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Award travel is an exciting hobby, but it’s also a complicated one. When you’re just getting started, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of terms you’ll see thrown about.
This glossary includes some of the most commonly used words and phrases you’ll come across when reading up on frequent flyer and travel rewards card strategies. It’s meant to help get you up to speed so you can start booking award flights and earning valuable points and miles toward your next trip, but it’s not an exhaustive list of all the jargon and obscure financial terms you may come across as you get deeper into this hobby.
- Award — A redemption of your points and miles. For example, a flight booked with British Airways Avios is an award flight, while a hotel stay booked with Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest program is an award stay. Not to be confused with a reward.
- Direct flight — While it seems counterintuitive, a direct flight is not the same as a nonstop flight. A direct flight is one that goes from point A to point B with a stop in between, where passengers may get off the plane. Though the flight includes a stop, it has the same flight number for both legs of the journey. An example would be Singapore Airlines’ Flight 51, which travels from Houston to Manchester and then on to Singapore. The flight can be booked from just Houston to Manchester or from Houston all the way to Singapore, and vice versa for the return. (See also: Nonstop flight)
- EQD — Short for Elite Qualifying Dollar. A requirement for earning American Airlines AAdvantage elite status. You earn EQDs based on the price of your ticket, and for Oneworld partner flights they’re awarded based on a percentage of the flight distance and the fare class purchased. In addition to earning EQDs through flying, you can earn them by meeting spending thresholds on credit cards including the AAdvantage Aviator Red card. (See also: EQM, EQS)
- EQM — Short for Elite Qualifying Mile. Apart from meeting the EQD requirement for American AAdvantage elite status, you must either meet the requisite amount of EQMs or EQSes. EQMs are awarded as a percentage of your miles flown based on which airline you’re flying and the booking code. You can also earn EQMs by meeting annual spending thresholds on the AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard and the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. (See also: EQD, EQS, elite-qualifying miles)
- EQS — Short for Elite Qualifying Segment. In addition to meeting the EQD requirement for American Airlines status, you must qualify by earning the requisite number of EQMs or EQSes. You’ll earn one EQS per segment flown on American and partner airlines. (See also: EQD, EQM)
- Elite-qualifying miles — A requirement for earning elite status (and thus special benefits) on the three major US airlines (American, Delta and United). Elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) are earned based on your fare class, with full-fare first-class tickets earning as much as 3 EQMS per miles flown and discount economy-class tickets earning just 1 EQM per mile flown. Keep in mind that these earning rates will be different on partner airlines. (See also: Elite status, EQM, F class, J class, Y class, MQM, PQM)
- Elite-qualifying dollars — A spending requirement for earning elite status on American, Delta and United. In addition to earning a set number of elite-qualifying miles to qualify for an elite-status level, you must reach a designated spending threshold. Elite-qualifying dollar requirements start at $3,000 for the lowest level of elite status across all three major US airlines, and go all the way up to $12,000 for the highest status level ($15,000 for Delta Diamond Medallion). Delta and United currently offer EQD waivers to program members who spend at least $25,000 in a year on an eligible co-branded airline credit card (up to Premier Platinum with United). (See also: Elite status, Elite-qualifying miles, EQD, MQD, PQD)
- Elite status — Those who reach a tier above the default level in an airline or hotel loyalty program hold elite status. This status is usually earned through flying with an airline — in which case you need to log a certain number of miles or flight segments, in addition to earning the required number of elite-qualifying miles and dollars — or through staying with a hotel brand — in which case you need to log a certain number of nights per year. Elite status confers a variety of benefits, including complimentary upgrades, access to a dedicated service desk, waived change fees and more. (See also: Elite-qualifying miles, Elite-qualifying dollars)
- F class — This designates a full-fare first-class ticket. Itineraries booked in F class earn the highest number of elite-qualifying miles. (See also: J class for business class and Y class for economy)
- Fifth-freedom flight — A flight offered by an airline based in a country that travels from A country to B country and then on to C country. An example would be Dubai-based carrier Emirates’ route from Dubai to Milan to New York. Fifth freedom flights are interesting because you can book one segment of the larger route, such as Milan to New York, and in doing so you can try an airline that you usually wouldn’t get to fly on a given route — and often, a fifth freedom carrier offers a more luxurious experience than you’d find on other airlines operating the same route. So, if you’re traveling from Italy to the US, you could fly Emirates’ A380 even though the airline is best known for offering flights from various countries to the UAE.
- Full award — Also known as a standard award, this is a flight redemption that requires the full (as opposed to reduced, or “Saver,”) number of miles. This redemption tends to represent a less-than-ideal use of points or miles, since it costs significantly more than a Saver ticket. (See also: Saver award)
- Hidden city ticket — A multi-segment flight itinerary which is booked with the intention of not flying every segment to bring the price down. For example, when searching for flights you might find that booking New York to Atlanta is significantly more expensive than booking New York to Orlando via Atlanta. To take advantage of the lower cost, you could book the second option (with the connection in Atlanta) and simply not take the connection on to Orlando. It’s important to note that while hidden city tickets are bookable, they’re very much frowned upon by the airlines — and if you’re traveling with checked baggage, they aren’t an option since your luggage will go on to the final ticketed destination.
- Island Hopper — United flight 154, offering thrice-weekly service from Honolulu to Guam with five intermediate stops at Pacific islands along the way. This is one of the most unique commercial routes currently available, and it’s a bucket-list item for many award travelers.
- J class — This designates a full-fare business-class ticket. Itineraries booked in J class earn fewer elite-qualifying miles than those booked in F class, but more than those booked into discount business-class fare buckets or economy fare buckets. (See also: F class for first class and Y class for economy)
- Layover — A flight connection of less than four hours on domestic itineraries or less than 24 hours on international itineraries. (See also: Stopover)
- MQM — Short for Medallion Qualification Mile. One of two options for earning elite status on Delta, MQMs are awarded based on flight distance and your ticket’s fare class. You must meet the MQM requirement for a given status level in addition to meeting the MQD requirement for that same tier. The other option for earning Delta elite status is accruing Medallion Qualification Segments, also known as MQSes. (See also: Elite-qualifying miles, MQD, MQS)
- MQD — Short for Medallion Qualification Dollar. Apart from meeting the MQM or MQS requirement for a Delta elite status level, you must meet the MQD requirement. MQDs are earned based on your annual spending on Delta flights and on flights with most partners. (See also: Elite-qualifying dollars, MQM, MQS)
- MQS — Short for Medallion Qualification Segment. To earn elite status with Delta, you can earn qualify by meeting the MQM or MQS requirement. Each MQS equals one segment flown. (See also: MQD, MQM)
- Mileage run — A flight itinerary booked for the sole or main purpose of earning redeemable miles to be used for future trips and/or earning elite-qualifying miles to gain status within a frequent flyer program. Award travelers usually plan a mileage run when they find a cheap fare or a mistake fare, though now that all three major US airlines impose (or are about to impose) spending requirements for elite status, mileage runs are less valuable from an elite status qualification standpoint — unless you earn an EQD waiver through a co-branded airline credit card. Due to changes in the way airlines award redeemable miles, mileage runs — which are often booked in cheap fare classes that only earn a percentage of the mileage flown — are also less attractive from a mile-collecting standpoint. That said, if you find a cheap long-haul flight, it could be worth the trip. (See also: Mistake fare)
- Miles — Travel rewards that are typically earned through flying with an airline as a member of its frequent flyer program, or through spending on a co-branded airline credit card. There are some exceptions; Barclaycard refers to the rewards earned on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard as miles, though they can be redeemed starting at a value of 1 cent apiece for a variety of travel expenses beyond airfare, including hotels, cruises and car rentals. (See also: Points)
- Minimum spending requirement — Usually mentioned in reference to credit cards, a minimum spending requirement is a set amount of money you must charge to your new card in order to earn the card’s sign-up bonus (points or miles, depending on the program). Minimum spending requirements usually have a time period of three months or 90 days from account opening. (See also: Sign-up bonus)
- Mistake fare — An unusually cheap airline or hotel rate that may be bookable but isn’t intentionally made available by the travel provider. A mistake fare may or may not be honored according to the DOT’s ruling. (See also: Mileage run)
- Nonstop flight — A flight that goes directly from origin to destination, with no stops in between… hence the very literal name. Not to be confused with a direct flight.
- Open jaw — An itinerary where the origin or destination is not the same in both directions. An example would be JFK-LHR on the outbound segment, and CDG-JFK on the return, since you’re departing from Paris rather than London on the way back. (See also: Stopover)
- OTA — An Online Travel Agency, or OTA, is a third-party site that sells flights, hotels and/or car rentals from most major service providers.
- PQD — Short for Premier Qualifying Dollar. One of the requirements for earning United MileagePlus Premier status. PQDs are awarded according to a flight’s base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges. Basic economy fares and certain specialty fares don’t earn PQDs. (See also: PQM, PQS)
- PQM — Short for Premier Qualifying Mile. In addition to earning the requisite PQDs for United elite status, you must earn either the requisite PQMs or PQSes. PQMs are awarded based on the number of paid flight miles and the fare class you purchased. (See also: Elite-qualifying miles, PQD, PQS)
- PQS — Short for Premier Qualifying Segment. In addition to earning PQDs for United elite status, you need to earn either PQMs or PQSes. You’ll earn PQSes based on the number of paid flown segments you travel and the fare class you purchase. (See also: PQD, PQM)
- Points — Travel rewards that are typically earned through credit card spending and hotel loyalty programs. There are some exceptions; Southwest refers to the rewards earned in its Rapid Rewards program as points, as does Virgin America with its Elevate frequent flyer program. (See also: Miles)
- Redemption — Any use of travel rewards — whether for a free flight, hotel stay or a statement credit — is considered a redemption. When you redeem points or miles for travel or other expenses, you’re using your loyalty currency toward a travel award. (See also: Award, Reward)
- Reward — Any credits, points, miles or other loyalty currency earned through a variety of channels. Points and miles are considered travel rewards, not to be confused with awards, which are redemptions of rewards. (See also: Award, Redemption)
- Saver award — A flight redemption that requires a reduced number of miles, often nearly half as much as a full (or “standard”) award. For example, for a one-way domestic flight on United, a Saver award costs 12,500 miles, compared to 25,000 miles for a standard award. Saver awards can be harder to find, but they still may represent a strong redemption value. (See also: Full award)
- Sign-up bonus — Usually mentioned in reference to credit cards, a sign-up bonus is an advertised reward you’ll get after successfully applying for a credit card and meeting the minimum spending requirement. Sign-up bonuses usually come in the form of points or miles, though some cards offer two free hotel nights or similar perks instead. (See also: Minimum spending requirement)
- Stopover — A stay in a connection city that’s longer than 24 hours when you’re traveling on an international flight itinerary (or more than four hours when you’re traveling domestically). For example, you could fly from New York to London and then have a stopover in Paris before catching a flight back to London and flying home to New York. (See also: Layover, Open jaw)
- Y class — This designates a full-fare economy-class ticket. Itineraries booked in Y class earn fewer elite-qualifying miles than those booked in full-fare first class or full-fare business class, but more than those booked in discount economy-class fare buckets. (See also: F class for first class and J class for business class)
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