Changes Coming Soon to Airline Frequent Flyer Miles Programs

If you love upgrades or dream of scoring a free flight, here’s news for you: Your airline miles program may not give you as much bang for the buck in the coming year.

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What Will Change

As airfare analyst and FareCompare co-founder Rick Seaney notes, “Domestic carriers have been tinkering with their loyalty programs at a much more rapid pace this past year, predominantly to the detriment of their loyal consumers.” Here’s what’s been happening:

  • Delta Air Lines: Back in January, Delta said it was adding a spending requirement to its miles program (and see more about spending requirements below). Now USA Today reports the airline has just announced it has “increased the number of miles that must be redeemed to get frequent-flier award tickets on many of its routes” but travelers can continue to book their award tickets for travel at current redemption levels if you fly by Feb. 1.
  • Southwest Airlines: The popular carrier announced this fall that as of the end of March in the coming year, it will boost the number of points needed to redeem reward flights.

How miles programs work

  • American, US Airways: Now that the merger is back on after a settlement was reached with the Justice Department, changes may be coming – that’s always a possibility – but analyst Seaney doubts there will be any big changes soon.
  • United Airlines: As of January, the airline’s elite Premier qualification requirements will include a minimum annual spending level.

A note about spending requirements: What this boils down to is, it’s it is no longer enough to simply fly a lot; elite status must be achieved by paying a certain amount for one’s miles, which tends to favor the last-minute, bigger-spending business traveler.

Which Program is Improving

JetBlue: Good news for fans of this popular carrier which announced over the summer that miles in its TrueBlue program will no longer expire. “The points you earn are yours to keep,” said the message on JetBlue’s site. “No expiration. Period.”

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Published: November 13, 2013