Frequent Flyer Pet Peeves

Frequent Flyer Pet Peeves

Every frequent flyer has them, that nagging pet peeve that really gets to you, making your traveling life a misery. We recently polled frequent flyers to ask what their pet peeves are. We do our best to offer some solutions to the problems they voiced, and if a solution isn’t readily available, at least you might learn a little about why it’s the way it is and learn to accept it.

As you read this, keep in mind that those who work for the frequent travel programs also read InsideFlyer–so from your lips to their ears. It might just be the seed of change for your favorite program. Read below to see what others have said about their pet peeves, and feel free to continue the conversation by writing to us at

Pet Peeve: Expiring miles.

We often get letters from FFP members who traveled extensively several years ago and were under the impression that their miles were sitting quietly in their account, waiting for the day that they would be dusted off and put into service for retirement travel. But when the member goes to their account to spend those miles, they find that the rules of the program have changed and the miles are no longer there because they have passed their expiration date.

The programs all claim that they notify their members of any change, but if the member does not have a valid email address on file, those notifications will never reach them. And several members we’ve heard from claim that even with a valid email, they did not hear from their program, as one member points out, “I understand that miles/points expire, but more could take the lead of those programs (Amtrak comes to mind) that notify you before they go away.”

Another business traveler who understands the necessity of expiring miles said, “What has annoyed me the most, however, is when a couple of the airlines shortened the time for expiring miles, they didn’t honor previous expiration dates they had indicated on their Web sites.”

Truth be told, several airlines have made changes to the rules that could be considered slightly suspicious business practices. The challenge with any of these changes to expiring miles is the conflict between what the programs have said in the past vs. their right to change the rules without notice.

A good example of this is seen with Delta. When Delta created the new SkyMiles program in 1995, it maintained customers’ older miles, earned in the original “Frequent Flyer” program as a separate item on the members’ accounts. In their newsletter of that era, they boldly claimed, “Miles earned prior to May 1, 1995 never expire. As long as Delta has a frequent flyer program, miles earned prior to May 1, 1995 will never expire… We want you to keep the miles you’ve earned. It’s that simple.” But then the program changed the rules to combine the mileage totals at the end of 2006.

They changed their mileage expiration policy because of another policy, “Delta and its program partners reserve the right to change program rules, benefits, regulations, Travel Awards, fees, mileage Award levels, and special offers at any time without notice.” While we’re acutely aware of the “why” of these policies, it doesn’t mean they can’t still be our pet peeve. This particular one ranks number one of all time.

However, we must point out that in all cases, these programs used common methods to alert their members to these changes.

What you can do about it:

First and foremost, do not let the miles expire in the first place. In all of these cases, the person could have avoided the hassle and frustration of seeing their mileage balance disappear by paying attention to the rule changes of their program. Enroll in a third-party mileage manager program that alerts you when your miles are about expire and rent a car, spend a few miles, get a co-branded credit card–anything to keep your account active.

But once they’re gone. What can you do?

1) Get in touch with your program. If your mileage recently expired, you might try convincing the program that the mileage should be reinstated–this works best when you’ve already made several reservations for future trips.

2) Look through the program’s Web site and search terms like, “United Mileage Plus mileage reinstatement.” That’s one of the best ways to discover if your program offers a way for you to get your mileage back. We’ve heard more than once from members who called the service center of the program and were never informed about these reinstatement programs–so it pays to do your own research. You’ll have to pay to get the miles back through these reinstatement programs and only you can determine if it’s worth it to you.

3) Ask for advice from fellow travelers on They will often give you good recommendations and you’ll usually get advice from more than one person.

3) When all else fails, accept that you lost the miles. Take it as a lesson and move on. Ultimately, you are responsible for the miles that you earn and staying informed about changes to your program’s policies.

Pet Peeve: Being upgraded to the same seat as another passenger.

Yes, this does happen. You’ve cleared the upgrade list, a happy camper waiting to enjoy the upgrade when, “Oh no!” someone else is sitting in YOUR seat. The airline has inadvertently booked two people for the same upgrade.

What you can do about it:

Always try to be one of the first, if not the first, person on the plane. The reasoning is that the airline will typically let the first person seated stay there.

Pet Peeve: “Direct” flights that stop, often with a plane change, but count as a nonstop when earning miles.

This might not seem fair, but as long as the flight is under the same flight number, it’s considered nonstop when it comes to counting up your miles.

What you can do about it:

This was at one time more of an irritant than it is now, because many airlines have done away with the once-industry-standard 500 minimum miles (yet another pet peeve for many). US Airways started the trend to do away with minimum miles in 2008, followed by United, American and Continental. Of the legacy carriers, only Delta offers 500 minimum miles for flights of less than 500 miles. Alaska Mileage Plan also still offers 500 minimum miles and elite members of Continental OnePass, United Mileage Plus, US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage earn 500 minimum miles per flight.

You can watch closely when you make your flight booking to try to avoid the not really a “nonstop” irritant, but the airlines will continue to see these flights as “nonstop” when it comes to earning miles.

Regarding the minimum miles, we’re guessing that ship has sailed, never to return again if you’re not an elite member. But you can always let your program know that you’d like the minimum miles to return–you never know, they might hear you. And in the past, InsideFlyer has helped some of its readers overcome this archaic practice.

Pet Peeve: Points or miles that consistently don’t automatically post to your account.

One frequent flyer gave us her observation when it comes to getting her points/miles, “I’ve been a Marriott Rewards Platinum member for quite a long time, and while I love most of the properties, service and upgrades I receive, I have consistently (about one out of three times) had problems with points being posted (or posted inaccurately because of different currencies). Even when I call the Elite line I usually have to fax a copy of the bill. By contrast, my experience with Delta Air Lines has been the opposite on posting. They are posted as soon as I have finished a flight segment.”

What you can do about it:

While this goes without saying, make sure you provide your membership number when making reservations and it doesn’t hurt to confirm at check-in that your number is on your reservation. Marriott was singled out in the quote above, and others have confirmed that posting from international properties has been more problematic, but it is not the only hotel program where posting problems sometimes happen. The best advice we can give is to always keep track of your stays and watch your account closely. Keep your receipts and know what the program expects from you to verify your stays to make the process of requesting missing points as streamlined as possible.

And keep in mind that it will take longer for points to post for some properties, so you might want to give it some time, but not too long or you might pass the deadline for claiming missing credit (something else you should know about each of your programs).

Also, be sure to alert customer service in your program about the problems you are experiencing with particular hotels–if enough members complain, it will make the automatic posting of points even more of a priority. Because of the nature of the many more hotels vs. not as many flights, the problems of points not posting is more prevalent than miles not posting.

But sometimes FFP miles don’t show up, and it is almost always the result of a partner transaction, be it an international partner or more common, a non-travel partner of the program that is using the frequent flyer miles as an incentive for their business. You should have on hand a file folder containing copies of every mileage transaction you enter into with these types of partners for reference if your miles don’t post.

Pet Peeve: Not getting an award seat when you want it.

We’ll venture to say that this particular event–not getting the award seat when you want it–has happened to every frequent flyer. As one frequent flyer responded when asked what her pet peeve was, “First, not offering enough award seats. Second, when they do have available flights, they are often the ones with terrible flight times (red eyes, multi-stops and/or very long layovers between flights). Third, pushing unreasonably high ‘prices’ for coach awards (Delta is terrible–when they do offer an award seat, it is often at the highest end of the mileage–60,000 or 90,000 miles for a coach seat). Fourth, not enough one-way tickets. I hope other airlines will follow American’s lead and offer one way awards.”

If you follow through the quote from the member above, she comes to the conclusion that the programs have come to. If you can’t give the members free seats whenever they want, the next best thing to offer is flexibility. And in the last few years, most programs have offered more flexibility when it comes to spending your miles. We believe that this flexibility trend will continue.

What you can do about it:

There are many ways to deal with not getting the award seat you want, and our best advice is to go with the F word both ways–flexibility when you book (looking for seats when they are available instead of trying to book for specific flights/days) and look for the flexibility that the program is offering such as cash and miles, one-way award flights and other ways to spend your miles.

And, as always, if you don’t first succeed, try again. Keep looking closer to your departure date to see if an award seat opens up. Or better yet, sign up with programs such as MileageManager’s Award Watch or Yapta, which will alert you when an award seat is available.

It also helps to spread your miles across different alliances. If you can’t find an award on Delta or its SkyTeam partners, then you can search for one on American and oneworld or United/Continental and other Star Alliance carriers. We’ve written about the best way to get seats many times over the years. And through all those years, members have also asked for more transparency–they want to know when a seat is actually available to get an award ticket. Some programs have made moves toward more transparency, but not many and don’t expect it. Members are best advised to use the new options allowing more flexibility to their best advantage and as always, be patient, persistent and use the online tools that are available.

Pet Peeve: Expedite award fees tacked on to the cost of an award ticket when claiming an award close to departure.

For example, American AAdvantage charges a $50 or $100 award fee for the first award plus $25 for each additional award when the award reservations are ticketed within 21 days of departure. As one flyer pointed out, “Once upon a time, these were to pay for express shipping of paper tickets. In this day and age of online booking and electronic tickets, they are nothing more than an anachronism and a profit grab.”

What you can do about it:

Become elite in your preferred program–most programs drop these fees for elite-level members. Recently, there was some good news for United Mileage Plus members when that program eliminated its close-in award fee for all members (before the change, members were required to pay up to $100 for close-in award bookings). Perhaps more programs will follow United’s lead and drop this type of fee. But if not, and you know that you generally prefer to make award reservations later rather than earlier, it would pay to look at United and other programs like Southwest Rapid Rewards that do not dock you for getting that last-minute award seat.

Pet Peeve: Inconsistent (and often incorrect) information from customer service representatives.

This particular pet peeve is mentioned often and we see this ourselves every day.

What you can do about it:

You learn rather quickly as a frequent flyer to not always trust what a customer service representative (CSR) has just said. It’s a good idea that after you call the service center with a question, hang up and call again to ask the same question to a different representative. After about five of these calls, you should have a good idea of what the answer actually is. It’s unfortunate, but as this traveler says, “The onus is on you as a consumer to understand what you’re buying as a verbal confirmation of policy with someone who in many cases makes less then the counter person at Wendy’s. Caveat Emptor is sound advice.”

Another FlyerTalk member put it this way: “The TRUE solution would be for airlines to ensure that their CSRs are well-versed in all aspects of policy, and to actually look things up when questions arise. I would much rather hear a CSR say, ‘I don’t know, sir, would you mind holding while I do some research?’ than get a confident but entirely incorrect answer. We FTers are generally savvy enough to recognize wrong information when we hear it, but most flyers just take an agent’s word for it … and I shudder to think at the problems they endure when that word turns out to be wrong.”

And one FlyerTalk member said this about all domestic airlines’ customer service, “They stink. They need to hire some upscale/luxury hotel customer service consultants or at the very least, send every one of them on a flight operated by an Asian carrier.”

It’s ultimately up to you to research any questions you might have. By all means, call the service center, but back up what they say with your own online research. Try using the customer service avatars like Jenn at Alaska Airlines and Alex at Continental Airlines. And when faced with less than stellar service at the airport, remember to smile and move on to someone who might be more willing or able to help.

Keep in mind, however, that searching for the correct answer can lead to problems. What you may consider as the incorrect answer may actually be correct and the answer you deem correct may be incorrect. Like all other situations such as this, make sure to document names, times, places and if possible, actual documentation from the person you are accepting information from.

Pet Peeve: No booking ability online for partner airline awards.

This is really a two-part pet peeve: first, no booking ability online for partner airline awards and second, charging a phone fee to book partner awards when it’s not possible to book the award on the Web site.

One flyer summed it up thus, “Each airline should make it easier to find availability on their own sites for their members.” Another, “The inability to easily query availability across an alliance and book any award online is a major pain. If the agent has access to the data, why don’t I?” And from this very frustrated traveler, “My pet peeve is the way the programs charge a fee to book award travel but make it impossible to book the reservation on their Web site.” And it’s not just partner awards that are not available online, upgrades are also often not available to book online.

What you can do about it:

Buck up and pay the fee for booking awards over the phone. This works best if you do your research beforehand–and that might include signing up for multiple FFP accounts to have access to the awards available with partner airlines. And let your program know that you are not happy with the status quo.

Pet Peeve: Targeted promotions.

As programs have become more sophisticated in the way they get information from their members, they have become more exact in the way they market to their members. But with the instantaneous way that word gets around these days, as soon as someone gets an email with a targeted offer, the information is plastered all over the Web for everyone to read. This causes a lot of members to become frustrated when they try to register for the offer and find that they can’t take advantage of it.

What you can do about it:

This is one area where we have to side with the programs. After all, these are marketing programs and the marketing professionals behind these programs are merely aiming to get the most bang for their buck.

And if you’re one of the lucky who are “targeted” you don’t see these as negative. We feel that some programs have taken to targeting a bit too much (Hilton, we’re talking to you), but we see this as a trend that will not go away. And similar to targeted offers, is the relatively new requirement to register for certain promotions. It’s only fair for programs to require this of members. After all, these are loyalty programs and members as well as the programs should take the time to be engaged in the program.

Pet Peeve: Not being able to use your miles for an upgrade–even when you know there are available seats for sale in business or first class.

As one flyer put it, “They won’t give the seat to me for miles, even though I am Gold elite. The old ‘capacity control’ problem. Nothing irks me more!”

What you can do about it:

This is another one of those problems where there’s really not much you can do except try more than once to get the upgrade. If you first get a ‘no’ don’t let that be the final answer. Try again closer to your departure date. The airlines would much rather sell that seat so we can’t see the dynamics of this changing anytime soon. And what you see as a seat being available, may not actually be the airlines’ seat. In this day and age of codeshares and other types of business arrangements, that empty seat just may belong to someone else.

Pet Peeve: “Dead end” programs that let you transfer into their currency, but with no way to transfer their currency out of their program.

If only loyalty program members could easily exchange miles/points between programs–but then, where would the “loyalty” be?

What you can do about it:

Sometimes, there’s not a lot you can do, but there is often an option for you, even if you might not get the best value. You can check the Mileage Converter at to see if there is any way to get around the currency problem–the online tool will show you several different paths to get X number of miles into the program you want the miles in. You’ll be able to see at a glance just how many miles you’ll be losing through the conversion and can make your decisions accordingly.

Another option is LoyaltyMatch allows members to buy or trade award merchandise with members of other loyalty programs–you won’t be transferring your miles into another program, but it’s an alternate way to spend the miles you don’t want. You can search for thousands of items offered by loyalty programs across all sectors including airlines, hotels, car rentals, restaurants and retail merchants. When you see an item that you want, you can set a price or make an exchange offer. The price is the amount of money you will pay a seller to redeem their miles or points for that particular award. You can also choose to offer a trade.

For example, Aeroplan offers an Apple iPod Shuffle for 15,000 Aeroplan miles. You can offer to buy or trade an item offered by one of your loyalty programs and would then see a list of members who have at least 15,000 Aeroplan miles in their account and could get an iPod for you. In order to make your trade request public and contact potential traders, you would then need to activate your 60-day listing for a $1.99 CDN fee.

Yet another option is to use the points/miles trading feature at called GPX. GPX allows you to trade your miles/points between 11 different frequent travel programs for a sometimes rather hefty fee.

Pet Peeve: The entire car rental industry.

As one traveler told us, “In the rental car world, the entire industry is my pet peeve. It seems that it’s falling apart at the seams. The major agencies initiated their frequent renter programs some years ago but none have been truly forced to innovate or provide passable customer service beyond that.” He continued, “Perhaps it’s because most of their profits come from large corporate contracts–I don’t know. But even previously good systems like #1 Club Gold and Emerald Aisle seem to be breaking down. It’s not just the old cars–which I can kind of understand in 2008-2009’s credit market–but the basic functions of the operations are failing everywhere.”

What you can do about it:

State your displeasure to the car rental agency and ride out the current downturn for this industry–and hope for the best that when these companies survive the current crisis, they will put more effort into keeping their frequent travel customers happy. Or, you could simply not participate in their frequent renter programs, opting to just earn frequent flyer miles. These programs were originally developed to try and ween the car renter away from airline programs, but they seem to have little or no impact overall.

Pet Peeve: Being treated like second-class citizens when flying on an award ticket.

As one flyer put it, “… with the exception of Southwest Airlines, it seems to me that the airlines treat passengers who are flying on frequent flyer awards like low life. The airlines should remember that the people who are flying on ‘free’ tickets, earned those tickets due to loyalty to their respective airlines. We’ve had very bad experiences, particularly with United Airlines, where we have been ill-treated, not notified when changes were made to our itinerary and basically ignored, simply because, for those flights, we were not ‘paying’ customers.”

What you can do about it:

It’s up to you as the traveler to reconfirm your flight dates and times prior to departure. This is a good practice especially if you made award reservations months in advance in order to get the free seats. As to the attitude of the airline representatives when they see that you are traveling on an award seat, not a lot you can do other than be pleasant yourself and hope that your attitude will rub off on them. And remember this mantra, “I’m on an award flight. What fun! I’m on an award flight. What fun!” Try to remember that it’s a pleasure to get your flight for next to nothing and make the best of it.

And finally, if your experience traveling on an award ticket isn’t what you had hoped for, you can do what the flyer we quoted above has done. He’s voting with his feet: “Airlines–be very careful. Those non-rev passengers are your lifeblood. We’re the loyal ones. Treat us well and we will stay with you. Treat us like cattle, and we’re gone.”

But are you really being treated differently when you are flying on an award? When an airline makes changes to an itinerary, the change doesn’t just effect the award seat flyer, it effects all passengers. And once on board, the flight staff only knows you as a passenger. Make sure you have your profile updated to alert you by email or text message of flight changes. Most members have yet to update their profile for these new ways in which the airline can contact you.

Pet Peeve: Having to pay for wireless at a hotel or in an airport.

If only it was a wireless free, Internet free world. But it’s not and for a frequent business flyer, not having convenient and free access to the Internet can become a major pet peeve.

What you can do about it:

Some hotels offer free wireless for everyone while others offer free wireless to elite members. Hyatt offers complimentary Internet access to its elite members and Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum members can request free Internet as an amenity when you check in–not all hotels offer Internet as an amenity, but if it’s important to you, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Hilton offers free high-speed Internet in all guest rooms at Homewood Suites but not at all full-service Hilton properties. Marriott’s Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites, SpringHill Suites and Courtyard properties also have free Internet. Holiday Inns, Holiday Inn Express, Candlewood Suites, Hotel Indigo and Staybridge Suites provide complimentary Internet access to guests, while Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts offer fee-based Internet access. All Omni Select Guest loyalty program members receive free Internet access and Choice Hotels offer free Internet access to everyone. In general, the more you pay for your room, the less likely it will be that you’ll get free Internet access, or it might be limited to the lobby areas.

You can also opt to get an AirCard (also called a mobile broadband card or connect card). An AirCard is a device for a laptop, PDA or cell phone that allows the user to connect to wireless Internet access. You can opt to pay for unlimited access (for some cards, around $50 a month) so that you do not have to pay the individual hotels for wireless access.

Pet Peeve: No upgrade for elites on an award ticket.

As one flyer put it, “This drives me nuts. The one time I really want an upgrade is when I’m going on vacation.”

What you can do about it:

The obvious answer is to redeem your miles for an upgrade instead of a free seat. But if this option is important to you, it might be worth your while to consider Delta SkyMiles. That program is introducing upgrades on award tickets for their elite members in spring 2010.

A final bit of advice, and you might have noticed a theme in regards to many of these pet peeves: don’t just let your pet peeve fester. Let the programs know of your displeasure. Every program has a multitude of problems to address, and if the members are vocal about their displeasure, their pet peeves might become the program’s next project.

We also know that there are a number of nicely satisfied InsideFlyer readers who will read this list and reflect back on the day they shared some of the same pet peeves. It is not hard to master frequent flyer pet peeves when you become a more informed traveler. And now you have the tools you need.

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