An Infrequent Flier Should Never Be Loyal to an Airline

Frequent Flier Programs, United

I don’t think I’m overstepping by suggesting that airlines have borderline disdain for infrequent fliers. Even though those people are actually critically important to the success of the airline, most carriers have given up on ever trying to gain their loyalty. It’s a purely transactional relationship from the airline perspective, and travelers should treat it as such. Being loyal to an airline makes no sense. Recent frequent flier program changes have only made that more clear.

We all know that airlines care most about the big money, frequent fliers who buy expensive tickets. When United President Scott Kirby was at American, he revealed a fascinating stat.

87 percent of our unique customers fly us one time per year or less, and they represent over 50 percent of our revenue.

It’s remarkable to think that 87 percent of travelers on American only fly the airline once a year or less, but it is entirely unsurprising that those people make up only half the revenue. That means the other 13 percent make up the other half. This dynamic is shared by all legacy carriers, and it explains why those airlines all spend so much time focusing on the 13 percent by crafting elite status benefits that are just good enough to keep them from defecting.

The important thing to remember, however, is that those other 87 percent are still very important to the airlines. Sure the elite road warriors generate most of the money, but if the 87 percent didn’t exist and the back of the airplane was empty, that flight becomes unprofitable.

For years, the general belief was that there was no way to actually engender loyalty from the riff-raff. They would buy almost entirely on price and if there was another consideration, it was the schedule. Loyalty? Marketing. Bah. That won’t impact them.

Despite that belief, there were still efforts to target those infrequent fliers. Just look back to earlier days of the frequent flier program. Miles didn’t expire and a roundtrip domestic ticket could be had for 20,000 miles. Even if you didn’t fly often, you had a goal you could work toward. And that might encourage you to pick one airline over another, of course, assuming price and schedule cooperated.

Over time, however, these loyalty programs have been virtually shredded to the point where it makes no sense for a frequent flier to be loyal to an airline. Two things in particular have happened to really move the needle on this. Airlines have increasingly removed the ability for travelers to set a mileage earning goal, and credit cards have become a better way to earn miles than flying.

The Elimination of the Mileage-Earning Goal

The first part is particularly newsy since United recently announced it was following Delta’s lead in eliminating award charts entirely. I spoke with United’s VP of Loyalty Luc Bondar just before the changes were announced. He was quick to point out all the customer benefits of not having an award chart.

The main potential benefit is, of course, that the airline now can offer lower redemption rates for flights that aren’t going to fill up with big money fares. That Tuesday flight from El Paso to Denver in February would have been a flat 12,500 miles each way under the old program structure, if low-level seats were available. Now they can go down as low as 5,000 if United wants. But of course, nothing was stopping United or any airline from lowering rates below the published amounts before anyway. Certainly nobody would have complained about that.

The downside is that, as you certainly know, the price can now flex a lot higher as well. Let’s go back to El Paso. I think this says it all:

That is El Paso to Denver right before Christmas, and it varies wildly. Peak days will cost more and off-peak days will cost less. This might sound intuitive, but it takes away the ability for the infrequent flier to save up for a trip.

It was hard enough hunting and pecking for availability before, but at least you knew it was 12,500 miles one way so you could get the right amount. But now you don’t know what the right amount will be for any given day. If you don’t know what you’re saving up for, then why would you bother saving at all? You wouldn’t.

The Rise of Mileage-Earning Credit Cards

The even bigger issue may be the rise of credit cards. It used to be that flying was the best way to actually earn miles, but that changed long ago. Now the best way is to earn miles when you spend money on a credit card. And the credit cards that have the most value are those that allow you to earn points to transfer into multiple airline programs.

Sure, you can always get an individual airline credit card, but why? Yes, you can get some perks like a checked bag or priority boarding, but that hardly seems worth it for an infrequent flier. You’re better off just paying the bag fee.

Instead, you can go with one of the main bank currencies, American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Citibank ThankYou Points. Even Capital One got into the game recently and now allows transfers. With these cards, travelers can earn miles and then transfer into an airline program when the time is right.

Does United have a good rate one day? Great, then you can move your Ultimate Rewards into your MileagePlus account and redeem. But is United insanely expensive and Southwest is cheap? Then move your points there. You get the idea.

For nearly every infrequent flier, those credit cards are going to provide far more utility than an airline card will. Anything that keeps the miles out of a single airline program and allows for flexibility has value. The banks have really stepped up while the airlines just continue to add complexity and uncertainty to their own programs. I just see no reason to be loyal if you aren’t going to fly enough to get elite status.

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42 comments on “An Infrequent Flier Should Never Be Loyal to an Airline

  1. If a credit card is offering airline miles, then the cardholder is paying for it somehow – either by an annual card fee, or through inferior terms/conditions such as a higher interest rate on borrowings. Furthermore, the bank has to pay for the miles collection scheme which inevitably also gets charged back to the cardholder one way or another.

    If miles redemptions are tied much more closely to the actual price of the cost of a ticket, then for infrequent flyers, it becomes more rational instead to just pay for the ticket when necessary and completely stay out of the whole miles collection game

    1. Very concise and succinct way to put it, great comment.

      I much prefer to get cash back on my credit cards of choice, and not have to worry about trying to redeem (or price out) airline tickets for miles. One less wrinkle to worry about when booking tickets and less headache and junk mail.

    2. In addition to the ones you mention, there are two other big sources of people who pay for these programs — merchants and other customers who use cards with lower rewards or pay cash. The card companies charge higher transaction fees to the merchants for these premium rewards cards. Since they can’t charge different prices to customers based on the specifics of the payment method (other than offering a cash discount), merchants respond by raising prices across the board. So you end up paying higher prices, but so does everyone else who doesn’t use the premium cards.

    3. This could not be further from the truth.

      Credit Card rewards – both cashback and miles – are high in the US because the swipe fees on cards are high.

      Swipe fees being higher mean that prices are higher for all consumers – but choosing not to earn rewards would just increase the banks’ profitabilites – not lead them to cutting swipe fees.

      Yes the rewards cards often have higher interest rates, so if and only if you cannot clear your balance at the end of the month then you should get out of the rewards game but that only applies to a subset of people.

      If you want to travel in domestic coach then yes a 2% cashback card is probably better for day to day spending but for everyone else having a stash of miles or points will be useful still

  2. I agree 100% with this post, yet it’s funny to me how the portion of the pubic that rarely travels seems to really like to talk about FF programs etc, like they are a huge deal. I really think a lot of this is aspirational marketing to the hoi polloi, not much else. In that sense, the FF programs are doing exactly what they are supposed to do when it comes to infrequent travelers, and are certainly driving some (though perhaps not much, and certainly misplaced) changes in spend.

    I do ~3-6 domestic roundtrips a year between business and personal travel, and this is what I’ve been preaching for years. I chose my flights based on airports, schedule, and price, not carrier, and don’t live in (or travel to) an area dominated by a single carrier. At my level of travel (~8k miles a year?), it’s not worth signing up for FF programs, between the junk mail & spam and the increased risk of identity theft (from the FF credit card offers through the mail). More so than almost never racking up enough miles for a free trip, the low return for FF programs for me are driven by the high time spent and hassle factor dealing with all the marketing communications and searching for my FF numbers when booking flights.

    The same goes for hotel and car rental points. I just got back from a business trip, and was happy to let the boss book the rental car and use his corporate card to pay for (and get the hotel loyalty points for) my hotel reservation. Fewer receipts for each of us to submit/approve, and the boss travels enough to make use of the points.

  3. Brett, you may want to do a Ctrl+F for “frequent” and “infrequent”, looks like those may have been inadvertently swapped in a place or two in this post.

    Great post. I look forward to the weekend’s “Cranky on the Web” post, as I’m confident that you’ll be contacted by reporters on this topic.

  4. As a former EXPLAT on AA my opinion is that it all of their actions to “make a better product” did nothing but take something away from my loyalty. And while loyalty was rewarded into earned miles, every airline has devalued earning and spending miles as well as their part of the travel experience. So, I no longer care who I fly (within reason). My preference is now focused on giving my business to most top foreign carriers (except BA) whose customer service still is way ahead of the domestic carriers.

  5. Are you sure you are interpreting 87 percent of our unique customers fly us one time per year or less, and they represent over 50 percent of our revenue correctly?
    It does not tell us what percentage of the total customers generate the 50%, or indeed what percentage are unique customers of the total, so nothing further is to be deduced without knowing the either or both of these.

  6. Great column. America’s consumers thank you.

    The Delta system of not telling FFs your milege is perfect for manipulating based not only on load factors, but on cookies that show repeated checks on flight for mileage levels. It does not help passengers, especially infrequent passengers at all.

    Just used Delta miles for a trip to Spain in July and CapitalOne points for a trip to Italy in September. CapitalOne provided choices of many airlines. Delta provided only thier partners and Delta. Plus my CapitalOne and Diners Club points can be transfered to other programs.

  7. I agree with this post 95%. Certainly nothing about loyalty programs should have much impact on the behavior of a once-a-year traveler. For somebody who spends a decent amount on credit cards, though, and travels a few times a year, spending for Southwest’s companion pass may become worth it.

    It’s really dependent on how often you fly with a partner, obviously, but somebody who does several flights a year with a spouse may find it gives a better return than a cash rebating card.

  8. There’s another reason to give up on loyalty bigger than loyalty programs being devalued…the race to the bottom in Economy. You’re going to be loyal to the airline that takes you where you want to go and gives you the best seat option at the price you’re willing to pay for it. Instead of Airlines working to enhance that proposition they’ve been working to destroy it by making economy miserable across the board by scrunching the seats together, adding baggage fees, and removing seat back video under the ludicrous proposition that everyone carries a tablet to replace it (and that there’s enough chargers and big enough wifi bandwidth on the plane to support them all).

    This removes the cabin from consideration and makes the play for the traveller all about who flies where I want to go and how much will it cost. Since fare competition is pretty cutthroat already, save for a few spots where fortress hubs exist, then it really comes down to does does the airline go to where I want to go?

    You’ll never get loyalty out of that proposition.

  9. This article assumes all airlines are the same. I’m much more likely to be loyal to Delta or JetBlue for their far superior in-flight experience than I am for their mileage earning programs.

    1. live5 beat me to the punch. Loyalty to me isn’t so much about getting status but the on board product or overall operations of the airline. I’m reminded of a weather issue a few years back where SY canceled their last seasonal flights out of CUN. Response to the stranded customers was a refund of the fare and a “good luck.” DL/AA/UL will prioritize their elites but surely won’t abandon their once-a-year pax.

      Last year I flew just over 50k miles spread over about 4 airlines. I can tell you without any hesitation there are significant differences between airlines. Not saying they are extreme enough to spend considerable more on ticket prices but I’m not going to sweat an extra $50 here or there.

      1. I agree with you to a certain extent about service differences between airlines, and even as an avgeek who only flies a few times a year I will gladly pay a fair bit to avoid flying certain airlines (Sun Country, Spirit, and Frontier come to mind).

        However, let’s be honest, Cranky’s post is not really targeted at (or meant for) people like you or people who read his blog. 50k miles per year is by no means an “infrequent flier”, and the fact that you’re more “loyal” (read: prefer) airlines with better products/services helps to show that traditional airline loyalty/FF programs don’t add much value for you.

        At the risk of sounding arrogant, the prototypical suburban family who takes one or two leisure RTs a year probably isn’t going to know as much about the differences between airlines beyond their last few trips and what they hear on the news and from their friends, at least not compared to those who travel more and/or who are avgeeks.

  10. I agree with this 100%, and I’d take it a step farther and argue that the airlines have really alienated anyone who can’t realistically reach entry-level status – really anyone who flies domestically once or twice a quarter. I’ve booked 11 domestic segments so far for the year, including a trip planned for next month, and it’s consisted of: 2 on Spirit, 4 on Delta, 2 on Southwest, 2 on American, 1 on Alaska. I book what provides the best value (not necessarily the lowest price) for my schedule and charge it to a credit card that provides bonus points for airfare. Then I just transfer to whatever program works when I need to redeem something.

    As someone who’s soon going to be constrained by school holiday schedules, I have zero chance of ever accruing enough miles for 3 tickets during school holiday periods under these new dynamic pricing models. Thus loyalty is meaningless. I suspect the airlines will end up regretting throwing away customers like me the next time a recession hits, but we’ll see.

    1. Yeah. Gary Leff points out that when the aspirational goals are taken away, these things stop changing behavior, and when *that* happens, these programs just become cost centers with no offsetting revenue/profit.

      He’s correct.

      The other thing is, when a business model is implicitly or explicitly built around low prices, that really needs to be taken into consideration at many levels. If people *only* fly you when you are cheapest (say your brand sucks or whatever) the airline needs to make darn sure they can make money off of those lower fares, because they *won’t* get the higher fares.

    2. MeanMosh I would say that you are close, but just off. The first tier of FF status is now useless, as you have no benefits above a credit card holder. If you cant achieve 2nd Tier (i.e. Delta Gold) the airline has no loyalty to you. First tier flyers might get a decent seat selection (only might) and no cost benefits over a credit card holder, you wont ever get a first class upgrade or any meaningful check-in service efficiency.

      Moxy could achieve huge launch at success simply by chasing the most hated traveler in the industry, the poor bastard that has to fly more than 25k miles but less than 50 k miles.

  11. Brett,

    Maybe this was implied in your post, but I figured I’d be more explicit about it: With the incentives switching to credit card usage and not flying, this infrequent flyer gets a credit card with a nice sign up bonus. Then, for the measily few miles awarded on coach tickets for the non frequent flyer, I just fly whoever.

    It used to be that with a balance of tens of thousands of miles, a cross country round trip would get like 5,000 new miles. That kind of earn does add up, so it would behoove one to stick to the same airline. But now? For just a few hundred miles, it doesn’t change my behavior.

  12. This article expertly pre-sages another loyalty program devaluation (BA Avios) this morning. And that deval doesn’t even tell us by how much things are changing.

  13. The thing that bugs me most is that most of the airlines are setting themselves up to *reward* steadfast loyalty among frequent flyers, but are doing NOTHING to *earn* that loyalty. “We’ll treat you like a ambulatory piece of cheap luggage unless you fly a at least dozen times a year and are on an expense account” is a lot less attractive than “We hope you enjoyed your flight, so if you fly more often, you’ll pick us.”

    (A good example of this is the steady drumbeat of announcements about how great airlines are trying to make the experience up-front (the very latest lie-flat seats, fancy wine lists, whatever), and complete dead-silence about steerage, even in the face of serious complaints. (*cough* AA Oasis *cough* UA 773 *cough* If a “full-service” airline wants to treat coach passengers poorly, I’m not seeing why I shouldn’t just pick an LCC when possible, who is at least honest about their intentions.)

    Speaking for myself, I’m more likely to pick an airline that treated me fairly on the way up vs. one that will only promise to do so *after* I’ve paid them a large amount of money. Maybe. If they don’t move the goalposts again. As a non-hub flyer whose flight choices are often limited by corporate travel policies, I pick Southwest when I can, especially for leisure travel. I know what I’m getting, and the lack of baggage or change fees is a big plus.

    1. I suppose there are big corporate fliers who go business class and higher everywhere without blinking, but I work for a small business, and when I go to Asia, I’m in economy. When I fly domestic the best I can do is Economy Plus half the time.

      So I end up picking the airline that’s the least pain in the ass to deal with. Domestically, that means I fly a lot of Southwest, both so I can check two bags without keeping track of a second receipt (and not having a third receipt for a seat assignment) and so I can change my flight without a fee. Lately, I’ve been having to go to a bunch of small markets, which would put me on either American, Delta, or United. I live in a United hub city but their service sucks and half the time I can’t get a direct flight anyway so it’s not like they’re more convenient. That’s led me to bounce a lot between Delta and American and I’ve settled on American because they serve more of the cities where this customer is located and the service has been good and flights at the times I want.

      I suppose that if I were billing my travel to my own card and getting reimbursed, a bank rewards card would make sense. Our company card is an AMEX, and the company keeps the AMEX points. I get to keep my miles.

      But I have to be honest: when I’m booking a flight, I’m not thinking about earning miles. I’m interested in flight times, comfort, price, and the least amount of grief.

  14. The goalposts being moved further back due to devaluation or dynamic awards is one thing, and another is mileage expiration that happens at the same time. You’re losing in both directions and unless you’re on one of those programs that don’t have expiration dates or ones you can roll forward the expiration with some kind of spend, it gets that much harder to actually earn something.

    I’d say I’m one of those infrequent fliers with one international every or every other year and a handful of domestic to leisure destinations.
    I’ve finally been able to save 60k miles over 3 years to get a PY -> Business upgrade, but if I didn’t book early this year, 10k of those would have expired… cuts back on some flexibility on when I can/need to book the upgrade.

  15. I’m not really sure how I fit into this overall situation. I’m retired with a daughter and family living in Europe…including a young grandson. I’ve been a loyal AA flyer…previously USAir etc. during my entire professional life. We fly to Europe two to three times a year and I have worked to sustain status given our ages and all the attendant hassles. The changes in AA Frequent Flyer program a few years ago really upset me. It rewards “loyalty” of those who spend…who can spend, w/o regard to price or schedule…but the changes did NOT reward MY Loyalty…I know, I know…naive me. I continue to exclusively use AA and I work diligently to game the system in all sorts of ways and have been successful…most often flying Business etc. but it is time consuming. I toy with idea of switching to a points CC etc. but have too much invested in the game to switch…I’m a Million Miler and manage to sustain at least Platinum at a minimum. I am also able to plan ahead and scope out what is available since I’m not strictly on a schedule as it were.

    Still and all, there are those of us out here who are no longer among the high rollers but do have serious travel needs and were loyal, but have been shoved aside since we no longer have someone paying for our tickets.

    All of the above may simply reflect an old guys naivete (stupidity?), but as a very veteran international traveler I do find the effort on the part of the airlines to cater primarily to the 15% or whatever, discouraging and frustrating…so, go ahead call me stupid…but I do my best to squeeze every ounce of value to me out of them.

    Now I feel better.

  16. My travel patterns do not fit in either mold. There are some years where I am flying frequently and there are others where I may take only a few flights or even no flights at all. It really just depends on work projects. I figure it makes sense to stick with one airline because I never know if travel will ramp up and most of my miles are on that airline anyway.

    1. This is me also. I’ve bounced around from a transcon every other week, to virtually nothing. When its on someone else’s dime I stay loyal. When its on my dime my loyalty drops. Got a free trip to Costa Rica on Delta for me and the wife. Cool, nice perk for my company’s loyalty, but I also like my cash back card.

      That being said I shelled out a few more bucks to fly Singapore Air coach last year, and don’t do low cost carriers to Europe. Yet I know I am not worth the customer acquisition cost.

  17. You don’t say how one should go about choosing their airline if not for loyalty, which is an important question. An infrequent flyer could end up with behavior that looks like “loyalty” to Delta or Southwest out of preference for those airlines’ products, even if not particularly related to miles. If an infrequent flyer chooses only on price, that just encourages the commoditization of the flying experience which results in a merciless shedding of benefits as we long saw (until some mitigation the last couple of years) in the US and are now seeing in Europe.

    1. Bgriff – I think people should choose based on the option which is best for them in terms of price, schedule, and product. Taking into account any kind of long-term loyalty makes no sense for infrequent fliers. It should be transactional, pick what works best each time.

  18. As someone who has the second tier status on one of the major airlines, it makes sense to use that particular airline as much as I can. They fly non-stop to my most common destination and they fly one stop to most everywhere else and no one else flies these routes as a nonstop. I really look at the redeemable miles as just something in my account to use for lounge membership and upgrades. I haven’t used them for an actual trip in 5 years. They really don’t have the value they once had.

    If I was an infrequent traveler, I would only say they are worth anything if they don’t expire. United and AA’s eighteen month expiry policy makes them totally useless unless you are elite IMO.

    1. There is a fairly painless way to ensure that your miles roll over before they expire. UA and AA both belong to a dining program. (it is the same program despite the separate branding, so don’t expect “double-dipping). That said, it is depressing to watch the dilution of these programs.

      1. The other thing I do is when I have to buy something online is go through their shopping program and get a few miles. Even if it’s worth 50 miles, it still resets the clock.

  19. Were airline frequent flyer programs subject to Federal Trade Commission regulation, I would be willing to bet that they would be found to be “unfair or deceptive practices.” They are based on little having to do with the development or rewarding of airline customer loyalty. They should be about trying to get me to spend money to fly with the airline and use its services, not because of which bank or credit card I use. Why not give me credit for how much I donate to my favorite church, or political party, or

    Frequent flyer programs have lost the airline service element, or anything about what I pay for a ticket, or fly. That should take them out of DOT regulation and move the regulation over to FTC. I’ll bet the airlines would drop the current frequent flyer programs fast.

    Way back when, these programs benefitted me handsomely. Nothing wrong with trying to reward your best customers handsomely, too. But, the programs today are legal monstrosities, that neither reward not establish loyalty.

  20. Unfortunately that original stat never quite passed the smell test IMHO.

    87% of customers fly them only one time per year but they generate over half of revenue, meaning
    13% of customers fly them more than one time per year but generate a bit less than half of revenue

    Let’s say the “over half” attributed to one-timers is 53% of every dollar of revenue, and so then 47% is attributed to just 13% of more frequent flyers. That seems pretty reasonable based on how they worded it. You can crunch those numbers pretty easily to get a ratio and back into numbers to illustrate.

    For ease of calculation we’ll say they only have 100 individual customers during the year.

    Those 87% of customers who bring in 53% (“over half”) of revenue? Let’s say they each bring American $300 in annual revenue — probably not wildly wrong if these are one-time leisure passengers.

    87 * $300 = $26,100 annual revenue

    You can back into what the annual revenue would be for the 13% who bring in lots of revenue. It’s about $1780.45.
    13 * $1780.45 = $23,146 annual revenue

    The total is $49,246, and that comes out — the 13% good customers bring an average of $1780.45 for the year, while the 87% who are one-timers bring $26,100. The ratio of 47% vs 53% come out. And the upper crust 13% bring in a bit less than six times the revenue of the one-timers… $1780.45.

    But $1780.45 is annual revenue is *nothing*. If someone flying six leisure-fare round trips in a year puts them slightly above average for the elite 13% somethings not right here. Maybe at Frontier if you fly six round-trip leisure fares that puts you among the top 13% of customers, but not AA, UA, DL, WN, etc.

    Someone who barely makes low-tier elite frequent flyer(aka trash) probably brings in at least 20x-30x the annual revenue of a once-per year flyer. Not 6x.

    Something seems really wrong with the original numbers that 87% of customers only once per year yet they bring in over half of revenue. Just doesn’t seem plausible when you use a little algebra.

    1. You’re assuming that all the once a year flyers are buying a cheap domestic Y ticket. While I think that’s mostly true, we know it’s not totally true. Some buy domestic F, some buy international Y. and some buy international J.

      Also, a low level FF only needs to spend $3k on tickets or put $25k on an airline credit card. While a lot of people exceed that, some people like me actually need that credit card spend in order to be exempt from the spend threshold.

  21. I get this and at the same time my family and I do tend to prefer Delta, mostly for combined loyalty and credit card reasons. Holding a Delta Amex and a Platinum we get free bags and lounge access, which is a nice perk and has resulted in us not buying anything at airports for the past 3 years. With family struggle out all across the country having a kid has resulted in actually MORE travel overall to be able to see everyone.

  22. Airline loyalty programs like AAdvanrtage, Mileage Plus, and SkyMiles will soon be a thing of the past. The liability of unredeemed miles held by account holders is a growing liability on airline balance sheets. Watch for these programs to be spun out completely, likely in the next recession if not sooner, and new marketing agreements forged with credit card companies. What will replace them is strictly revenue based accruals, which is pretty much what exists today, dramatically reducing the number of elites (a good thing), thereby reducing the need for 12 boarding zones, and all the perks that come with credit cards co branded with the airlines will be realigned. The frequent flier program is all but dead.

  23. In the market where I live (MCI), Southwest rules my most common locations I fly, I am also a infrequent traveler so when I pay, cash rewards on my credit card beats all the mileage hassles.

  24. Nice post Cranky!

    The fundamental issue about airlines is that they give the passenger exactly what they want. You want prices that are at or below historical levels? Sure, we can give you that. But the accoutrements will be immaterial and it will be agony in your on the plane.

    Want more? Then pay for it. In a world where every airline looks alike, the only thing that keeps a frequent flyer loyal to a specific airline is either the kickback programs or the service to and from a particular market. Put another way, if Delta is dominant in a local market, it’s going to have to be an immense kickback on United or American’s part to get me to fly them.

    The airline industry really is no different than the trans-Atlantic steamer industry was 100 or so years ago. They filled the boats with steerage but the money was made on the first class luxury passengers.

  25. Something that would be very helpful in planning my travel is knowing how much it costs to upgrade to Main Cabin Extra to get more legroom. Each carrier calls it something unique, but it can make or break a long trip. I fly almost all on AA, but since having Gold level status removed the perk of half-off the cost of MCE there is no longer any reason to be loyal and shop price and product now.

  26. Your article is on point. I just had to buy back my 67k that fell off in February, topped up for an additional fee to 80K miles for what was only 60K a year ago. I’m tired of being worked by United and their insular business practices.

  27. Apparently, I am part of the 13% because I fly more than once a year (usually a dozens times). But do the airlines care? I bet not, considering they devalue my hard earned miles like they are Hungarian Pengos
    and force a “Want-First-Buy-First” attitude upon you. Thus, there is no reason for those 13%-ers to stay loyal either. Case in point, I fly the best/cheapest/most convenience airfare.
    What I am curious about is how long airline can sell billions in miles to credit cards companies. Eventually, the flying public figures out they are better off getting a straight cash back card (or bank points card). Then, the games’ up and airlines need to compete on price only. I expect that at that point, EVERY airline will be “Norwegianed”.

  28. Among the 87-percenters, there are those fly a lot and spend a lot but have some beef about AA or find that other programs are better.

    35 years ago, AA destroyed by luggage and claimed it was old and not worth much. That caused a 15 year penalty. Then I flew AA until AA booted out Alaska for practical purposes. I am back to a 87-percenter for AA.

    But don’t worry. Airlines are competing against each other for last place so I might try another airline eventually.

  29. I’m an infrequent flier who purchases everything with a points based card and have “churned” cards for Bonus Points and took advantage of the UA/CO and AA/US mergers for my benefit. I do own a multi-family property which in some ways acts as a “business way of getting miles. I average 1 business trip a year and 3 leisure trips.

    Here’s what I’ve flown for free in past fourteen years for free. All flights coach unless noted and not all were non-stops. I put Origin-destination-origin if it was a roundtrip.

    Boston-Los Cabos-Boston
    Manchester NH-Fort Lauderdale-Manchester NH
    Boston-Cancun-Boston in F
    Boston-St. Thomas-Boston (coach but this was Xmas season and tickets were $1700 at time of redemption)
    Singapore-Tokyo (Narita) in J
    Tokyo-Boston in F
    Boston-Grand Cayman-Boston
    Boston-Heraklion Greece in J
    Athens-Boston in J
    Boston-Hong Kong in F
    Phuket Thailand-Newark in J

    My opinion is that I have benefited tremendously from Frequent Flier Programs. There has to be others like me but the airlines benefit too so its win-win if you use your points wisely. However, I am loyal to no one and as mentioned in the article may only stick to Chase/Amex in the future. However its tempting to churn AA cards and get another J or F flight on CX!

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Cranky Flier