A recent article in Conde Nast Traveler reported that more than half of those responding to a survey indicated that it has become more difficult to redeem frequent flyer miles in the past year, and nearly 70 percent said that it has become more difficult over the last five years. The magazine reports that although airlines do not disclose the percentage of passengers who have tried unsuccessfully to redeem miles for a ticket, the most recent data provided by the big six airlines, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways, shows that most of the airlines are issuing fewer tickets in exchange for miles. Continental OnePass, for example, issued 6.8 percent of all tickets as award tickets in 2006, down from 8.1 percent in 2002. And United Mileage Plus issued 6.6 percent in 2005, down from 7.8 percent in 2002.
The article says that getting an upgrade is becoming more of a challenge as well because of moves such as US Airways’ announcement that it is reducing the first class section on its 757s from eight rows to two, and air marshals now occupy two seats in many first class sections, representing as much as 25 percent of capacity on many domestic flights.
The reader survey found that nearly 70 percent use their miles for flights, as opposed to the 27 percent who use them for upgrades. But the article suggests that sometimes using your miles for upgrades will represent a better value, especially for long-haul international flights.
The article says that members would do well to weigh the “cost” of a mile when redeeming for a flight vs. paying for the flight. Most experts put the value of a mile at approximately 1.2 cents, so cashing in 25,000 miles for a ticket that you could purchase for $300 is not a good deal, because you would essentially break even, whereas redeeming 120,000 miles for a business class ticket valued at $5,000 is an excellent value because you would be “buying” the seat for the equivalent of $1,440.
The survey also found that 50 percent said that the airline’s frequent flyer program was “very important” when they book a flight.