If you feel like you can't win with frequent flyer programs, you might be right. Here are some unfortunate realities about certain rewards programs that they don't want you to know.
Let's start with the contracts; they are extremely one-sided in favour of the airline. Basically you are agreeing that the airline can change the rules anytime it wants without any input from you. This means they can change the value of your points or even eliminate their points program without warning. Not really fair.
If you were thinking about transferring your points you might want to think again. The airline technically owns your miles. That means you can't transfer them to anyone else without paying a fee, sometimes more than what your miles are actually worth.
If you do something the airline doesn't like, like book a hidden city or throw-away ticket, they can erase your miles and kick you out of the program. This is when you book a connection flight and don't carry-on to the final destination to save money. It's definitely frowned upon by airlines but it can also get you kicked out of your rewards program.
Unfortunately with many reward programs the miles generally aren't worth their asking price.
What most of us want more than anything from loyalty programs, free flights, are unfortunately very hard to get. This is especially the case for business and first class, especially on international trips and on connecting-flights with decent itineraries. Even if you do nab a free flight most airlines still impose a stiff fuel surcharge or an 'airline fee' which is just a fuel surcharge in disguise.
Another issue is that rewards are often hidden. On airline websites, reward travel using partner airlines is sometimes hidden or not displayed at all. Also, miles required for a seat on any given flight may vary depending on which airline's program booking engine is used. Often, the only way to get a straight answer is to call an airline's frequent flyer office.
Unfortunately with many reward programs the miles generally aren't worth their asking price. Usually people place the value of airline frequent flyer miles at somewhere around a cent or a cent-and-a-half per mile. You would assume that is close to the price airlines get when they sell miles to banks for inclusion in credit card programs. But when they try to sell miles to you, the big airlines charge more than three cents — about two to three times what the miles are worth. They even charge up to one-and-a-half cents per mile to transfer miles you've already earned or bought.
Finally, elite status isn't what it used to be. For frequent travellers, the most important reward is not so much the miles as it is the elite status that provides special check-in lanes, reduced baggage fees, and (most importantly) no-charge upgrades. The problem is that airlines are now handing out elite status to more and more travellers and at the same time there are cut backs on the number of first and business class seats on domestic flights. Basically, now only super high level members can hope for an upgrade.
So there are some points you might not have known about frequent flyer programs, hopefully by knowing these you can make a better choice about joining a loyalty program. Happy travels!
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