Money & Business

How Frequent-flier Program Changes Will Affect Travelers

By / Mar 29, 2016 (Pete Nowicki/StockSnap)

Changes are afoot in how airline miles can be redeemed. Here’s the scoop on what’s going to be happening to those prized reward miles in the next few months.

Frequent travelers, take heed: The reward miles you’ve accumulated are about to hit some turbulence as airlines continue to adjust their policies.

Last week, American Airlines revamped its reward-miles redemption program, making it more expensive for travelers to swap miles for many popular international flights but reducing the miles needed to pay for shorter domestic trips. And by the end of June, AAdvantage miles will be granted based on the amount of money spent on trips and the level of your “elite” status, as opposed to miles traveled.

American isn’t alone in shaking up its reward programs. As Travel Weekly reported, both Delta and United are working on changes that will likely reduce the net worth of fliers’ accrued miles.

What’s a traveler to do? According to one travel-industry expert, you’d be smart to use those miles before their value depreciates even further.

“The value of a mile is never going to go up over the long term,” Chris Lopinto, cofounder of the Expert Flyer website, told Silk. “My recommendation is if you have miles and you can, spend them. The longer you keep them, the less they are worth in the long run.”

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Airlines are also reworking their redemption policies, making it possible to use miles not only to book trips, but also to add perks to your travel.

“We want people to be able to use those miles not to fly for free but to control your experience,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein told Bloomberg. Delta now allows travelers to exchange miles for drinks at SkyClubs and has broadened the options for upgrades available in exchange for miles.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has launched a limited promotion that puts a unique spin on mileage redemption. Until April 30, the airline is letting members trade 10,000 miles for an application to the TSA Precheck program, saving the $85 application fee.

Amid all of these changes, customers don’t seem to be too dissatisfied with their benefits. The MileCards.com Mile Satisfaction Survey found that 53 percent of fliers are satisfied with their miles program, and 28 percent aren’t. And even though miles are harder to accrue now, just 26 percent of program members see that as a top concern.

Morgan Little

Morgan Little is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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