airlinetravelThese are not happy days for airline passengers who rely upon frequent flier programs.    Recently,  Delta and United Airlines made a major changes in which miles will be earned based upon the price of a ticket rather than the number of miles they have flown.   Other airlines are following suit:  miles will be based upon how much you spend, not distance traveled.    But the changes are even more profound than that.   Airlines have been making it tougher to transfer points to others.  And some, such as American,  have announced that they’ve increased the number of miles/points needed to purchase rewards tickets.    Blackout dates have also increased, making it harder to find eligible flights for which your points can be used.   Customers who like to upgrade seats are also being hit;  Delta announced that it no longer offers upgrades on some of its most popular routes.    Airlines have also begun imposing even more fees on its passengers, including baggage fees upon frequent business travelers.   To add insult to injury,  while the value of these programs drop, airline prices continue to soar!    Industry observers expect that there will be more changes to ­frequent-flier programs as airlines continue to tinker with the programs to improve their bottom line, rather than lure passengers to travel more frequently.

TOP STRATEGIES TO COUNTER AIRLINE CHANGES

International Travel –   Because they are generally more expensive tickets, frequent-flier miles for international flights tend to be worth more than on domestic flights.   So pay more attention to getting the best miles for any international travel, especially if you travel abroad often.

Status Match   According to the Washington Post,  United’s MileagePlus users who are unhappy about the changes can call American Airlines to see if they can get what’s called a “status match,” where a member with elite privileges through United’s program can transfer that status to American. Another option is to rely more on credit cards to accrue points, especially those that make it easy to transfer points to multiple airlines — that way you’re not tied to one airline and subject to their increasingly frequent changes to their awards programs. Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express’ Starwood Preferred Guest, for instance, allow transfers of points to multiple carriers.

Credit Cards –  As airlines steadily degrade the value of their frequent-flier miles, it’s becoming increasingly clear that rewards credit cards that offer cash back can be better deals than cards that offer airline miles.  There are a number of websites that evaluate various credit card travel programs, including one created by “The Points Guy” as well as the highly-regarded Bankrate.  But be alert to the fact that even credit card offerings are getting less attractive.   One exception is the introduction of credit cards that offer miles/points as well as cash back, such as the one offered by Fidelity Investment Rewards.

Use Your Miles Stash Now –  In an era where frequent flyer miles are being devalued by the airline industry,  this is probably the best time to use them rather than to continue to hold these “depreciating” assets.   The airlines are likely to continue to make changes that devalue miles in the coming years. Holding on to miles in this environment is like holding on to cash when inflation rages—the longer you wait, the less your miles will be worth.

Online Mileage Manager –   Check into using a website that helps you best manage your frequent flyer miles.    One highly rated site is Awardwallet.com which is a free site that will track your balances in one convenient spot and even alert you if your miles are going to expire. Other managers include Usingmiles.com and Tripit.

Airline-Free Travel –  Increasing numbers of Americans are opting to travel using boats, cars, RVs, buses and trains rather than airlines.    With the higher costs, unpredictable schedules and lamentable hassles of airline travel,  consumers are opting for cheaper and lower-hassle alternatives.    Some enterprising websites help you calculate various options.  Check out FromAtoB.