A couple of articles caught my attention this week about the difficulty some travelers have redeeming frequent flier miles.
The first is from the Daily Mail, and setting my opinion of the publication itself aside, I read through the article. About 1,000 British fliers were surveyed and asked about their participation in an airline’s frequent flier program. Among the results:
- Almost half never redeem their miles because the terms and conditions are too restrictive.
- Sixty percent of people think they need to take too many flights before they can claim rewards.
- About 40 percent of people who collect air miles ever redeem them.
- Only 23 percent of those surveyed said they collect airline loyalty points.
These findings shocked me until I stepped back from my far-too-intimate knowledge and personal experience with travel loyalty programs. It is fair to say that the average traveler has difficulty redeeming miles, and I understand their frustrations.
The nuances of an individual program can be mind-boggling and do (mostly) require an in-depth knowledge in order to yield desirable results when it comes time to redeem for a reward. That’s part of the reason why so many bloggers/experts offer award booking services.
But Should the Programs Be Regulated?
The other article I read sort of punctuates the results of that study’s findings, and comes from Christopher Elliott. He writes about a traveler who had a very difficult time trying to redeem her United Airlines MileagePlus miles for a flight (or even hotel or car redemption, which is a story in and of itself – even I didn’t know you had to be an elite or Chase cardholder for a hotel or car award).
Beyond discussing her particular case, he asks the question, “Should frequent flier miles be regulated by the government?” The basis of him posing the question is related to the so-called “promise” for free flights membership in a frequent flier program bestows. And while the perception might be there that airlines “promise” free flights, the reality is that they have no obligation to honor anything. The MileagePlus program rules, for example, state:
MileagePlus membership and benefits, including the Premier Program, are offered at the discretion of United Airlines and its affiliates, and United has the right to terminate the Program and/or the Premier Program or to change the Program Rules, regulations, benefits, conditions of participation or mileage levels, in whole or in part, at any time, with or without notice, even though changes may affect the value of the mileage or certificates already accumulated.
There’s certainly no promise there. Yeah, I know, most people don’t read the T&Cs of just about anything, but calling for regulation of FFPs is just ridiculous in my mind. As of earlier today, though, only 46 percent of his poll agrees with me:
– Follow Darren Booth on Twitter, @FrequentlyFlyin, for more airline, hotel and travel industry news, reviews and opinions.