Frequent flyer programs more difficult, require travelers to know changing rules

Posted October 21, 2015


Even though collecting airline miles has never been easier, the frequent flyer game has only been getting more difficult for young adults who wish to fly home for cheaper.

Transferring or using someone else’s miles has become a popular cause of stress for the college students who fly home during holidays to visit their families.

“Airlines make transferring miles to our family members almost impossible,” said Rita Perez, healthcare executive and frequent flyer. “I wanted to transfer my daughter some so she could become a gold member and have flying benefits, but the expenses are just not worth the service.”

One-way domestic flights that once cost about 25,000 miles are now divided into three different tiers (20,000 miles, 30,000 miles and a third tier level American Airlines hasn’t defined yet). This usually depends on time of the year and destination demand.

“This increase goes beyond our control,” said Rachel Cox, American Airlines public relations spokesperson. “Sometimes demand for certain flights are too high, especially during the holiday season, so miles cost go up just like ticket prices go up.”

For instance, Thanksgiving flights that might have cost about 25,000 miles before will now likely cost 30,000 miles.

“This increase in flyer miles for flights, especially domestically makes it really hard to transfer miles for my children,” said Emerson Arias, marketing consultant and college student parent. “Sometimes buying an actual flight ticket ends up becoming much cheaper.”

Popular airlines such as Lufthansa, United and American Airlines may charge up to $250 for each 3,000 miles transferred. For domestic flights throughout the USA and Europe, at least 15,000 miles are required in order to request a flight ticket.

Besides the high costs to transfer miles, expiring dates have also become a popular issue among travelers. If not used, miles can expire fast and benefits can be lost.

“TAP flyers have three years to claim their miles before they actually expire,” said Luisa Matos, TAP Portugal airlines consultant. “It’s not a lot of time, but we want our clients to actively make use of our services.”

For students or families who are trying to save up miles to use them on a specific occasion, airlines advise them to do it fast before the time limit is reached and these miles become no longer available.

Despite the difficulties to do so, buying flight tickets for family members or friends using your own frequent flyer miles is possible although popular airlines don’t advertise it often.

“You have to us write us a letter and an authorization in advance, sign it and submit it along with the copy of your passport via fax or email.” said Carla Morais, Victoria miles program consultant. “Most people forget to do this and just request to use someone else’s miles at the airport, we cannot allow this and most of them end up not traveling.”

If enough miles to exchange for a flight ticket aren’t reached, or if they are about to expire and clients still have no plans to fly anytime soon, airlines advise to exchange these miles for services. But this can also get complicated.

“Airlines are very specific about which credit cards, hotels or services we can benefit from using the frequent flyer service,” said entrepreneur Roberto Tavares. “I’ve personally encountered many difficulties trying to book hotels or rent a car, sometimes the airlines just won’t allow you to use that service at a given time.”

The issues with airlines loyalty programs are many. But the secret to truly benefit from these programs is to stay organized and up to date with the available rewards and miles accumulated.

“Most of these issues happen because clients don’t call us or communicate with us to find out what or how is the best way to use their earned miles or points,” said Luisa Matos, TAP Portugal airlines consultant. “a simple call to your airline can make sure you get the best use of your frequent flyer miles.”