Despite the fact that collecting coveted airline miles has never been easier, the frequent flyer game is only getting more difficult for the little man.
American Airlines (AAL) irked customers recently when it announced major changes to its frequent flyer program that would make reward miles less valuable.
Among the controversial changes, one-way domestic flights that once cost 25,000 miles are now broken up into three tiers (20,000 miles, 30,000 miles and a third level American hasn't quantified yet) for some loyalty members, depending on the time of year and destination demand. For example, a one-way domestic Thanksgiving flight might have cost 25,000 miles before and will now likely cost well over 30,000 miles. On the flipside, an off-peak flight could become slightly more affordable.
“What’s crazy about American is they didn’t give anybody any warning,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “People are pretty outraged.
There’s an entire forum on Flyertalk.com dedicated to travelers simultaenously venting and trying to decipher frequent flyer policy changes. American’s new award program rules are now applicable to all travel after June 1, even if you book in advance.
But American isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last airline to devalue frequent flyer miles. In November, Delta (DAL) announced that in 2015 it would start awarding miles based on the price of a passenger’s ticket, rather than the distance of their flight. With the change, Delta followed in the footsteps of Virgin America, British Airways and Southwest Air.
If you fly Delta today, you could take a 2,000-mile trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles and have 2,000 miles in the bank to apply to your next airfare. But when the airline’s new rules take effect next year, the actual distance of the flight will mean nothing. If the ticket costs $400, you’re only getting 400 miles.
As of February, United Airlines revamped its frequent flyer program in what BoardingArea.com called “one of the worst guttings of a frequent flyer award chart” to date. The miles needed to buy first-class one-way tickets jumped as much as 86% higher in some cases.