As the airlines continue to find new ways to create revenue, it is equally important that people realize the truth about airline loyalty programs.
In 2014, Delta led a charge that revolutionized the way you were awarded miles. The new calculation is based on the ticket price rather than the miles flown, a move that privileges first and business class travelers opposed to those in economy. The shift towards revenue-based loyalty programs have now become the norm and earning miles are now trickier than ever. Are loyalty programs over? No, but you do need to consider a different approach.
It is true that flying is no longer the best way to earn miles, but how can you take advantage of these programs?
Your Home Airline
When you decide which frequent flyer program to choose, consider which airline services your closest airport. Earning miles through air travel will be the easiest way to build especially if you choose an airline within an alliance like oneworld (American| Asiana) or SkyTeam (Delta| Korean). For example, if you live near the Northern Virginia area, Washington Dulles Airport would be your closest airport. It is almost certain that most of your flights over time would travel on United. Why? Because Dulles is United’s hub or one of its main connecting gateways and many flights will pass through here.
By considering the number of times you would travel, from a statistical view, the logical choice for our example would be to choose a program with United or one of its partners in the Star Alliance such as All Nippon, Air China or Air Canada.
Credit Card Programs
If you are a frequent spender, then it would be smart to earn while you spend by applying for an airline sponsored credit card. Having the right credit card is essential to travel – and it is not only to earn miles. Even if you can’t earn your way to a free ticket, you can at least get some of the free amenities benefited by credit card holders. All domestic carriers offer free checked bags, priority boarding, and in some cases, complimentary lounge access. Paying annual fees can be quite expensive, however for $100 a year, some of the lower priced programs pay themselves off after a few trips.
Consider the point value system in which you can earn points for every dollar spent, this way you can spend your way to free ticket. Check out which credit card programs offer the most points earned for qualified expenses such as gas, groceries and other purchases. One of my favorite credit cards for travel is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card which offer double points for travel purchases and offers a 50,000 bonus points with qualified purchases ($625 value).
Just Buy your Miles
The newest and arguably the best way to take advantage of airline loyalty programs is to buy miles. Periodically throughout the year, airlines will dump miles at a discounted rate. In some cases, you can even use credit card rewards to buy miles, which is even better. Although this seems great, buying miles is not for everyone.
Buying miles is most advantageous when redeeming for premium seats like first or business class. You would need to calculate how many points you need in comparison to the true value of the ticket before you buy.
The downside for loyal airline passengers is that the world will be filled with discounted miles in which the airlines continue to devalue your miles earned. You do not earn as many miles like before while the price for redemption continues to rise. This trend will make using miles even more difficult in the future.
Frequent flyer programs are not what they were before. No longer are the days you can earn miles while sitting on a plane and count your way to a free ticket. But loyalty programs are not dead, you just need to plan ahead.
I totally agree that the real worth is using the miles to get long haul first class on very nice airlines like Cathay Pacific, Qatar, or whatever airline you want to try – tickets that are often $20,000 (USD). Beyond that, for economy travel (domestic or international long haul) not worth it so much anymore. I remember back in the 1990s where I swear they gave you miles just for each day you lived.