On the 30th anniversary of frequent-flier programs, miles and user options have soared — but so has frustration.
With literally billions of miles chasing a scarcity of cheap seats — 25,000-point flights, the longtime industry minimum for a domestic coach seat — consumer complaints are rampant. Ever-changing fees, blackout dates and other restrictions are adding to the discontent.
Now — thirty years after AMR'sAmerican Ailrines introduced the idea in 1981 — a third of all air miles go unused.
“They are trying to make it easier to redeem miles, but the travel and hospitality sector still has a long way to go,” says Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner with Colloquy, a loyalty marketing research company.
To help ease consumer ire and gobble up some of the estimated 15-trillion to 20-trillion miles outstanding, airlines, credit card companies and others doling out frequent-flier points have come up with a slew of new ways for customers to cash in.
Choices now go well beyond free flights and first-class upgrades to anything from flat-screen TVs and Super Bowl tickets to a lease on a new Mercedes, cooking school or charity donations. If those options aren’t enough, some miles can be converted into cash.
Industry experts say any redemption — whether it’s a gift card for gasoline or two tickets to Hawaii – builds customer loyalty. But for consumers perhaps nothing is more precious — and appealing — than a free flight.
“I would never cash in my miles for golf clubs because I would get less than a penny a mile in value,” says Randy Peterson, a frequent-flyer guru who’s built up a cache of more than 17 million air miles.