Frequent flyer jargon buster – what are they talking about?

Part Three in the series “How to travel the world in luxury at budget rates using loyalty schemes.”

Okay, before we go any further let’s get to grips with the jargon used in the frequent flyer world – and there’s a lot of it. You’ll find acronyms and abbreviations all over the airlines’ own websites and even more in use on forums and other blogs. So to help you out we’ve put together an alphabetical list of terms used in frequent flyer circles – thanks to flyer for much of the information here, which I have edited down to be most relevant for readers of this site. If there are any terms I have missed please do leave a comment and point these out so I can update the list.

You might want to bookmark this page for later reference.

Alphabetical list of frequent flyer terms and abbreviations


*A: the acronym stands for the Star Alliance.

1K: United Mileage Plus Premier Executive 1K status. Awarded to members who fly 100,000 actual miles or 100 paid segments.

AA: American Airlines

AC: Air Canada

ACCRUAL: The accumulation of frequent traveler program miles and points through actual travel, partner bonuses and special promotions.

ACTUAL MILES: The physical distance that a flight covers. When calculating actual miles, class of service, elite-level status and other bonuses are not included. To view the airmile distance between airports, visit

AF: Air France

AFFINITY CARD: Credit or charge cards in partnership with a particular airline or hotel frequent travel program. Charges to the card earn miles or points, which either accrue directly into the associated program or can be transferred into it.

AIRPORT ACCESS FEE: The fee paid to an airport by a car rental company for the privilege of operating its vans and buses within the airport facilities. This fee is usually passed on to the renter.

AIRPORT CODE: A three-letter code used to identify an airport. Example: DEN = Denver International Airport.

ALLIANCE: A group of airlines that allow frequent flyer program members to earn miles or points and enjoy special benefits when flying with any participating airline. The miles or points can, in turn, be used for an award ticket on any of the alliance airlines.

AMENITY KIT: The small toiletry packs most airlines offer International Business and First Class passengers.

APEX: Advance Purchase Excursion fares, usually the lowest available. Must be purchased in advance (usually 7-30 days) and include stay restrictions.

APOLLO: Electronic reservations system used by many airlines and travel agents.

AS: Alaska Airlines

ATB: Automated ticket/boarding pass. An electronically generated ticket which also includes the boarding pass.

ATC: Air Traffic Control

AUCTION: An award sale through which program members use their miles to bid against each other for a one-time only award that often involves attending special events or meeting famous people.

AWARD: Free airline ticket, hotel stay or night, car rental, merchandise, traveler’s check or gift certificate. Depending on the program, awards may be tickets or certificates that must be redeemed at ticket counters, hotel front desks, car rental desks or specific merchandise outlets. The latest form of award redemption is through program Web sites.

AY: Finnair

AZ: Alitalia

B, M, & K: Fare Basis codes

BA: British Airways

BAHT RUN: Originally this term referred to a specific mileage run opportunity in Thailand. Over time though, it’s meaning has expanded, and now some people use Baht Run when referring to any exceptionally valuable and efficient mileage run opportunity.

BD: British Midland

BETWEEN (vs. TO/FROM): In determining routing for accrual or award travel, “between” indicates that travel may originate on either end of a route. For example, a roundtrip award that allows travel between Mexico and the U.S. means that travel can originate in either the U.S. or Mexico. Conversely, roundtrip travel to Mexico from the U.S. means that travel is restricted and must originate and terminate in the U.S.

BIS: Butt in Seat. Butt-In-Seat Miles refers to miles that you actually fly in a seat on a given trip, compared to miles that you earn for flying with added elite bonuses, promotions, or other various modifiers to the flight mileage.

BLACKOUT DATES: Certain days during high-traffic seasons and holidays when airline and hotel-award travel is restricted or not available. Introduced in 1989, blackout dates help protect travel dates when the airlines have the most revenue to gain. For instance, blackout dates for some international partners extend all summer long.

BOARDING PASS: Authorization to board a plane; often required as proof of flight taken when claiming missing credit.

BONUS: Miles accrued in excess of the actual mileage, which can include special promotions, class of service and elite-level allocations of extra miles.

BULKHEAD SEATS: A bulkhead is a dividing wall in an airplane that separates one section from another. The bulkhead seats are those placed immediately behind this divider. Bulkhead seats generally provide added legroom, but they also tend to offer less storage capacity, as there is no seat in front under which carryon luggage can be stowed.

BUMPING: On full flights, the practice of removing a confirmed passenger to make room for a passenger with higher priority.

CA: Air China

CAPACITY CONTROLS: The process airlines, hotels and car rental agencies use to allocate awards depending on actual vs. anticipated demand. Capacity controls are intended to control the economics of frequent flyer programs.

CERTIFICATE: An award voucher, which a member must present to the redeeming company, such as a car rental company or hotel, or must exchange for an airline ticket.

CHECK-IN: To confirm intent to board a previously booked flight by showing a ticket to an airline representative either at the ticket counter, curbside baggage check-in or departure gate.

CI: China Airlines

CLASS OF SERVICE BONUS: Many airlines add 50% or 100% or more extra miles to your account when flying in paid Business or First Class.

CLASS OF SERVICE/TRAVEL: Usually refers to airline travel; indicates the level of travel, size of seat and surrounding area, cabin position and amenities offered. Generally first class (F), business class (C) and coach (Y).

CO: Continental Airlines


CODESHARING: When one airline provides connecting service under another carrier’s name. Both airlines’ codes appear in reservation systems and on tickets. Codeshare flights often accrue mileage.


COMPANION TICKET: A free or discounted ticket for another person flying with a traveler who has purchased a ticket.

CONFIRMATION: An oral or written acknowledgment of a booking, subject to certain conditions.

CONFIRMED UPGRADE: Guarantees an upgrade to a higher class of service prior to travel.

CONGA LINE: A Conga Line is a thread in which members help each other by lending their referrals for a select promotion. Most promotions that offer a bonus for referring a friend will have a corresponding Conga Line thread.

CONNECTION: Changing to a different airplane en route to the final destination. Actual mileage, connection bonuses and segment promotion credits are earned only if the connecting flight number is different from the originating flight number.

CRS: A Computerized Reservation System. It is any of several proprietary computer systems allowing real-time access to airline fares, schedules, and seating availability and offering the capability of booking reservations and generating tickets.

CS: Short for Customer Service. Add an “A” or an “R” and you’ve got Customer Service Agent or Customer Service Rep.

CTOs: Acronym for City Ticket Office. These ticketing offices for airlines are not located at airports and are not directly associated with a travel agency. They are directly sponsored by the airline itself.

CX: Cathay Pacific Airways

CZ: China Southern Airlines

DBC: Denied Boarding Compensation

DHS: Department of Homeland Security (U.S.)

DIRECT FLIGHT: This is a tricky one. The term “direct flight” can actually be applied to any routing that maintains the same flight number throughout the entire course of the routing, even if the routing contains enroute stops or requires a change of airplane. Strange but true.

DL: Delta Air Lines

DM List: Departure Management list. Used by airlines at gate to determine and allocate upgrades.

DOT: Department of Transportation (U.S.)

DOUBLE DIP: When a partner hotel stay or flight accrues miles or points into a member’s accounts with both partners.

DRINK CHITS: A coupon valid for one free (or prepaid) alcoholic beverage on that airline’s flight. In the case of United Airlines, the coupon may be valid in a Red Carpet Club airport lounge instead of during a flight.

E-FARE: A specialty discount fare offered exclusively through the Internet; usually does not accrue miles. To view a consolidated list of these types of fares from the major airlines, visit

E-TICKET: A “paperless” ticket which is processed electronically; often through an Internet purchase.

EARN/BURN: Slang for mileage accrual and redemption.

EI: Aer Lingus

EK: Emirates

ELECTRONIC UPGRADES (EGR): “Paperless” upgrades transacted solely through computers.

ELITE LEVEL: Additional benefits for members attaining thresholds of accrued miles or points. Elite-level membership usually allows travelers to accrue miles or points faster, provides special perks and grants special airplane seating or hotel accommodations.

ELITE-LEVEL BONUS: Miles earned in addition to actual mileage as a benefit of being an elite-level member.

ELITE-LEVEL UPGRADE: Upgrade to higher class of service available through membership in an elite level of a program.

ENROLLMENT BONUS: A specific amount of miles awarded upon first becoming a member of a program.

EQM: Elite Qualifying Miles – Many programs allow members to earn miles from a variety of activities, but generally, only miles earned through designated activities count toward the achievement of elite status. See also “Q Miles” and “Status Miles”.

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival

EUG: Electronic upgrades.

EXPEDITED AWARDS: Service offered by many programs for an additional cost; expedited awards allow members to accelerate processing and delivery of award tickets or certificates. Often the requested award is delivered within 24 hours.

F9: Frontier Airlines

FA: Flight Attendant

FAA: Federal Aviation Administration (U.S.)

FARE BASIS: Determines how many miles or points are earned based on the fare paid. For example, to accumulate mileage on some airlines, you must pay a published full-fare rate; some programs do not award miles for highly discounted fares. Some hotels require that you pay corporate rates or higher to accrue points.

FARs: Federal Aviation Regulations, frequently cited by FAs (and not always accurately)

FEBO: Front, Even; Back, Odd. Refers to how meal orders are SUPPOSED to be taken in premium classes. On even numbered flights, the FA(s) should start at the front of the cabin, and on odd numbered flights,

at the back.

FF: Frequent Flyer. Also VFF, a Very Frequent Flyer.

FI: Icelandair

FOC: This dreaded disease is considered contagious by members of frequent flyer programs who choose to redeem their miles and benefits for upgrades rather than free awards. The disease is FOC — Fear of Coach.

FREQUENT BUYERS: Frequent-traveler program members who earn most of their miles or points from credit card purchases or partner services as opposed to flying.

FULL FOLIO: When a hotel program awards miles based on the amount spent for all hotel charges, including room service, gift shop purchases and like expenses.

GATEWAY AIRPORTS: Domestic airports that are origination points for foreign destinations.

HUB: Central airport where planes converge to transfer passengers; usually controlled by one or two airlines.

HYBRID CLASS: A specialized class of service through which first-class service is provided for business-class fares.

IB: Iberia Airlines

IDB: Involuntarily Denied Boarding. Airline offers cash consolation.

IN CONJUNCTION WITH: The restriction which hotels and car rental agencies apply when awarding miles. For example, to accumulate Mexicana Frecuenta mileage for a stay at a Camino Real hotel, you must show your Mexicana boarding pass as proof of a flight within a certain time period (usually 24 hours) of the stay.

INCENTIVE MILES: Miles purchased from an airline program by a company to be given to employees or customers as rewards.

IRROPS/IROPS: Short for Irregular Operations, such as equipment change, ATC delay, flight cancellation, etc.

JK: Spanair

JL: Japan Airlines

KE: Korean Air

KL: KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines

LEISURE RENTAL: When a traveler pays non-corporate rates for a car rental, and thereby earns a different amount of miles than a corporate rate would earn.

LH: Lufthansa Airlines. Also an abbreviation for “long haul”.

LINKED ACCOUNTS: When two members of a program earn miles into the same account or can transfer miles between their two separate accounts; usually involves an affinity card.

LO: Lot Polish Airlines

LX: Swiss International Air Lines.

LY: El Al Israel Airlines

MATRON: Airline employee, often middle-aged woman, who polices access to business and first class lounges.

MCO: Miscellaneous Charges Order, paper issued by the airline for a ticket refund, etc. Not to be confused with MCO, the code for

Orlando, FL.

MEMBERSHIP PRIVILEGES: Special privileges granted by airlines and hotels to members of frequent travel programs. For example, hotels may offer discounted rates or free nights to program members for a limited time.

METAL: Refers to aircraft (thus metal) of the airline you are flying. (i.e., Delta metal, American metal, etc…).

MH: Malaysia Airlines

MILEAGE JUNKIE: A frequent flyer who obsessively accumulates miles and points, and often does not redeem many awards.

MILEAGE PURCHASE: The capability to purchase a certain percentage of miles needed to redeem a specific award.

MILEAGE RUN: A series of flights taken in a very short amount of time, solely for the purpose of accumulating frequent flyer miles, with a blatant disregard for the destinations.

MINIMUM MILEAGE: Minimum number of miles earned by a program member, regardless of the length of the flight; usually 500 miles.

MPM: Maximum Permitted Mileage. Many tickets especially RTW have a maximum number of miles permitted under the fare.

MR: Mileage Run – A series of flights taken in a very short amount of time, solely for the purpose of accumulating frequent flyer miles, with a blatant disregard for the destinations.

MS: Egyptair

NFC: Defined as ‘Near Field Communication.’ Essentially it refers to the “wave and pay” type credit cards as well as other things like chip enabled frequent flyer cards and even baggage tags location. Key to this is that the information exchange needs to be very local: 4 cm or 1 1/2 inches to work.

NH: All Nippon Airways

NONSTOP: A flight that does not stop en route. A nonstop flight is always direct, but a direct flight is not always nonstop.

NRSA: Non-revenue space available. Used to describe much unpaid staff travel.

NW: Northwest Airlines

NZ: Air New Zealand

O&D: Originations & Destinations.

OFF-PEAK TRAVEL: Travel at a particular time of year when airlines predict a lower demand for seats. This usually excludes the time surrounding major holidays. Airlines designate specific “peak” and “off-peak” dates, and many do not allow award travel during peak times.

OLCI: Online Check In

ONE-CLASS: Usually associated with airline- and car-rental upgrades, allowing one level of service upgrade. For example, a one-class airline upgrade is from coach to business class; contrast this with a first-class upgrade, which jumps several classes of service from coach to first.

ONE-WAY: (O/W) An itinerary which does not include a return flight to the point of origination.

ONLINE BONUSES: Miles earned through Internet transactions, whether by purchasing tickets or items or logging activity on a specific Web site.

OP-UP: Short for operational upgrade. This is a type of upgrade that is awarded when coach is overbooked and they bump some passengers up to first class if there are any seats open. The pecking order starts with top elite members, etc.

OPEN JAW: A roundtrip ticket that has three or more points of departure/arrival. For example, a routing from Chicago arriving in New York, which returns to Chicago from Boston. Open jaws are often allowed when flying on an award ticket and are often counted as a stopover.

OS: Austrian Airlines

OW: Acronym that stands for the oneworld Alliance.

OZ: Asiana Airlines

PAPER UPGRADES: Certificates or vouchers that can physically be given to a check-in agent to claim an upgrade.

PARTNER: Two programs joining together to allow members to accrue miles or points in one or both programs. Also may allow members to use accumulated miles or points to redeem awards with the partner. Partners may be accrual partners only, award partners only or both.

PAX: Short for passenger(s). See also, SLF.

PIN: Personal Identification Number. Required by many frequent traveler programs to identify members and ensure that miles or points are properly credited.

PNR: Passenger Name Record. Used to record reservation and passenger information.

POINT CEILING: A limit on the amount of points that can be earned through a specific method, such as an affinity card or a special bonus offer.

POOLING (MEMBERS): When two members combine miles or points from different accounts to redeem an award. Usually not allowed, but sometimes is permissible for family members or spouses.

POOLING (PROGRAMS): When a member of two separate programs combines miles or points from both programs to claim an award with either program.

PRE-REGISTER: When a program requires a member to notify the program of the member’s intent to earn a bonus prior to accrual. For example, if a bonus is offered for flying a specific route, the member must notify the program that the member is flying that itinerary to earn the bonus. If the program is not notified previous to the flight, it will not award the bonus. Often involves a promotion code. For a list of these types of promotions, visit

PROMOTION CODE: Numbers or letters that must be cited when booking to obtain a special bonus or rate.

PUBLISHED RATES: The official set of fares that an airline advertises for a certain flight; often, miles will only be accrued on published rates.

PURCHASED UPGRADES: An upgrade to a higher class of service that can be obtained by currency.

Q MILES: Qualifying miles that count toward reaching Elite status with any airline, i.e. NOT inclusive of any elite or class of service bonus which often are not counted toward Elite level. See also “EQM” and “Status Miles”.

QANTAS: Qantas Airways, the Australian national airline. The original name was “Queensland And Northern Territories Aerial Service”.

QF: Qantas Airways

RDM: Redeemable miles

RECIPROCAL: When a partnership allows members from both programs to earn miles, redeem miles or do both on the partner airline.

RETROACTIVE CREDIT: Miles or points awarded to new members who may have flown or stayed previous to enrollment in a program. Requires proof of flight (boarding pass) or proof of stay (hotel receipt). Whether it is permitted and for what time period varies by program.

RT: Round Trip

RTW: Round the World ticket package

SA: South African Airways

SEAT PITCH: The distance measured between a seat back and the seat back in front of it. Actually, it can be measured from any point on a seat to the SAME point on the next row of seats.

SEGMENT: A section or “leg” of a continuous itinerary.

SERVICE CENTRE: Place where members of frequent travel programs can call for award travel, redemption, accrual and current promotions.

SHARED ACCOUNT: When two separate members earn miles into a single account; usually involves an affinity card.

SK: SAS – Scandinavian Airlines System

SLF: Flight crew lingo for Passengers: Self Loading Freight

SPACE AVAILABLE: Usually associated with upgrades. Members of frequent traveler programs can upgrade to first or business class on airlines and upgrade to rooms with special amenities at hotels when the seat or room is not already filled by revenue-paying occupants.

SQ: Singapore Airlines

SSSS: Selected for Secondary Security Screening

STANDBY: A passenger waiting for a seat on a full flight who is prepared to travel if space becomes available at the last moment.

STANDBY UPGRADE: Available at check-in if space is available in a higher class of service. Usually, passengers check in no more than two hours in advance for standby upgrades.


STATUS MATCH: A “fast track” to elite status in which an airline will award status in its program based on a member’s status in another program, usually because the member is switching. Status matches are once-in-a-lifetime affairs and airlines may match only to a lower level (e.g. someone in the highest tier of the old airline may only be matched to the middle tier of the new one). Some airlines do not match status, or do so only in conjunction with a Challenge.

STATUS MILES: Miles that count toward reaching Elite status with any airline, i.e. NOT inclusive of any elite or class of service bonus which often are not counted toward Elite level. See also “Q Miles” and “EQM”.

STOPOVER: An intentional interruption of a flight along a direct route. Stopovers are allowed sometimes when flying on an award ticket. Length of stopover varies by airline.

SWU: Accronym for System Wide Upgrade. An upgrade award that can be used on any segment in an airline’s route system. Many of the major airlines offer SWU’s as a benefit to their elite-level members.

T/O: Take off

TA: Travel Agent

TATL: Transatlantic

TG: Thai Airways

THRESHOLD BONUS: An incentive offered to members of a program’s elite level. Additional miles or points are awarded to members who reach a specific membership level or “threshold.”


TIX: Short for tickets

TK: Turkish Airlines

TP: TAP – Air Portugal

TSA: Transportation Security Administration (U.S.) – part of the Department of Homeland Security.

UA: United Airlines

UD: Upper Deck on larger aircraft, like the 744.

UM: Unaccompanied Minor. A child traveling alone. Special arrangements can be made with most airlines to have the child escorted to the plane and met at the destination(s). If a connection is involved, an agent will meet the UM at the gate and escort him/her to a special room with supervision.

UPGRADE (UG): Transferring to a higher class of service or accommodation, such as from coach to first. Upgrades may be one-class upgrades (see ONE-CLASS) or jump several classes of service.

US: US Airways

VDB: Voluntary denied boarding. More commonly known as a “bump”. Most airlines offer $$$ travel credits or “VDB vouchers” in such instances.

VFF: Very Frequent Flyer

VS: Virgin Atlantic Airways

WAITLIST: A list of passengers requesting seats on full flights that might become available as a result of cancellation. Airline programs’ elite-level members are often offered priority waitlisting.

WN: Southwest Airlines

Y: Full fare unrestricted coach class. Often used as a generic term to differentiate Coach from Business or First in award charts etc. “Y/C/F” headings.

YIELD MANAGEMENT: The process whereby airlines allocate seats at different prices depending on actual vs. anticipated demand. Yield management also pertains to the process of allocating frequent flyer award seats.

YQ: Fuel surcharge


That’s it – that wasn’t so hard, right?

In this post we’ve provided a list of frequent flyer jargon you can refer back to when trying to decipher forum posts or airline websites.

In the next article in this series we’ll focus on the basic principles you have to know to get the most from your frequent flyer points – including the main secret most people don’t know – the clue to getting the best value is to use your points on a different airline.

This is Part Three of the series: “How to travel the world in luxury while paying budget rates using loyalty schemes”.

Part Four is here: Frequent flyer essential concepts – what you need to know

You can read the introduction here

Part One is here: The basics: What is a frequent flyer scheme and why should I care?

Part Two is here: So which frequent flyer programme should I join?

We hope you enjoy this series – if we have missed anything out or you have questions or comments please do let us know in the box below – and make sure you sign up for email updates or subscribe to the RSS feed by using the links on the right so you don’t miss a thing from Grown-up Travel 

Image obtained from under Creative Commons (c) Kalavinka

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

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