When I first joined a Frequent Flyer Mileage Program, you could get a free flight anywhere in the US for 15,000 miles. Even better at that time you often got a bonus of 10,000 miles just for signing up. During these early years there were a significant amount of seats available on each flight for frequent flyer awards except for certain blackout dates like Christmas, Thanksgiving, The Fourth Of July and Labor Day. I have taken many frequent flyer flights during these start up years but I have been very troubled by the direction of the frequent flyer programs during recent years.
First they started to reduce the number of seats available to the frequent flyer. Some flights have one seat or two available on all but the red-eye flights and on some slow time/day combinations. The actual number of seats is generally kept a closely guarded secret. However, when you call them you will not be very happy about the availability. You may have to book months in advance and still settle for an inconvenient flight time.
The second thing that was done was the increase of the number of points needed for even these scarce flights. Most Airlines now charge 20,000 to 25,000 for the low end seat. This may not seem ridiculous increase but wait, it gets worse. The airlines came out with a less restricted frequent flyer seat which was 40,000 points on many airlines, mine included. OK, you are really not redeeming 15,000 points but 40,000 but it is less restricted and there are more seats. This was true until September on my airline. In that month of 2006 they made some changes.
The third ploy was to increase these seats by another 10,000 miles to 50,000 while adding new restrictions to even these greatly inflated seat exchanges. Not only are you required to redeem more miles to get them, the number of even these expensive seats have been reduced and more time restrictions apply. Basically, not only are you back to the same seating problems as with the lower mileage requirement seats but, also are back to the headaches about actually getting a seat at the time and date you want.
The final blow was just announced by United Airlines (my frequent flyer airline), which now wants to eliminate all your miles from your account if there are no flights purchased or United credit cards used for 1 year. Your balance will go down to zero.
All this and additional airport and airline headaches as well, is enough to make a person just not want to fly. My personal travel has been halved due to aggravation with the schedules, rules, delays and other inconveniences, which just make me feel like flying is not a fun experience any more. My next planned trip is a road trip and that is saying a lot with the high price of gasoline.
I feel The airlines should be required advertise the number of frequent flyer seats on each flight by point redemption cost. If the airlines need to cut back just get rid of these programs from a specific date forward. Don’t slowly strangle the frequent flyers into believing they can get something which they can not. At least we will be able to better plan our business and vacation flights and not have unrealistic expectations.