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Airlines Want You to Use Your Miles Already

Airlines Want You to Use Your Miles Already
Jennifer Billock

Airlines are slowly realizing that customers in their loyalty programs are getting frustrated with ancillary fees, shrinking seat sizes, and the rising cost of airfare — so in order to help keep loyalty program members engaged, the airlines are making it easier to earn and spend frequent flyer miles.

Over the last five years, the cost in loyalty miles or points that it takes to get one airline ticket has decreased by 13.5 percent. But loyalty program members continued to hoard their points rather than staying engaged in the program by redeeming them.

“Airlines are recognizing that in order for the loyalty program business to be sustainable longer term, consumers have to stay engaged and continue to want to earn this currency,” Joe DeNardi, a reward travel analyst, told Bloomberg. “One way is to allow them to use it more effectively.”

Airlines are responding to that knowledge in a variety of ways. Some are reducing how many miles it takes to get a ticket even more. Others are upping the number of seats on each flight available to rewards members. And even more are boosting the purchasing power of a mile, so you can get more bang for your rewards buck. Legacy carriers are going a step further and changing the way miles are accrued, switching from earning as you fly based on the miles flown to earning miles based on how much the ticket price was.

“[Airlines don’t care anymore] whether they sell a seat with dollars or miles,” Jay Sorensen, IdeaWorks president, told Bloomberg. “Historically it was negative from a revenue standpoint if they sold a seat with miles in general. Now airlines are recognizing that these loyalty programs are tremendously valuable.”

[Image Source: Shutterstock]

View Comments (11)


  1. Tim_AZ

    March 30, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    I don’t know how making the miles harder to use is going to encourage me to use them more often. Why would I spend miles to fly first class on the shortest leg of my trip? Why would I use miles to have to stop somewhere I don’t want to go and potentially overnight to use them? I’m looking at you American.

  2. GetSetJetSet

    March 30, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    “Over the last five years, the cost in loyalty miles or points that it takes to get one airline ticket has decreased by 13.5 percent.”

    cite your sources, every “enhancement” of a loyalty program in recent memory has been premium cabin awards increasing from 15%-100% in the amount of miles required.

  3. AAMillionaire

    March 30, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    What rock are you living under?

  4. RustyC

    March 30, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    My experience contradicts this as far as reducing required miles goes. I see some of that being done on SHORT HAUL like ATL-MCI where there are empty seats or arguably excess capacity, but it appears more than offset by increases on long haul, especially with Delta (which has gotten rid of the charts). Recent example: 100K most dates in May, a slow month, for SCL-ATL one way (should be more like 30K, even 25K). An ATL-ANC round trip in late September is 37.5-45K, not 25K. Most dream trips, BTW, are not short hauls, so I get the sense the take-backs far outweigh what has been given, especially over the 5-year window and coupled with the reductions in miles earned via flying. I’ve earned about 3 million lifetime miles but am most glad I spent about 2.8 million of them, as they’re worth far less today. Customers are becoming less engaged because in most cases the earning has been cut dramatically (last minute and international business travel being the only exception, plus of course credit cards), and burning costs a lot more as well.

  5. musicman27pa

    March 31, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Whoever wrote this article should have put a disclaimer that AA has made it harder and more difficult to use miles. Miserable reward system…

  6. sdsearch

    March 31, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    You wrote: “Over the last five years, the cost in loyalty miles or points that it takes to get one airline ticket has decreased by 13.5 percent.”

    That’s misleading. That’s only in economy class, right, and factoring in discounts/sales, right? Every single airline I can think of has raised (more than once in many cases) the cost of redeeming for premium economy, business class, or first class over the past five years. And most of those discounts/sales don’t apply to anything above economy class.

  7. mtdd

    April 1, 2019 at 2:28 am

    I have some 800,000 avios. Once – once only – was I able to redeem them for a flight (well, an upgrade) on dates that were even remotely convenient to me. I guess it gives me some kind of a warm glow in my bosom each time I look at my points balance. But in general terms they are pretty much useless to me. In some cases the fees, taxes and surcharges come pretty close to a cash paid fare with another carrier. (Some exaggeration here, but you get the drift)

    If airlines want us to use the miles, then they really need to make it easier for us to use them. Otherwise they remain a kind of antique curiosity on my mantel piece.

  8. JAGorham

    April 1, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Trust me, I’ve wanted to use my miles. But when the “cheaper” miles flight options leave me with a 12 hour layover for I flight I can take direct (or with a minimal layover) paying for with a different airline, it makes the miles kind of useless.

  9. KenTarmac

    April 1, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Sky pesos.

  10. Nomorepretzels

    April 1, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Yikes, did D Parker get the memo?

  11. gum1k

    April 8, 2019 at 11:26 am

    It is nice airlines have realized that massive devaluations coupled with slashed inventories make these programs pointless. I don’t see ANY evidence beyond; spin, smoke and mirrors that the airlines are plan to make these programs of much value going forward. Switch to Chase Saphire or simply cash back cards and use miles the minute you can. I am glad my 3+Mil UA balance has been largely spent down. Airlines are occasionally nice, mileage programs are strictly bait and switch operations these days.

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