Reader Question: Are Frequent Flyer Programs Still Worth It For Leisure Economy Class Flyers ?

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We got a Reader Question yesterday that I though would be interesting to have a look at as it affects many leisure travelers who book low fare tickets: Is it even worth it anymore to participate in a frequent flyer program?

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As many loyalty programs for airlines have now changed their mileage credit of redeemable bonus miles to a revenue based system going by the fare price the number of miles a customer earns for low fare Economy Class tickets is almost not worth talking about.

Ahmed writes:

… Me and my family have collected American and United miles for almost a decade but it reached the point where I don’t wanna bother anymore. We can’t do anything with the few miles we earn for cross country flights every 3-4 months. These are cheap tickets but the miles we get for that are so little that it’ll take us 4 years of flying to get a single round trip in Economy. Should I just dump the programs and go best price with whatever I find? …

The clear answer to his concerns is: YES!

As soon as there is no value in utilizing a loyalty program based on ones regular flight activity anymore it’s time to say bye bye to using loyalty schemes as a guideline for where to book your flights.

Flying 3-4 times a year transcon such as from San Fancisco to New York as in Ahmed’s case is actually a decent amount of base miles to fly (about 5,200 miles per round trip) but would still leave him short of acquiring status in most programs.

Here is what American AAdvantage recently credited to one account with an Economy Class ticket from Tokyo to New York that wasn’t even super cheap:

For the entire route Tokyo-Los Angeles-Phoenix-New York-Dallas AAdvantage gave a whopping 2,415 redeemable miles and 9,495 Status (Base) miles. This is a non status account and these flights were actually the first transactions on it.

Compare that to a recent flight I credited to United Mileage Plus:

My Hong Kong to Las Vegas round trip earned a total of 2,520 redeemable United Mileage Plus miles. I needed the status miles for last year to re-qualify for United Gold so the 14,800 status miles were more important to me.

If I don’t care about the status miles then to be honest I wouldn’t have to care about the mediocre 2,500 miles as well. It’s absolutely nothing! In comparison you’d need 10x 2,500 miles for fly roundtrip economy within the U.S. so that’s pretty crazy. Just book whatever is the most convenient for you instead of leaning onto the loyalty program at such tiny earning rates.

Conclusion

There are some programs who give you a higher earning rate than those revenue based programs but cheap Economy doesn’t really earn a lot anymore these days no matter what program you’re aligned with. Finding one that works for everybody and many airlines is difficult but Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of these very universal programs that has many partners to collect points with, not only one alliance.

There are expensive economy class fares as well and should you be booked in one of those full fares then a revenue based program can make sense again for you. At the same time there are often some very cheap Business/First Class fares around which would also earn very little miles. Look for a program instead that let’s you collect based on booking class!

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