Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from April 2015 can be found here.

This is the second post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

In just a few days, you’ll be earning hundreds of thousands of frequent-flier miles and hotel points, and you need a place to put them. Below are the bare minimum programs you need to be a member of as a US-based traveler, and as you get more involved with the miles game, you’ll probably sign up for more.

By signing up for these programs, you’ll be able to take advantage of every major miles promotion, and you’ll be able to fly domestically and internationally for free and stay for free once you get there.

Each one should just take a moment to sign up for. Don’t skip any even if you’ve never flown the airline or don’t want to go where it flies. We often use one airline’s miles to fly its partners. For instance, I just used my British Airways miles to fly from LA to Honolulu on American Airlines.

If you already have an account, then instead of signing up, just activate your account online. Write down your username or number and passwords all in one place, we’ll need them again very soon.

Airlines

AirTran (recently bought by Southwest, so joining unlocks a trick with Southwest points)

American Airlines

British Airways

Delta Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

Southwest Airlines

United Airlines (if you had a Continental Onepass account, United automatically rolled that into a Mileage Plus account)

US Airways

Hotels

Club Carlson

Hilton

Priority Club

Starwood

If you fly any other carriers like Virgin America or JetBlue, you should also sign up for their programs, but if you don’t fly them, you can stick to the eight listed airlines. If you’re an avid couchsurfer, you can skip signing up for the hotels.

Continue to Post 3.

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