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The Frequent Flyer’s Dictionary

Frequent flyer programs are, for the most part, pretty straight-forward. The same can be said about hotel loyalty programs. With frequent flyer programs, the more you fly, the more miles you earn. For hotel loyalty programs, the more nights you stay with a hotel chain, the more points you earn. Finally, for credit cards, the more you spend, the more you earn. However, this only scratches the surface. Frequent flyers have created an entire community based on earning points, miles, and status. That community has also unintentionally created their own lingo. If you’re looking to get started with travel rewards programs or aren’t quite sure that a word or term means, here’s the frequent flyer’s dictionary.

With so many terms, phrases, and words related to frequent flyer and travel rewards programs, this post will occasionally be updated. Frequent flyers and readers looking to contribute new terms and phrases can comment at the end of this post or by sending us an email at contact@thecollegepoints.com.

The words, phrases, and terms included in this post are defined in the context of frequent flyer and travel loyalty programs. While these terms may have a more widely known and accepted definition, this post includes definitions that are directly related to points, miles, frequent flyer programs, and loyalty programs. Without further ado, here’s The College Points’ Frequent Flyer’s Dictionary.

Frequent Flyer's Dictionary

  • 500-Mile Upgrade: a system used by American Airlines that allows AAdvantage members to upgrade to business or first class using 500-mile upgrade certificates. Each certificate covers 500 miles of a flight. For example, two 500-mile upgrade certificates would be needed for a flight covering 1,000 miles.
  • AVOD: an acronym that stands for Audio/Video-On-Demand. This acronym is used in the context of in-flight entertainment systems.
  • Airport Code: a three-letter code assigned to an airport. Each code is assigned to an airport by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA). For example, one of the more widely known airport codes, “JFK,” is assigned to New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport. 
  • Alliance: a partnership between two or more airlines. The three largest airline alliances are Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and Oneworld.
  • Base Miles: the miles on which an airline determines how many miles a traveler will earn for any given flight. Miles may be interchangeable with the points depending on an airline’s frequent flyer program.
  • Basic Economy: a relatively new concept that allows legacy airlines to sell tickets using a low or ultra-low-cost carrier business model. Basic economy tickets often require passengers to pay for advanced seat assignments or access to overhead bins.
  • Bonus Miles: miles earned in addition to base miles. Bonus miles are typically earned when traveling in a premium cabin or as a result of holding elite status with an airline.
  • Bumped: the act of voluntarily or involuntarily being moved from one flight to another as a result of overbooking or operational issues.
  • Business Class: domestically and regionally, the highest class of service offered by an airline. On long-haul and international flights, business class may be the highest class of service offered by an airline. However, some major airlines continue to offer first class as the highest class of service.
  • Buy-On-Board: a practice in the airline industry in which airlines provide a menu from which passengers can purchase snacks, meals, and beverages as opposed to receiving complimentary in-flight services.
  • Cabin of Service: the cabin or class in which a passenger travels. Previously, airlines offered two cabins of service, which consisted of economy and first class. Today, airlines offer a range of cabins from basic economy to first class.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: commonly abbreviated as CSR. Chase Bank’s premium travel rewards card that was introduced in 2016. The Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card was popularized by major travel blogs. The card features premium travel benefits included lounge access and travel assistance.
  • Churning: the practice of repeatedly opening and closing credit card accounts with the sole purpose of taking advantage of a credit card’s sign-up/welcome bonus. Some credit card companies have made it so cardholders can no longer use churning to take advantage of a sign-up bonus repeatedly.
  • Co-Branded Credit Card: a credit card that is issued by a bank in conjunction with an airline or hotel’s loyalty program. An example of a co-branded credit card would be American Express’ Delta Gold SkyMiles credit card.
  • Codeshare: a practice in commercial aviation in which two or more airlines sell and market the same flight under each airline’s own code and flight number. See more about this type of airline partnership here.
  • Companion Fare: a benefit offered by an airline that allows the primary traveler to bring a second traveler along on the same flight at no additional cost. Companion fares are often awarded as part of a co-branded credit card welcome bonus or elite status.
  • Compensation: often used in a derogatory manner, the typical dictionary definition of compensation applies here, however, compensation usually refers to travelers who look for issues and flaws to earn monetary credit or points and/or miles as compensation.
  • Confirmed Upgrade: when a traveler is awarded an upgrade to the next cabin of service often prior to the day of departure. When a traveler receives a confirmed upgrade, they are not added to the upgrade list but instead included in the passenger count of the premium cabin to which they have been upgraded.
  • Double Booking: a practice that may or may not violate an airline’s terms and conditions in which a passenger books two flights departing from the same airport on the same date. In many cases, a passenger may cancel one of the flights prior to departure.
  • Double Dipping: a practice that allows a member of one or more loyalty programs to credit a flight or stay at a hotel to two or more loyalty programs. For example, a frequent flyer may be able to earn frequent flyer miles for their flight while also earning cashback through a program like Rakuten (formerly Ebates).
  • DYKWIA: an acronym that stands for the derogatory phrase “Do You Know Who I Am.” This phrase is typically uttered by a traveler that holds elite status or a travel blogger that believes they are entitled to special treatment.
  • Elite Benefits: the benefits that are awarded to frequent flyers or members of a loyalty program as a result of obtaining elite status with an airline or hotel chain. Elite benefits include but are not limited to: upgrades, priority customer assistance, bonus miles/points on flights or hotel stays, and/or greater flexibility with airline and/or hotel reservations.
  • Elite Qualifying Dollars: money spent on air travel or through the use of co-branded credit cards that count towards an airline’s spending requirement to earn elite status.
  • Elite Qualifying Miles: miles earned from air travel or alternative methods including credit card spend that count towards an airlines’ required number of miles flown to earn elite status. Miles may be substituted with the term points depending on the airline, hotel, or credit card.
  • Elite Qualifying Segments: similar to elite qualifying miles/points, flight segments earned from air travel that count towards an airlines’ required number of segments flown to earn elite status.
  • Elite Status: a benefit awarded to an airline or hotel’s most valuable customers. Elite status is typically awarded after a set number of miles flown, nights stayed, and/or money spent. Elite status is often tiered with tiers reached after a customer reaches a particular milestone. Exclusive benefits typically accompany elite status. 
  • Fare Code (or Class): a letter or series of letters that designate the fare type booked by a passenger. A typical fare code is “Y,” which is often used to denote full-fare economy class fares.
  • First Class: on domestic flights (especially in the Americas), the highest cabin of services on domestic flights. On international flights, first class is the highest cabin of service offered by an airline.
  • Frequent Flyer Program: a loyalty program offered by an airline that allows travelers to earn and redeem miles or points. An airline’s loyalty program may also feature an elite status component that awards the airline’s most valuable customers.
  • Fuel Surcharge: essentially a tax that is added to the cost of a fare or award redemption. Extremely common in Europe.
  • Gamer: a pejorative term used to describe a frequent traveler who uses tactics to circumvent barriers incorporated in an airline or hotel’s loyalty program. Gamers may spend hours or days working to maximize how many points and/or miles they earn. Additionally, some of the tactics and practices used by gamers violate a loyalty program’s terms and conditions.
  • Gate Lice: a pejorative term that refers to over-eager travelers that crowd around the boarding lanes or boarding door in the departure area at the gate. Gate lice often cause crowding issues and block the boarding lanes for other passengers.
  • Global Entry: a trusted-traveler program offered by the United States Customs and Border Protection agency. Global Entry allows travelers who are approved for the program to enter the United States faster upon returning from international travel. The service is often paid for by credit card companies as a benefit of a card issuers premium travel rewards credit cards.
  • Hidden-City Ticketing: a practice that typically violates an airline’s terms and conditions in which a traveler books a ticket to a city that is less expensive than their desired destination city. A hidden-city ticket connects in the traveler’s desired destination city prior to continuing on to the ticket’s original destination city. The traveler will end their travels at their desired destination city (the hidden-city) rather than continuing on to the final destination.
  • IATA: an acronym that stands for International Air Transportation Association. IATA is one of the major international governing bodies that regulates air transportation.
  • IFE: an acronym that stands for In-Flight Entertainment.
  • IFS: an acronym that stands for In-Flight Service.
  • Lie-Flat Seat: a type of premium cabin seat that transforms from the typical upright position and into a 180-degree position that mimics a bed allowing a passenger to enjoy a better night’s sleep and more comfortable flying experience.
  • Lounge: a place in an airport that is reserved for select passengers. Lounges allow select passengers to enjoy a more exclusive and premium pre-departure or arrival experience. Typical amenities include free alcoholic beverages, complimentary snacks and meals, shower suites, and dedicated customer service to assist with travel plans.
  • Low-Cost Carrier (LCC): a term that refers to airlines that operate a no-frills business model. Low-cost carriers typically earn a significant portion of their revenue from ancillary fees, including seat assignments, passenger luggage, and/or in-flight services like beverages and snacks. An example of a low-cost carrier in the United States is JetBlue, and in Europe, Spanish-airline Vueling operates as a low-cost carrier.
  • Loyalty Program: a program that allows travelers to earn and/or redeem points and/or miles for flights on an airline or stays at a hotel.
  • Mattress Run: a term used to describe the practice of when a traveler books a hotel room for the sole purpose of earning points or miles often to earn elite status with a hotel.
  • Mileage Run: similar to a mattress run though far more popular, a mileage run is a term used to describe the practice of when a traveler books a flight or flights for the sole purpose of earning points, miles, or elite status. Learn more about mileage runs here.
  • Miles: a currency used in a loyalty program. A loyalty program may award miles based on distance flown, money spent, or a combination of the two latter categories.
  • Million Miler: a milestone in a frequent flyer program in which a member of a program has traveled one million miles with an airline. Depending on the airline, a frequent flyer may receive additional benefits once they reach million miler status.
  • Non-Revenue Travel: a type of travel that is typically unconfirmed standby travel and allows airline employees, their family, and selected friends or extended family to fly with an airline free of charge.
  • Non-Rev: an airline employee, a relative of an airline employee, or other travelers who are traveling as a result of an airline’s employee non-revenue travel benefits. Non-rev travelers are almost always unconfirmed passengers that are traveling as standby passengers that are assigned seats once all confirmed revenue travelers are assigned seats and have boarded a flight.
  • Open-Jaw: a type of return/round-trip ticket in which the origin city and arrival city of the first segment is not the same on the return segment of the itinerary.
  • Oversold: a practice in the airline and hospitality industries of selling more tickets than seats (airline industry) or more reservations than hotel rooms (hospitality industry). Flights and hotels are oversold with the understanding that a certain number of passengers or guests will likely be unable to make their flight or hotel reservation. Overselling flights and hotel rooms allows an airline or hotel to maximize its revenue per flight and per operating night.
  • Partner: an airline, hotel, or other company that works alongside an airline or hotel. There are numerous types of partnerships in both the airline and hospitality industries. Learn more about partnerships here.
  • Platinum Card: American Express’ premium travel rewards credit card that is often viewed as an aspirational credit card by frequent flyers and travelers. The Platinum Card has received a great deal of coverage and has been cemented in frequent flyer lingo as a result of the card’s variety of benefits including lounge access and elite status.
  • Points: similar to Miles. A currency used in a loyalty program. A loyalty program may award points based on distance flown, money spent, or a combination of the two latter categories.
  • Pooling: the practice in which two or more members (often families or business associates) of a frequent flyer or loyalty program combine their points and/or miles.
  • PreCheck: a trusted-traveler program that was introduced in 2011 by the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The program’s official name is TSAPre✓. The TSAPreCheck program allows approved traveler to receive expedited security screening at airports across the United States. PreCheck, like Global Entry, is often paid for by credit card companies as a benefit of a credit card company’s premium travel rewards credit card.
  • Premium Economy: a class of service above economy class that offers increased legroom, wider seats, and amenities that include leg-rests, enhanced in-flight dining, and/or priority services at airports.
  • Priority: a term used by airlines to denote passengers that receive exclusive benefits like expedited check-in, security screening, and boarding. Priority services may be the result of a traveler’s elite status or may be purchased by select travelers. Some co-branded credit cards also offer priority services as a benefit.
  • Priority Pass: a UK-based company that operates a network of airline/airport lounges across the globe. Priority Pass is also a membership sold by the UK-based company of the same name. Memberships are often offered as a benefit of premium travel rewards credit cards.
  • Seat Pitch: a metric that is used in airline seating that measures that space between one point on an airline seat and that same point on the seat or space in front of it.
  • Sign-Up Bonus: see Welcome Bonus
  • Skiplagged: see Hidden-City Ticketing
  • Standby Travel: a type of travel in which a passenger is assigned a seat on a flight so long as there are available seats on that flight. Standby travel may be the result of voluntary and involuntary decisions made by a passenger.
  • Status Match: that act of using pre-existing elite status at one airline to receive elite status at another airline. An airline may offer a status match as an incentive to encourage frequent flyers to switch their business to that airline.
  • Status: see Elite Status
  • Systemwide Upgrade: a type of upgrade awarded to frequent flyers with elite status that allows that member to upgrade to the next cabin of service on all legs of an itinerary. May be awarded to an elite frequent flyer in the form of e-certificates or “stickers.”
  • TATL: an acronym that stands for Trans-Atlantic air travel
  • TCON: an acronym that stands for transcontinental air travel
  • Throwaway Ticketing: see Hidden-City Ticketing
  • Ultra-Low-Cost Carrier (ULCC): an airline that operates using an extreme no-frills business model. Ultra-low-cost carriers are similar to low-cost carriers but often rely a great deal on ancillary fees like seat assignments and passenger luggage. In recent years, ultra-low-cost carriers have become a more favorable business model than operating simply as a low-cost carrier. Examples of ultra-low-cost carriers include Frontier, Spirit, Ryanair, Wizz Air, and Air Asia.
  • Upgrade: when an airline or hotel moves a traveler to a higher cabin of service (airlines) or a room that is viewed as favorable to standard rooms (hotels). An upgrade may be awarded to travelers with elite status or to travelers who pay a fee.
  • Upgrade List: a list that prioritizes upgrades for a particular flight. Elite status, fare code, and original class of service influence a passenger’s position on the upgrade list.
  • Upgrade Sticker: a system used by an airline that allows elite frequent flyers to receive confirmed or standby upgrades. Elite frequent flyers typically receive a set number of upgrade stickers each calendar year, though, said members may be able to purchase upgrade stickers as well.
  • Upgrade: the act of being moved to a higher cabin or class of service. Passengers can receive an upgrade as a result of elite status, operational issues, or by paying an additional fee.
  • VFR: in aviation, this term refers to visual flight rules; however, in commercial air travel, this acronym stands for “Visiting Friends & Relatives.” This is a category of travelers that book a flight to visit friends or family as opposed to leisure or business travel.
  • Volunteer: a passenger who willingly opts to give up their seat in an overbooking situation. When a volunteer is needed, that passenger will typically receive compensation in the form of a voucher that is good for future travel.
  • Welcome Bonus: an award often in the form of miles, points, or a companion fare offered as an incentive by credit card issuers, airlines, and hotels to encourage travelers to apply for a credit card.

Like any community, frequent flyers and travelers have managed to create words, terms, and phrases that pertain exclusively to travel, points, miles, and frequent flyer programs. For travelers just starting out with loyalty programs, frequent flyer jargon can be somewhat intimidating. However, using the frequent flyer’s dictionary above, anyone can master frequent flyer and travel loyalty programs in no time. For more resources and guides to loyalty and frequent flyer programs, be sure to check out The College Points’ introductory course to these programs, Points 101.

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