Are new loyalty programs fair to travelers?

If you’re unhappy with your loyalty program, join the club. So is William Beeman, a Delta Air Lines frequent flier who’s been trying to score an upgrade from San Francisco to Geneva after surgery to reattach his quadriceps at the knee.

Trying and failing.

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For him, the process feels like a bait-and-switch. To avoid being wedged into a Lilliputian economy-class seat for 14 hours, Beeman says he worked hard to earn elite status on Delta. But when he tried to redeem his miles for an upgrade, the airline wanted even more.

To get wait-listed for a business-class seat, Beeman would have to pay double the price for an “upgradable” economy-class ticket. That’s right, just to be considered for more legroom.

“I can’t interpret this any other way than that it is a scam,” says Beeman, an anthropology professor from Minnesota.

Welcome to the brave new world of airline loyalty programs, where what you pay matters more than how much you fly. Delta surprised many frequent fliers last week by announcing it will become the first legacy airline to move to a system that bases your rewards on how much you pay, not how many miles you fly.

READ MORE: Making sense of Delta’s frequent flier changes

Other carriers, such as United, switched to a hybrid that rewards you based on a combination of miles and money spent. More airlines are expected to follow.

Are the new programs fair to rank-and-file travelers?

You might be surprised by the answer. Loyalty programs were never meant to be “fair,” but what we have today is, in some respects, fairer than before. Now more than ever, it also offers a fair warning about the true nature of these addictive programs.

Delta says its program is equitable. It changed some of its upgrade availability at the beginning of the year after receiving “extensive feedback from our customers,” says airline spokesman Paul Skrbec.

But a survey suggests many passengers feel the revamped loyalty programs are disloyal to them. Air travelers don’t trust airline programs to deliver on their promises, according to research by The programs are deemed less trustworthy than banks, cable and telephone companies. In fact, passengers singled out Delta’s website as the toughest for redeeming miles.

Rewards programs are revenue pools for companies, generating billions of dollars a year as they sell miles to banks and other partners, says Brian Karimzad, director of MileCards. “Consumers indirectly buy these miles via their choices to earn them over other rewards,” he says.

I asked Peter Shankman, who wrote Nice Companies Finish First — a book about fairness in business — to explain what’s happening.

“Fairness,” he explains, “is really in the eye of the beholder.”

Could airlines have done a better job explaining why they needed to make these unpopular changes? Sure, he says. But they had to fix these incentives because they weren’t really rewarding their best customers. Plus, the programs were too easily manipulated. Some travelers reaped first-class perks from buying pudding boxes or U.S. Mint coins while actually paying as little as possible for their seats. That’s no way to run a program.

“You have to ask: Is it the airlines not playing fair — or is it a small number of customers who are not playing fair?” adds Shankman.

Still, it’s hard to shake this feeling that the deck is stacked against the little guy. “There’s a clear disconnect between the passenger customer and airline,” says David Carmell, who runs business consultancy CSuite Advantage. But the latest survey is a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that airlines have historically been perceived as unfair, even by their own employees. That makes airlines the automatic loser in this debate.

They shouldn’t be. Loyalty programs weren’t rewarding the right passengers, anyway — too many beneficiaries were insiders who “hacked” the system. That hurt everyone. The fixes are justified to correct that problem.

So I’m siding with the airlines on this. Yes, the new, revenue-based programs are better than the old ones they replaced, but not by much. Airline loyalty programs aren’t really designed to reward you, but to extract more money from you and your employer. They’re just cynical marketing programs masquerading as corporate good will.

That sure feels like a scam to a lot of the good people sitting in the back of the plane. It’s something to remember the next time a crewmember or blogger waves one of those affinity credit cards in front of you offering you a “free” ticket — or you’re tempted to book a flight for the miles.

Are new loyalty programs fair to travelers?

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• With new program changes, here’s how you can “win” the mileage game:

• Play if you can afford it. Generally, the newest programs are designed to reward the biggest spenders, not the most frequent travelers. If you book a lot of expensive tickets, you should consider actively participating in a program.

• Focus on one program. The latest changes don’t reward disloyal fliers, so be ready to give one of the airlines most, if not all, of your business.

• Work twice as hard. Airlines are on to you, and they are quickly closing many of the loopholes that allowed point collectors to “hack” the system. It may not be worth the effort.

76 thoughts on “Are new loyalty programs fair to travelers?

  1. He should use his miles for a business class ticket, not to upgrade. As to being fair. Those are the rules. Participate or don’t.

    1. Also, this elite may either be very unlucky or just plain d**b.
      Both my folks are flying Delta biz class international using Skymiles to visit us in May. My sister, brother in law and their 2 kids are doing the same (but kids in coach).
      What’s really affecting most is the devaluation of miles since you need more of it now to go anywhere.
      Award Availability is luck and doing search work. But most of FFP members, including non elites, know not to bother with upgrades. Having a bad knee or hip is irrelevant, sorry.

      1. I have a hard time with the OP’s gripe. Some aspects of these programs haven’t changed. If you are flying in July and trying now to find mileage space, of course it isn’t going to be there. Sometimes, it doesn’t show at all but you get upgraded a day or two prior…been there. Yes, I am disappointed at change in the programs I belong to, but they are free, so you don’t have a lot of room to complain.

        1. I have a feeling he feels the airline FFP should take his broken knee into consideration when applying for an upgrade since he “needs” it more than others.

          I can’t believe people still rely on upgrades in this day and age when flights are jam-packed. It is quite easy to get ONE award BC seat at a time so why bother with upgrades at all.

          Don’t you notice. So many whiners in this site are from SFO.
          What are you guys eating there? 🙂

          1. what a stupid notion. Everyone will then be saying “I have a sore whatever, put me in 1st class, cos I deserve it?

    2. I scored a Business Class Award Ticket on DELTA at REGULAR amount of miles once per CENTURY (one before Year 2000 and one after Year 2000), and that by reserved 10 months in advance. Usually DELTA asked for more miles at the desired period or dates. On Star Alliance Aeroplan, I never had this problem unless traveling during peak holiday season. I had better time with Northwest than Delta for award.

      1. DL isn’t a carrier I sell often from SFO. However, my TA friends in the Midwest, due to the old NW routes, have a lot of DL Medallion flyers and they say DL’s program is the pits for upgrades.

        1. Put me in that NW category. For decades, we flew NW to NRT and onward. That included West Coast origins SFO, LAX, SEA and PDX.
          The midwest routes were from DTW and MSP to NRT and NGO.
          Essentially Delta had zilch to Asia before they bought NW.
          For Europe, it was NW-KLM venture that was there for a very long time.
          Delta award availability sucks but it is slowly getting better.
          I think you guys in SFO are lucky since your default carrier is in Star Alliance and UA award availability is decent.

  2. I can’t argue with the how much you pay model. It’s much more honest and transparent than the how many miles you fly. Perhaps this marketing notion of loyalty will finally die. Loyalty programs are nothing more than a means to incentivize travelers to spend travel dollars at one travel provider over another. It has ZERO to do with loyalty.

    1. At least it will finally let the leisure flyer KNOW he’s never going to get that free ticket, dangling from the end of the stick.

    2. Again there is a misuse of reasoning and logic in the article.
      Qualifying Money applies to elite qualification. Bemman does not have to be an elite to use his miles. He only needs enough miles and be lucky enough to find upgrades.

      Also, earning less miles for cheaper tickets is old news especially for international and foreign airlines. Delta is just following them. Big deal 🙂

  3. Why not just keep it simple, cash only.
    Either you can afford to travel or not.
    Maybe this will stop all the bitching and moaning about Frequent Flyer Programs.

  4. I got the emails from Delta about their new program and happened to run them past my adult son, who has been flying frequently and actually scored a “free” ticket on United within a few months in the program, taking advantage of the first year credit card perks. I thought that since he’s an “Occupy” type and “Power to the People” kind of guy, that he would agree with the changes. Boy, was he worked up about it! “Only the rich can get the award tickets now! That’s not fair!” But taking out a credit card for a year and charging everything to it to rack up award points is somehow fair. ???

    I’ll never score an award ticket on any airline or with any hotel chain. I think the new Delta program is fair – you want preference as a frequent flyer? Then let the money you spend actually flying indicate your level of commitment, rather than how much you spend in general (using their credit card).

    I’m sorry for the OP, his surgery and recovery are painful, but just buy the ticket on the airline that causes the least discomfort!

    1. Jeanne maybe it is more people in debt that get free seats now 🙂
      From a simple award redemption perspective I can’t see how 50,000 miles received from a credit card application is any different from earning 50,000 butt-in-seat miles.
      However it should be clear to everyone who has a basic understanding of how business works that the airlines best customer is the banks since they pay millions for those points and miles (which they will give away).
      I made a simple calculation. I have to make at least 4 round trips from NYC to SE Asia to earn ~50k miles (and be lowest level elite in that Skyteam airline).
      Umm, where is that credit application?
      We all need to understand that this is a game. And, any gamer needs skill and practice, if you want to win 🙂

      1. Then let the money you spend actually flying indicate your level of commitment,

        Don’t drink the airlines Kool-Aid, tasty as it may be 🙂

        They don’t give a whit about loyalty or committment. They care about how much money you bring in. period. The entire thing about butts-in-seats (BIS) and nights actually stayed are to mask the fact that its all about money. All things being equal, more BIS or nights stayed means more money.

      2. Couldn’t agree more. Delta is a hypocritical liar (oxymoron, I know). Delta says, “we want to reward our highest paying customers. But, if churn credit cards and their attendant bonuses or have a business you can run thousands of dollars through the credit card, we will treat you the same.” As long as you have very low expectations on redemption and fly for business anyway, the program can get you a free ticket every now and then.

  5. If he wants a guaranteed business-class seat, he should spend miles (or dollars) to get one. Yes, they are expensive, miles-wise, just like they cost a lot of money if you pay for one. I can see that he could really use a business-class seat in this instance, and paying for it would probably be worth the money (or miles.)

    Really, to make things the most straightforward, they’d shift to a straight points-per-dollar model for redemptions also (like Southwest.)

    I have to say I’m puzzled by your continued rants about loyalty programs. Either participate, or don’t. Let them change your behavior, or not. I think you’ve well beat this particular horse…

    P.S. I find it kind of annoying when travel writers refer continually refer to economy as “lilliputian”, being “wedged in”, “torture”, “cattle class”, “steerage”, etc. It isn’t… because of seat design changes legroom hasn’t really changed that much over the years on any given airline, despite the loss of a couple inches of pitch. The vast majority of the people on the airplane are in coach, and most of them manage to avoid moaning about it… what is it about travel writers and “elite” flyers that cause them to complain so much about it? I’m 6’2″ and have legs so long I literally cannot buy pants in most retail stores, yet curiously I’ve never had my knees touch the economy class seat in front of me, as long as I don’t slouch.

    1. I would politely beg to differ. I just spend eight hours in Delta’s non-comfort class, and I felt like a sardine. Yeah, Sardine Class. I’ve used that one before! I’m just over 6’1 and I feel lucky the person in front of me chose not to recline on the overnight flight, because my knees were right up against the seat. Meanwhile, there were beds in business class. Beds! I have no problem with that, but why not give everyone a humane amount of legroom instead of just those in “comfort” class or in the big seats? Is that so unreasonable. Let me answer that for you: no, it’s not.

      1. …except the airlines, well American at least, tried that a few years back but customers were not willing to pay the additional cost to offset fewer seats in the aircraft. Want more space? Buy more space.

        1. I’m guessing that’s because flights are often relatively short. Longer than 3 hours in economy class is uncomfortable for most of us (IMO).

      2. That’s easy. It’s freshman economics. If you do not perceive a distinction between coach travel on airline 1 and airline 2, you will buy the cheapest ticket even if the difference is $1. Why pay more? Thus, the question boils down to what choice has the buying public shown a preference

        Choice 1: Cheap Sardine Class
        Choice 2: More Expensive Human Class

        Obviously Human Class costs more because each seat generates less revenue due to fewer seats.

        The abysmal failure of American Airlines More Room Throughout Coach suggests that coach passengers prefer to pay for Choice 1. Personally I would choose Choice 2 as would you. But the choice has been made.

        1. The failure of More Room Throughout Coach is often cited by airline apologists (and by the way, to be clear, I’m not calling either of you airline apologists) as evidence the current caste system is superior, if not also fair. That’s pure spin. Just because we choose to pay less for a ticket doesn’t also mean we choose to be uncomfortable. And at some point, it is in the interests of a regulatory agency or government to step in and say, this kind of seating is not only inhumane, but unsafe, and should not be allowed? No, sorry, don’t buy the “you get what you pay for” argument. We can do better. This isn’t simple economics. It’s corporate greed at its worst.

          1. As a point of clarification, I am never advocating unsafe. That is fully within the purview of government regulators, as it should be. Comfort is another thing. Comfort level should be a choice based upon your desire and financial means.

            edited. BTW. Why is the failure of MRTC pure spin. I’d be curious to hear your take on it.

          2. It’s not just MRTC. But startups have tried to offer more comfort but failed. In many cases they were unable to bust the legacy’s frequent traveler hold. Legend Airlines, Reno Air and Midwest Express are a few that come to mind. Internationally there was Maxjet, Silver and EOS.

          3. It’s corporate greed at its worst.

            Yes and no. Yes, the company wants to maximize it revenue.

            But there is also the shabbiness of the customers, which mainly choose the tickets by price.
            Then no, in order to remain competitive, the company shrinks the legroom, add another row, and reduces the fare. Not as much as possible (the greed part), but enough to match the customers’s price requirements.

          4. The seats used to be reasonably comfortable but that was also back when most Americans were shorter and slimmer. It’s a proven fact that we are taller and wider at a time when the airlines are trying to squeeze more seats in the plane. And, yes, pun intended.

          5. But the fact that you do not WANT to pay for the actual cost of the seat but feel ENTITLED to it doesn’t make it so – and the safety issue is a moot one – as long as they provide all current safety measures, the size of the seats makes no difference to the government.

        2. I disagree Carver. Airfare as it pertains to seat pitch is like having 3 cars to choose from on a car rental lot: a full size for $200 a day, midsize for $125 a day, or a compact for $25 a day. Of course many will pay the $25 because it’s their only choice, given the difference. Assuming that they all want smaller cars would be misleading.

          In your example, the real question is “what would you pay for Option 2”. The fact is, airfare pricing leaves most travelers with no practical choice but economy seating. In the markets that have served us, I’ve not seen economy plus as an option very often.

          A better solution in my opinion would be to lengthen the pitch and increase the per seat price accordingly. Advertised properly, this could be a selling point. Another “regulation” I’d like to see is that any flight over 2.5 hours (a stop with no plane change would include all segments) must have a certain seat pitch.

          1. I agree with your analogy to a point.

            I would ask, why is the only affordable choice a $25 compact. Why isn’t there is full size for $35? I would opine that the reason is that not enough people rented the full size car for $35 thus leaving the car rental company with only the crappy $25 compact.

            Same with airfare. When AA introduced its MRTC, people were unwilling to pay the small premium . Thus it was removed. I would diagram the choice as such

            Choice 1: 31″ seat pitch in most airlines
            Choice 2: 34″ seat pitch on AA at a small premium.

            Most people choose Choice 1, much to my personal chagrin as I loved MRTC. Since the people spoke with their wallets, Choice 2 disappeared.

          2. We usually rent compacts, and they are never “crappy”. The next size up is often 50% more AND cost more for fuel (MPG)

            I can only guess that passengers don’t want to pay more because of the short duration for most flights (2.5 hours or less). This makes sense to me. In days gone by, I have opted for economy. But as I’ve aged and traveled more, I find that I would pay $25-30 more for another 2 inches or so.

            Finally, as I said elsewhere in this post, I definitely think the DOT should require more pitch for flights lasting 3 hours or more.

          3. That’s the problem that we (collectively) have. You would pay more for more leg room. I would gladly pay more for more leg room. What about all the other people who don’t want to pay more for more leg room? Is it appropriate for you and I to legally force them do so because its “inhumane” or “uncomfortable” even though they disagree?

            Now, safety is another concern. I’m totally with you and Chris and whomever else. Safety is perfectly legitimate to mandate. But, I don’t see the justification for imposing additional costs on people because I think they’d be more comfortable.

          4. We’ve had this argument before. It’s about to digress to a spat about choice and air travel and a la carte pricing. No, I don’t want to subsidize your bag. Not going there.

            The federal government mandates minimum cage sizes for animals being transported by air. It requires that airlines provide water and adequate ventilation. Regulators do have an interest in ensuring we don’t succumb to DVT or air rage. Why can’t the government afford us the same rights as animals?

          5. I don’t recall mentioning bags. The short answer is animals can’t make choices so someone else had to do it for them.

            Let’s not confuse the issue with safety. The last sentence of my response was that safety must be required. The only question is comfort.

            Should comfort be legislated or market driven? . Very simple question.

          6. Ok so what is it gonna take to legislate minimum 18 inch seat width and 34 inch pitch between seats?
            Who in Congress do you know is willing to sponsor a bill? Does anyone there fly coach?

          7. Again – American already did this – and failed miserably. People will jump thru hoops to save a buck, so they couldn’t sell their flights out. Now have gone back to original and lower rates – full.

      3. At least you can afford to fly.
        But seriously isn’t there any other more decent airline you could have chosen to fly with? I try to avoid Delta when I fly to Asia. Korean Air has 18″ wide x 34″ pitch in coach. So chose your airline well 🙂

      4. On your facebook page you gave it a positive.

        “Yes, that’s us in the back of the bus on Delta, which, I’ve gotta say, was a surprisingly positive experience.”

        1. That’s funny. I guess you’re assuming that the seat dimensions are the only measure of quality.

          So, to be clear: the food in the back of the bus is awful; the seats are tiny. But the Delta FAs were some of the nicest people you’ll meet. They smiled and were polite and did their best to get us through the ordeal.

          I also sat next to a retired Braniff FA, who told me about the old days of flying, when people were still treated like people. She remembers 36 inches of seat pitch and real meals in economy class. I said my experience was surprisingly positive, and now you know why.

          1. Actually quite the opposite. By referring to something as “Sardine Class” you send a negative connotation about the overall experience in that class of service. If the legroom (or lack of it) was the factor that defined the experience, how could it then be considered overall positive?

      5. Okay, my turn to politely disagree. I fit just fine in those seats. So does my younger, adult son. His older, taller brother doesn’t complain, since the seats are cheap and he’s getting there, and it beats the alternative (Greyhound or the like). I already posted about my husband.

        What you’re complaining about is that you’re at the right side of the bell curve, if one were to graph the general population in terms of height (and maybe weight). If the airlines were to configure all of their seats to meet the needs (actually, wants) of the right side of the bell curve, then there would be fewer seats on the plane overall, average ticket prices would go up, and there would be less opportunity to make money on upgrades, which is already being figured in the bottom line.

        Think of it like beer. Bud Light is say, $2, and you really, really want a microbrew that costs $7, but all you have is $2. Why complain about not getting that microbrew for $2? You are getting beer, it’s just not as tasty as you’d like.

      6. How much more were you willing to pay to have a “decent” amount of space? 😉
        A trick one, then: it seems that you usually take vacations with your family, and drive your car around the country. If I’m not wrong, you drive an Accord. For US standards, a medium car (for my standards it is a big car, but I live in Brazil – Civic or Corolla are considered medium cars here, but I’m digressing).

        A 2014 Accord has a wheelbase of 109.3″, which gives a nice space for the knees.

        In terms of space, we can consider the Accord space similar a Business class, or at least a BA Economy Plus.

        But for air you travel couch! Let’s choose a small car then, with much less wheelbase. A Tata Nano, with 88″ of wheelbase? OK, very small, perhaps you don’t buy tickets solely by price, you want to have a little comfort, and a reliable brand. A Chevy Spark then. With 94.5″ of wheelbase, you and your family can travel with more comfort than a Nano.

        Then I ask you – Why do you have an Accord instead of a Spark? The Accord costs about the double of the Spark, spends more gas, costs more to maintain. Of course you have less comfort, your kids will be cramped in the back seats, even you and your wife will have less leg space, less shoulder space, but you will be spending a lot less money.

        I believe you drive an Accord to have more space and comfort for you and your family. And you paid more for it. Why the same reasoning cannot be used for air trips?

        1. @Helio, In the US, some compact and subcompact cars cost almost as much as a Honda Accord. The Accord is a very reliable, low maintenance vehicle. Over several years, the savings in repairs might equal or exceed the lower amount spent for fuel when compared to a Nano or Spark. There may be other reasons for buying a certain make or model car that go beyond wheelbase size and interior room.

          1. I’m not recalling to pick an Audi A1 or Mini Cooper…
            Please note I choose a Chevy Spark, which costs half of an Accord, with 15% better mileage. I don’t believe Spark’s TCO be worst than Accord’s.

            But if I had choose the Tata Nano, the comparison will be very unfair – we are talking about a US$2.6K car with 60MPG – 10% of Accord’s price, and the double of mileage. (BTW, this car isn’t street legal in USA – it probably doesn’t meet US safety standards.)

            But OK, I could have chosen the Honda Fit – same brand, same reliability, cheaper, better mileage, small wheelbase. Anyway, he spent more money for the Accord than he could had spent for a Fit. For what? More space, more comfort traveling.

    2. Thanks, sirwired. Everything you said did it for me. I will repeat what I’ve said before: Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t. I fly frequently and have not experienced the horrors Chris describes, including his comments to your post. Don’t know what the difference is. Maybe I don’t have a chip on my shoulder and I accept the reality of flying today. My only complaints are the kid who kicks the back of my seat, the person in front who cranks their seat back all the way, and the person behind who grabs my seat-back to pull him/herself up. That’s it. The rest is acceptable, given the price I am willing to pay for the ticket. And once in a while I get an upgrade or a frequent-flyer seat. And when I don’t? Oh well. And this attitude does not make me an airline “apologist”. Obviously, the airlines could and should do better. But given that I don’t want to drive from the Intermountain West to New York City four times a year or take a cruise ship to Europe twice a year, I have to play with what I can get.

    3. We fly Delta as our preferred carrier. My husband is 6’1″ and can buy his pants off the rack. However, his knees touch the seat in front of him on most flights that we take on Delta. I try to buy the preferred seating options whenever we fly, just because of that. When someone reclines the seat in front of him, he has to swivel his legs out into the aisle or over on to my (window) side. I’m wondering if the difference in experiences between you and him is because we generally fly out of OMA (Omaha Eppley) and that airport is generally served by the regional jets? On those little Embraer jets, there’s no point to an upgrade.

  6. The key is for U.S airlines to stop upgrading elites to premium cabins solely based on status. Pretty much no other contry’s airlines de-value premium cabins in this way. If you want to fly First or Business then pay. Either with dollars or points.

    1. I would say that’s a solution searching for a problem. Who does it benefit?

      Not US based airlines as upgrades is probably the single biggest secondary reason why elite frequent fliers (think high revenue) choose an airline;

      Not elite frequent fliers who pay for their cabin as they always have higher priority

      Not elite frequent fliers who upgrade as they would have to fly in coach

      Not coach travelers who couldn’t care less who sits upfront.

      1. Perhaps it benefits all passengers? An airline that is able to sell premium seats at a premium price, and thus make a profit, is able to offer a better quality of service to all passengers.

        1. Alas, not likely. 2 issues

          The first is that the airlines have this revenue model because it serves them. They wouldn’t upgrade elites to premium class unless there was a good profit result. I remember when AA increased the benefits of being an Executive platinum, free space available domestic upgrades. The result was me diverting all of my air travel needs to AA.

          The second is that even if the airline is profitable, they’ll always want more profits so as long as passengers prefer to pay for Sardine Class, the current situation will remain.

  7. Actually this article should be about airline math 101.

    As far as I know, you need a coach ticket in Y, B or M booking code to be eligible for a Delta upgrade to Business Class using miles. Only then can you join the lottery to be upgraded to BC using 25k (or 15k if holding a Y ticket) miles.

    But the cheapest Delta M class round trip ticket from SFO-GVA costs USD 4075.60. Mind you that is in coach!
    However, the cheapest Business Class (Z ) round trip ticket costs only USD 3739.60.
    A similar Biz class ticket may be purchased from Swiss Intl (LX) for about USD 3700.
    So I cannot figure out why it makes sense to buy such an expensive coach ticket from Delta and still play the upgrade lottery.

      1. And if I had an injured knee, I won’t connect in CDG. I might consider AMS but the walks are pretty long (so I will probably need to ride something).
        ZRH might be the better connecting airport for my bum knee 🙂

  8. At one point, some ten or so years ago, my employer had me flying frequently on the airline of their choice. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I was allowed to keep the miles. I quickly realized the truth when I tried to redeem those miles – it was nearly impossible. I finally manged to find a use for them just about the time I quit flying regularly for business. I was never so relieved as when I actually received value for my forced loyalty, and at the same time I found my freedom to use whatever airline I chose.

    I still sign up for loyalty programs, especially at hotels since they often have instant benefits. But I never set a long-range goal for “loyalty” points – I doubt I will live long enough to be able to cash them in,

  9. I upgraded from a non-refundable coach ticket to 1st class for $100. Same coming back. Shorter flights were $50. I think it was Alaska Air. Not sure if it is still being offered.

  10. Perhaps worse, if they do get an upgrade — they may end up paying the full miles and end up being upgraded on only one segment. Continental did that back in 2003 with connecting international flights — some miles to upgrade SFO to EWR, then twice that number more to upgrade EWR to GLA. All the while paying double the fare for an “upgradable” ticket. When one figures in their cost for purchasing miles as an equivalent for the miles spent (at the time one could purchase miles at $35 for 1000 miles up to 20% of an award) then the actual cost was greater than the business fare.

    And being pushed back in steerage for the 6 our flight from EWR-SFO after the international leg was painful.

    1. This is exactly the reason why after the UA-CO merger, I have *refused* to entertain requests which start – “I would like to buy an upgradable coach ticket” 🙁
      Either I find you a cheap business calls seat outright, get you an award seat in BC if you have enough miles, or figure out a way to buy miles and get you BC award seat.
      Upgrading to BC from coach is now really just a waste of time or a big co-pay nightmare.
      Avoid it at all costs.

  11. For me, the problem of miles is the redemption model is a kind of unfair for the people who buys BC and FC tickets.

    If You travel EC, you will receive some miles. If you travel BC (4 to 5 time the EC ticket price), you will receive 150% miles. And if you travel FC (10 times the EC ticket), you will receive 200% miles. For the better classes, your flying miles value less than EC miles.

    The redemption follows the same principle: xxx miles for EC, 150% xxx miles for BC, and 200% miles for FC.

    You need to spend less money traveling in EC to be able to have an award BC ticket than a BC paying customer to have the same award BC ticket. The same for FC paying customers.

    If the miles assignments and redemption amounts were more aligned with the tickets prices (let’s say EC xxx miles, BC 5 times xxx miles, FC 10 times xxx miles), the airlines will have less problems with miles redemption – the guy who always fly coach will not fell entitled to fly business or first for “free” – it will be very expensive, in miles terms.

    PS: My experience is with int’l flights, because in Brazil probably 100% of domestic flights has only EC and EC comfort seats.

    1. You are pointing out the main draw for FFPs. You can fly BC and FC for 1.5-2x the miles it takes to fly EC. Without this carrot, FFPs would be boring. Airlines have created an arbitrage with miles giving members a chance to experience the lifestyle they can only dream of. Just read the trip reports on flyertalk and you will know what I mean 🙂
      Those flying on paid FC tickets will be traveling beside punks who know how to hack the system. You can probably tell who that is since he will be gulping down caviar and champagne in the lounge and during the whole trip.

  12. most people earn majority of points/miles with credit cards not actually flying, so why are these programmes even considered loyalty programmes, when the only loyalty is to the credit card(S)..

  13. If the OP is truly an elite flyer on Delta then he was well award of Delta’s international upgrade program. I have been a member for years as DL is the major carrier out of my city. The fares for international upgrades have always been higher than regular coach class fares. Upgrades are difficult to find on some international routes–as is true on other carriers according to friends. And it is much worse since the NW merger. As to his broken knee–he can sit in economy comfort and have the extra room. Not much to write home about but the space is a bit better. I do not have much sympathy for the knee issue. I have had surgery to remove a spinal/pelvic tumor and have quite a bit of pain from it though it has been a number of years. I walk with a limp and cannot sit for extended periods of time. Yet I manage in coach class on 98% of my flights and do not use a personal circumstance to enhance a complaint. So the OP either needs to fork over the money for business class or simply be quiet. He has no complaint.

  14. No their rules and the programs are not “fair” perhaps that is why there are so many people who will game the system. In the end the programs are what you make of them. I don’t travel that much, either paid or on award trips. But, I have been able to take advantage of the programs a few times. But that is also my expectation, so I think I’m even with the airlines.

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