Although the gradual transition from distance-based to spending-based frequent flyer programs at the big U.S. airlines has caused a lot of initial grumbling from some road warriors, a new survey finds that those changes don’t really bother most members – maybe because they get most of their miles from sources other than flights.
The 2016 MileCards.com Mile Satisfaction Survey – which last month polled more than 600 U.S. adults who are currently saving up miles/points for award travel – found that only 26 percent complain about miles getting harder to earn after the program changes.
A bigger worry – cited by 36 percent as their main concern – is that award trips are getting too expensive these days. (Example: This week, American AAdvantage is raising the award costs for many MileSAAver economy class tickets.) Another 20 percent said their main concern is not being able to find award travel availability at the times they want it.
If most frequent flyers won’t be earning as many miles/points from their flights from now on, maybe they aren’t too concerned because that’s not the primary way they build up credit in the programs. According to the survey, just under one-third (32 percent) of the respondents said they most of their miles from actually flying. But 46 percent said most of their miles came from spending on credit cards affiliated with the airline loyalty programs. Another 12 percent attributed most miles to using the airlines’ hotel and other partners, while 9 percent cited online shopping and one percent other sources.
Overall, 53 percent of the respondents said they are generally satisfied with their mileage programs, and 9 percent admitted they are “obsessed” with miles, while 28 percent are unhappy and 10 percent consider their miles to have no value.
The poll determined that only about four in 10 mile-savers tried to book an award trip in the past year, a number held down by the fact that most program participants are not truly frequent flyers: About 46 percent said they had less than 20,000 miles in their accounts. But of those who did try to book an award trip, three out of four said they were successful.
In looking at airlines’ annual reports, MileCards.com concluded that the best odds of booking award travel are on Southwest; 12 percent of its 2015 revenue passenger miles were flown by award travelers. The proportion for other airlines was 7.5 percent at United, 7.2 percent at Delta, 6.5 percent at American and 4 percent at JetBlue.
MileCards.com offered some practical advice for travelers who want to maximize their airline loyalty program accounts and benefits.
1) Use credit cards or hotel programs that allow you to transfer points into more than one airline program, or that offer extra points for certain types of spending.
2) If you don’t have enough points for the roundtrip award flight you want, book a one-way flight with miles/points and pay for the return (“Unlike years ago, when one-way cash tickets cost as much or more than a round trip, many destinations now offer one-way cash tickets for half the price of a round trip,” the company said).
3) Contact the airline by phone if you can’t find the partner airline awards you want on the website.
Readers: Do you agree with these results? What’s your biggest gripe about frequent flyer programs these days? How do you earn most of your miles/points?
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