Frequent Travel, Miles and Points: Time to Give Up?

Photograph ©istockphoto.com by Studio-Annika.

With the advent of numerous frequent travel loyalty programs increasing miles and points redemption rates while offering reduced benefits as costs to the customer seem to steadily increase, is it time to give up on what some call “the game”?

A thoughtful discussion was launched today with one FlyerTalk member admitting that the “white flag” is being raised. After 25 years as a frequent flier, FlyerTalk member stonecrd somberly posts the following:

“I made the decision this year after 25 years as a FF to stop chasing miles and status. It just isn’t worth the effort anymore, the benefits keep dropping and the costs both in $ and time keep going up.

“From now on it’s cheapest direct flight. Maybe that is what the majors want in any event it makes my decisions quite easy. I may never be in F again but lately getting in F is getting less and less likely anyway. If I don’t get an overhead they can check my bag, the 15-20m to wait for the bag is less than I’ve been waiting flying indirect routes to maintaine status.

“Bye guys enjoy your travels.”

Other FlyerTalk members have been stepping forward, confessing that either they too have given up — or are at least seriously thinking about it.

I have to admit that I am one of those people.

I am absolutely passionate about travel — or, at least, I enjoyed it a lot more years ago that I do today. However, the “game” has changed considerably for many frequent travelers:

  • Frequent travel loyalty programs have been steadily increasing redemption rates of points and miles for award travel — and they seem to keep getting increasingly complex to follow and understand
  • Taxes and fees — such as fuel surcharges and resort fees — can increase the cost of travel significantly
  • Elite status seems to be increasingly difficult to attain — unless you pay for an affinity credit card
  • For credit card affinity programs, it seems almost as if you need to possess a doctorate in mathematics to figure out how you can benefit
  • Having to go through the inconvenience and stress of being screened at airport security checkpoints
  • Flying as a passenger on crowded airplanes with rude and inconsiderate passengers
  • Having to deal with flight delays, sold-out hotel properties and environments which are less than sanitary, as only a few of many factors which can contribute to deteriorating the overall travel experience

The above is merely a partial list of reasons why it seems that more and more FlyerTalk members are giving up.

Is this what airlines and lodging companies want — for members of their frequent travel loyalty programs to give up?

In a perfect world, companies would earn 100 percent profit from revenues and have absolutely no expenses. Since this is about as possible as a true perpetual motion machine, travel companies seem to be doing everything they can to squeeze every last dollar out of their customers — hoping, I suppose, that the “chaff” will drop out and leave the “cream of the crop”: the business and leisure travelers who think nothing of paying full price for their travels, not caring about how or if they earn frequent travel loyalty program miles and points. $15,000.00 for a ticket in first class on an international flight? Not a problem. $650.00 for a suite at a downtown hotel for a night? Chump change, my friend.

There was a reason at one time why frequent travel loyalty programs were launched in the first place: to increase loyalty to the brand. However, there seems to be a misunderstanding by many FlyerTalk members that frequent travel loyalty programs exist to reward loyalty. Sorry, but we currently live in a what-will-you-do-for-me-next world, where businesses usually do not particularly care about what you have already done. They are attempting to tweak that hyperbolic curve closer and closer to that elusive ideal of 100 percent profit…

…as they should. I am not naïve enough to believe that companies owe their customers anything other than the best of service or the best product at a reasonable price. Companies are in business to profit as much as possible for their stakeholders. Sure, they will donate to charity or contribute to their communities at large — but the number one motive of a company is a combination of profit and positive cash flow.

There are those FlyerTalk members who repeat again and again that frequent travel loyalty program miles and points are a liability to the companies which issue them — and if that is indeed the case, that translates into a negative impact on the balance sheet, causing those companies to reduce that liability. Charge more miles or points for the same award. Repeat the next year. And the next. Throw in an occasional token reduction here and there to soften the blow. Ensure that miles and points expire within a certain period of time. Oh, you did not use your miles or points in time before they expired? Well, whose fault is that? Shame on you.

Profit can be intoxicating. For years, airlines lost billions of dollars. Now — thanks in great deal to ancillary fees — airlines have become profitable again for the most part. Profit is an elixir. Airlines want and need more profits. Drop a benefit here. Tighten a policy there. Tweak as necessary. Drop a significant bomb once in a while. No need to worry. Customers will complain — but they will keep coming back for more.

Will they?

If what FlyerTalk members are posting in this discussion alone are any indication, it appears that the exodus is actually starting. This is not another one of those “Goodbye — I will never fly this airline again because the flight attendant did not mix my drink enough” discussions with self-absorbed “do you know who I am” people spouting off insignificant blather to which no one listens. The content is by defeated FlyerTalk members who seem to be speaking from the heart in a manner of resignation, tired of constantly going through hoops just to remain in the “game” — which appears to be more and more emulating “survival of the fittest.”

Has the threshold finally been reached where frequent travelers have had enough — or more than enough? Has the tipping point been achieved — or is this simply much ado about nothing? Can a compromise exist where the company can earn as close to maximum profits and positive cash flow as possible while the customer can take as much advantage of the benefits of frequent travel loyalty programs as possible?

What are your thoughts? Has the practice of earning and redeeming frequent travel loyalty program miles and points — and frequent travel in general — changed for you? If so, how? If not, why?

Comments (Showing 16 of 16)

  • garydpdx at 3:44pm February 12, 2013

    Whatever level of status you are chasing, it has become an increasingly disheartening process. But it’s hard to justify foregoing any benefits that may come to you, when you have to do the same amount of traveling anyways. And I have been earning my status in miles and nights, as factoring in dollars has been fairly recent, and the first rule is to get the best price for my employer or for myself. You don’t know if you’ll make it, by year’s end, and it’s inexcusable to waste money for a preferred carrier or property if you don’t. On the other hand, you may be sorry next year when you are hit up for additional baggage fees due to needing to bring a bigger bag(s) for conferences, or you miss a key meeting because your original flight was cancelled and you’re in line with the tourists and family reunion travelers to get in the next available (to you) flight.

  • wolfie52 at 5:46pm February 12, 2013

    It is easy to read the writing on the wall: airlines have been handing out miles in increasing levels as “bonuses”, just like with money, the more in circulation, the less each is worth.

  • calrick at 6:24pm February 12, 2013

    Thank you for this article and for what I too read as a sincere posting that resonated with many folks… and the resignation to the new norm. Interestingly, that a few hours after this first posting a major hotel chain sent out an email stating there will now be nine levels of hotel properties on which to “spend” points (“costing” more redemption points) interesting times for loyal customers… or former loyal customers.

  • Tamcd1980 at 6:43pm February 12, 2013

    You literally read my mind with this post! And here I was thinking I was the only one who felt this way. Last year I spent over 140 nights with Marriott, was “rewarded” with a move from Platinum to Platinum Premier, only to really find out that the jump comes with no tangible benefit at all. I don’t even get a new membership card since Marriott seems to be cutting costs by simply posting a printable image of each members’ new annual card online. I also got bumped up to Hertz #1 club gold for 2012, only to find that my “guaranteed one car class upgrade” wasn’t really guaranteed in any sense of the word, since I rarely got any upgrade beyond maybe a free NeverLost GPS (which I didn’t want or need). Between learning these realities the hard way and now Delta revamping it’s FF program and Marriott’s announcement today about shuffling catetorization of properties and adding a Category 9 @ 45,000 points per night, it seems that these companies will stop at nothing to devalue everything their most loyal customers have worked so hard for. Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the choir folks but you can go ahead and count me among those that are throwing in the towel on this entire grind. From now on I will do my work behind a desk and when I fly somewhere it will only be for vacation to spend up my decreasingly valuable stockpile of points before they are taken away from me altogether.

  • SF Traveler at 8:11pm February 12, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more with the article and the prior posters. Sad to say, the golden age appears to be ending. I have really enjoyed the F flights on AA to Brazil, CX to Asia and BA to Europe which I never could have afforded otherwise. But the achieving the miles and status is just too hard now. And with the AA/US combination seemingly in the bag, I’m reluctant to spend time and money for a status that may not be worth very much with Mr. Parker at the helm. But I sure loved it all in the glory days!

  • USAIRCHAIRMAN at 8:28pm February 12, 2013

    I totally disagree. As a chairman US Air (very excited about ther merger btw) i can say it is worth it. Here’s why:
    1. Business travelers dont usually want to travel for pleasure-when you fly 150,000 miles/year who wants to fly some more?
    2. Business travelers arent worried about redeeming miles, just benefits- we have hundreds of thousands of miles, we dont need care! What we want its more upgrades to F. Thats it. Upgrades and better service.
    3. Business travelers dont usually pay for flights, so who cares about the cost? Flight prices are up 4.5% over last year-what about inflation? Inflation is 3-5% so airlines arent even getting an increase really

    Everyone needs to just calm down. Fly indirect and enjoy first class. If anything, airlines are working harder and harder to provide MORE benefits:
    1. lie flat seats domestically
    2. 4 course meals on premium routes
    3. more meal options in F
    4. more F seats onboard which end up with preferred members

    If you pay $250 for a transcontinental flight a few times and earn status, the airline DOESNT CARE. they dont even like you. people that fly 5 days a week and spend 30k+/yr are more valued. And again, we have PLENTY of miles. Plenty.

    In recap, everyone needs to calm down. Benefits are increasing. Are redemption rates increasing? yes. so what? thats life. enjoy what you get (for free btw) and lose the entitled feelings

  • Points Surfer at 9:31pm February 12, 2013

    USAIRCHAIRMAN does have a point…when you spend all that time on the road for business to earn personal travel benefits at some point it seems like just more work to do personal travel.

    Maybe some day I’ll have more cash & time and less need for alleged loyalty programs until then its a hobby. In recent years I don’t think loyalty is a fair description of these programs. Loyalty implies far more than these customer vs vendor relationships ever were. Just incentive programs to lure descretionay spending which is fine but vendors seem to be assuming a member of “their” program is member for life and can be taken for granted. These days “my” program participation is always subject to review with so much information available on places like Flyertalk etc so vendors need to be sharp or risk losing more than they gain on these incentive changes.

  • creampuff at 1:15am February 13, 2013

    “•Flying as a passenger on crowded airplanes with rude and inconsiderate passengers”
    “•Having to deal with flight delays”

    Are these supposed to be new things?

    The whole article is written from the point of view of avid FF point/status collectors. What is this, maybe 1% of the travelling population. The majority of people just stick with airlines they like, because they like them or buy the cheapest ticket they can find.

  • edgewood49 at 8:01am February 13, 2013

    You know I have been having similar thoughts in the past year, with a disclaimer that I am approaching the age that slowing down is on the near horizon and selling my company. In fact we are currently in Europe for a week having taken a safari in Africa. Flights via FF points in FC. During the flight I spent sometime walking to the “enhanced” coach section and found it very much acceptable! I have been “upfront” for over 30 years. Not only is it acceptable I agree the hassle of keeping the status and attempting to secure the right flights on points is more and more difficult. Almost better to sell your points then use the money to offset buying a seat.

  • makfan at 5:35pm February 13, 2013

    I think it’s a form of burnout. I’ve been wondering the same thing. Have any of the major airline mergers made things better for passengers? I guess since I like AA I’m dreading the combination with US.

    During the NY/NE blizzard, I had a trip to NYC booked. I got a cancellation text from AA on Thursday. I had a ton of meetings and interactions with my colleagues, so there just wasn’t any good way to spend time on hold trying to find a better alternative. I had called before the flight was cancelled and was told that my proposed change wasn’t within the travel exception notice so no dice.

    The automatic rebooking computer didn’t get around to my itinerary for several hours and then it proposed a red-eye with two following segments that arrived in NY five hours before the return was to depart. I called that night and rejected it but was first told no refund. I truly didn’t feel like an Executive Platinum passenger that night. I eventually worked things out to just cancel the trip, but I’ll never have those hours of time back.

    Might be time to just buy the best fare that works for me for a given route and not stress out about status, upgrades, etc. Unfortunately, the dreaded economy minus seating is really a drag. At least I have a good lifetime status on AA, whatever that might mean should they merge. I might just not fly very much.

  • LAX88 at 7:11pm February 13, 2013

    The referenced threat is a DL thread, not a general FF thread. Of course people are tired of DL–they’re the worst of the legacies in benefits.

  • topenga47 at 4:26am February 14, 2013

    I retired at 57, 6 years ago. At that time I was a George Clooney “Road Warrior” type from his movie…..top tier everything. I have loved retirement but felt I would not be able to get many travel miles anymore or free benefits. Boy was I wrong! I figure that I get tens of thousands of dollars of free travel benefits and “stuff” every year. Last year it was around $45,000. Those are funds I did not have to come up with from my retirement or savings. How else could my wife and I comfortably travel as much as we do. Trips to see grandkids and stay a few days in a hotel, which would normally cost a couple of thousand dollars each, are free. Big trips overseas are close to free. Sure I lost all my “status”…..but that is not the end of the world. And sure I have to study the programs of each company and get the most I can. And sure, I will go to the Frequent Flyer University in VA in April to see what other tips I can get. But guys, in the end this is like found and real money! I like that. I keep a log of all my free stuff when I cash the stuff out and it is fun writing it in. As I write this I am at a hotel in Pompano Beach, FL, just on a day trip to see an old friend and gamble a little at Isle of Capri Casino and Horse Track……free night in a Courtyard for my wife just keeping her Marriott card another year…..Thanks Marriott. So, the bottom line is that it may be time for people to refocus from “status” benefits to simply benefits like annual companion pass on Southwest, Ultimate Reward points which can be used like cash, etc. I still love it and while I don’t earn most of my points like I used to do by in the seat miles or nights in hotels…..I still earn them by the tens of thousands.

  • sophiegirl at 6:04am February 14, 2013

    I have been coming to the same conclusion. I am tired of having points I can’t redeem because there are no hotels of that type in the location we are visiting, the hotels that are there are sold out, or are such a ridiculous use of points we end up making alternative plans. Car rental “free” days never are. You may save $$$, but they certainly aren’t free.

    I also see that we are changing our style of vacations – I would much rather rent a house with kids/grandkids OR other couples than do a resort, no matter how fancy. We are now doing this several times a year. When we are going to be in a hotel for a week, we look for the Res Inn or Homewood Suite styles…. certainly no big status advantage in those places.

    The only place I still find actual status to be an advantage is USAIR…because of their free UG program to first. Hubby is 6’6″ – so Y is a nightmare. Keeping status and being choiceful about flights insures, in the continental US at least, that he ends up somewhat comfortable. But is it enough to go out of my way to do mileage runs or spend major $$ buying up? Don’t think so.

  • Artpen100 at 2:32pm February 14, 2013

    I tend to agree with USAirChairman, but it is really a mix. There is no loyalty program that will get me to go way out of my way for a business flight, none. But I do pay attention to where I have miles, and if it is possible for me to get an upgrade – especially on an international or coast to coast flight; it is not worth it for most domestic travel – by status or by miles, which I have plenty of, I will fly the airline that lets me do it if there is no significant difference in time. I even sometimes buy business class if the price is not too high. I buy club access, and get most baggage fees waived through credit cards. So I’d say the loyalty programs are important, but they have always only been only one factor in how I fly.

  • mitchmu at 3:01pm February 14, 2013

    I agree completely with the sentiments in that thread and your article. I’m in the same camp, same thought process. It’s over. For ten years, I flew only UA. Since the CO takeover, they’ve declared that their elites are “over entitled” and they treat us like enemy combatants and they’ve decimated our FF benefits while lecturing us on how much we’re supposed to like the changes every time we sit down on one of their aircraft.

    It’s just not worth it anymore. A decade of loyalty. Over. End of an era.

    Do they want it? This is the question you asked. Of course they do, they created this situation. Why do they want us to leave? That is the million dollar question. I can’t figure it out.

  • stonecrd at 4:44am February 15, 2013

    As the OP I am a bit surprised by the attention my thread generated.

    When I look back at my years as a FF so much has changed in the airline business that it is inevitable that the FF programs would not remain the same. Today I can purchase a ticket for less than I paid in 1990 for the same route. The only way that can be supported is by creating more volume, which leads to mergers and a whole restructuring of air travel. The focus is now on the leasure traveler as the business traveler is and always has been a locked in commodity.

    Going forward I think we will see all of the airlines focusing on two things; increasing volume at the low end and rewarding only their highest margin business travelers. Those of us in the middle class of business travel will have to adjust to a different reality, packed flights, tight seats and not much additional benefits beyond picking which tight seat you get to sit in.

Leave Reply

You must be a logged in member to post a comment. Click here to Register.