Letters – December, 17 2012

Letters – December, 17 2012

Stolen Miles?

Anyone who has frequent flyer miles on American Airlines should immediately check their account. There are two kinds of miles, “Miles without Expiration,” and “Miles subject to Expiration.”

This is an important difference, because miles subject to expiration will expire within 18 months of your last flight.

I had 118,515 miles without expiration that have been there for several years. I was counting on using them after I retire and stop flying, to take a vacation with my wife. Sometime between last Sunday and yesterday, without permission or notice, those miles were converted to Miles With Expiration–essentially, they were stolen.

I immediately sent an email to American Airlines. I have received no response.

I suggest you warn others, and retract the Freddie Award given to American Airlines.

Editors’ Note: Sorry, Pete, that this came as a surprise to you but American AAdvantage warned members of this change and gave them advance notice to spend the miles under the old award chart. We covered it extensively in InsideFlyer, and although we weren’t fans of the move, American did give members notice of the change. And the miles weren’t “stolen” because you still have the miles, they will now just expire within 18 months if you don’t keep your account active through earning or spending miles–it is easy to keep the miles active with just a little effort. To lessen the blow a bit, American gave members with these non-expiring miles a 25 percent bonus on those miles–you might have noticed that your mileage balance went up recently. We suggest you start planning a trip with your wife now. In life and miles, there’s no time like the present. As far as the Freddie Award goes, we were not the one to bestow the Freddie on American AAdvantage–that was awarded because the traveling public voted for them–we just counted the votes.

Where’s the Seat?

I’d like to see more seats available for award travel. I plan my trips one year in advance and travel for four to five weeks. I’m rarely able to use miles since the return isn’t available and by the time it is, the outbound is gone.

Taxing Redemptions

In the December issue reader Bruce Haxthausen suggests using Avios points to fly on Iberia from Madrid to Johannesburg as a way of avoiding high fees for flying through London.

However, Iberia no longer flies this route. And the U.K.’s airline passenger duty (also sometimes referred to as a premium cabin departure tax, the “high fees for flying through London”) actually only apply to journeys originating or stopping over in the U.K. The APD does not apply to connection in London.

What’s extortionate about the fees charged by British Airways Avios are fuel surcharges. A simple London roundtrip from the U.S. can run over $800 in fuel surcharges alone, which makes ever using points for a coach redemption almost silly (since you pay much of the cost of a paid ticket anyway, even when using miles). You can almost double that on a trip from the U.S. to South Africa–and those are for ostensibly “free” seats!

Fortunately, airlines and routes that do not have fuel surcharges on paid tickets won’t have them on award tickets either. So Avios can be used more cost effectively flying Air Berlin across the pond instead of American or British Airways.

There are also no fuel surcharges on domestic U.S. flights or flights between the U.S. and South America.

Sadly though most European programs–and some U.S. programs–have begun taxing their frequent flyers heavily come redemption time.
Gary Leff

Priority Club Rewards Priority

I just read that as of 2013, bonus points (promotional points) earned through Priority Club Rewards will not count toward elite status. And rather than complain about a change like this as many members might, I applaud it.

I’m a frequent guest at Priority Club properties and most of my points are earned on hotel stays, not the latest promotional offers.

As loyalty programs like this have become more and more popular, there have been more and more people who are simply trying to game the system and earn points without actually being loyal to the hotel or airline. Call me old fashioned but I like the idea of a true “loyalty program”–and that loyalty goes both ways.
Jason in Seattle

Award Workaround

Six months ago, I booked an award ticket online to Brasilia using United MileagePlus miles. I was able to find award seats to Brasilia on United and Copa Airlines but I could only find availability from Sao Paulo, which is about a two-hour flight from Brasilia, on the return. I knew that TAM, another United partner, flies frequently between Brasilia and Sao Paulo, but they only release award seats on domestic flights three months prior to the flight date.

So I booked the flight and decided to check again for the last segment on TAM three months prior, knowing that I’d have to pay a $75 change fee since I would be changing the originating city on the return flight.

When I checked on TAM flights when they became available, there was availability from Brasilia to Sao Paulo on the date I wanted to fly, but only to Sao Paulo-Congonhas Airport. My connecting flight from Sao Paulo to the U.S. was leaving from Sao Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport. If I booked that flight, I’d have to get from one airport to the other. It would have been possible, but a hassle. So I checked the cost to just buy a ticket from TAM Airlines and it was $72, a few dollars less than the $75 I’d have to pay to change my award ticket anyway. And the flight was going to Guarulhos, which is where I wanted to go.

I’ve heard many people say how it’s impossible to use their miles. If I’d only looked for availability to Brasilia, I wouldn’t have been able to redeem my miles when I first looked. I knew that I was missing a leg when I booked a ticket and it was worth the $72 to get the itinerary I wanted and the cost to buy a flight was cheaper than the change fee anyway.

It took some effort, but it seems that award tickets are out there if you can be flexible and put in the time and research different routings.
Maria Ortiz

Rating Marriott

At first blush, it does seem harder to earn status than with most other hotel programs, but the Marriott Rewards black credit card gives 15 bonus nights per year, so you can get automatic Silver (needs 10 nights) and need only 35 more nights to attain Gold, which carries most of the perks Platinums enjoy except for the welcome gift (and a slightly higher bonus in points per dollar spent with Marriott).

I believe their customer concern is high; they offered double nights some years back when the economy turned down and good customers were having problems travelling enough to requalify, and later started rollover nights allowing customers to carry over to the next year any nights they earned in excess of those needed to requalify. Also they were the first major hotel chain to offer lifetime elite.

Redemption options are great, one of the best being the Travel Packages, where you can exchange Marriott Rewards points into miles on specified airlines at a 1 for 1 rate when redeeming seven-night stays (and since you can earn up to 20 points per dollar spent with Marriott, that’s a great deal)!

Loss of the BOGO certificates was a negative factor, as was the dropping of the seven-night European Sampler awards where the seven nights could be divided among up to three hotels in Europe. I wish they’d bring those back.

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