Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

U.S. Airways changes frequent flyer program

Today, US Airways announced changes to Dividend Miles, their frequent flyer program. Considered without context, the changes themselves are minor: they are eliminating the 500-mile minimum award (you'll receive credit for actual miles flown if your flight is shorter than 500 miles), and you'll now pay a $50 fee to book award travel less than two weeks in advance. But when you think about these changes in the larger context of frequent flyer award travel, they become more rocks on the ever-growing pile you have to climb over to get a free award ticket.

It's not easy to get a free award ticket where and when you want from any of the airlines' mileage programs, but in my experience, US Airways' program seems to be one of the most difficult. Several times last year, I tried to use my miles on several planned trips, without success. I then looked up places I've wanted to visit, to see if I could plan a trip based on availability of a free ticket. Even looking up to a year into the future, I only found a single award flight per day (always a red eye), unless I wanted to use double the number of miles (50,000) for a domestic round-trip ticket. It wasn't until I decided to visit a friend in Mississippi that I found a free 25,000-mile round-trip fare to Jackson (which—no offense to my friend—is hardly a highly-sought-after travel destination).

Mileage programs have historically been one of the greatest tools for airlines to engender customer loyalty. But the more difficult they make it for travelers to redeem their miles for tickets to places they actually want to go, the less value these programs will offer—and therefore, the less loyalty customers will show to any given airline.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm already there: I now purchase air fares based almost solely on price and schedule, without regard to which airline I have miles with. It's no longer worth it to pay even a little bit more, just to be able to accumulate miles I'll never be able to use.

What's your experience? Do you have a mileage award horror story? Or praise for a particular airline's program that you want to share?


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Blogger Chuckie D said...

I agree. I would say nine out of the last ten times we have tried to book "free" travel using mileage, no flights were available. And I am not talking about last minute flights, but trying to plan at least six months in advance.

So yes, it is no longer an incentive and we book flights based on price and schedule. I guess that's what the airlines expect since customer service is out the about $2 for a snack?

Chuckie D

February 18, 2008 6:03 PM  

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