check Exclusion Dates

Another trap for first-timers is that even if you do have enough miles to redeem for a flight, some programs have exclusion dates where you can’t use your points. And guess what? These exclusions tend to be over busy traveling periods like summer, which is often when major sporting events are taking place! So it’s definitely important to check whether there are any black-out dates.

Redeeming vs Accumulating Airline Miles for Sports Travel

Sometimes, you might find yourself in a weird cycle where you’re not sure whether to redeem your miles for or use your sports travel as an opportunity to accumulate some more miles. If you’re in this boat, I’d start by answering these two questions: 

  1. Are your points expiring soon?
  2. Do you have any other travel planned in the near future?

If your points are expiring (some programs have expiry dates, while others don’t), or you don’t have any short-term travel plans, I’d go ahead and use your points, even if it’s just for a partial discount or perks like a free checked bag. 

On the other hand, if your points are good for a while, or you have another trip coming up, use this opportunity as a chance to grow your balance and save it for future traveling for sports. 

Airline Miles and Points FAQ

Navigating different airline loyalty programs can be pretty confusing, especially when they all have their own tiers, earning systems, and points values. You’ll need to read up on the fine print for any specific program you’re interested in, but here’s some general information to help you get started. 

How Many Air Miles Do I Need to Get a Free Flight?

It really depends on the airline and the specific program you’re part of, as well as the type of free flight you’re looking for. Of course, a 6-hour flight in business class requires a lot more points than a 1-hour flight in economy. 
In general, 10,000 miles tends to be the starting value for free economy flights, while a business class flight may require 50,000+ miles. Just like the cost of flights can differ depending on the day, time of year, and how far ahead you book, so too can the points required for a given flight.

Do Air Miles Expire?

Again, it depends on the airline and the specific program you join. Some airline miles expire after a period of inactivity, while others last for years and years, until you use them. Generally, you don’t have to use your points to prevent them from expiring, you just have to have some form of activity, which can include earning more points. Check your program to make sure your hard-earned points don’t go to waste! 

Are Frequent Flyer Accounts Free?

Most frequent flyer programs are free to join, but some do require an annual membership fee. Generally, these programs come with a lot more perks, like access to lounges and free checked bags without having to redeem miles or points. Other programs are free to join, but require you to earn a certain number of points each year to retain your membership. 

How Many Frequent Flyer Programs Should I Join?

As long as you’re only joining free programs and the points don’t expire, there’s no reason why you can’t join several programs. This way, you can still shop around and find cheap flights, without gravitating towards one airline even if it’s not the cheapest. 
For example, I’ve joined two programs with the airlines I most frequently use for domestic travel in the US, and a separate program that I usually use when I fly back to Australia to visit family. And, if a different airline has a really good sale, I’ll still buy flights with them if the price is right! 

How do I Choose an Airline Rewards Program?

Here’s my approach to choosing a program: 
Think about your travel priorities (free flights, lounge access, seat upgrades, etc)
Do some research and find programs that align with those priorities 
At the same time, think about the airlines that offer the most relevant routes for you
Look into which airlines have partnerships to maximize your point earnings 
Check that the program is free and your points don’t expire 
Then, all you need to do is sign up and start earning! 

Leverage Airline Miles and Points for 2024 + Save Big! 

Let’s face it – traveling to a sporting event is never cheap. But you can make it significantly more affordable by joining the right airline rewards program or cashing in your existing miles. Travel smart to your next sports tournament and put more money back in your pocket to spend at the main event!