The end of miles and the last man

Chris Woodyard sees sees the end of our obsession with miles because

    Fliers are under pressure from their employers to shop around for the lowest fare, regardless of carrier, making it more difficult to collect miles on a single airline.

    Airlines are slowly eroding the value of miles by raising award levels or making it more difficult to find flights to use miles.

    Low-fare carriers offer deep discounts on routes that make it easier and cheaper to just pay the fare rather than shell out miles for a trip.

The points Woodyard raises are true. Miles are supposed to create brand loyalty for what is essentially a commodity product. In a down economy, businesses are forcing employees to choose based on price and — spurred by lowfare carriers — the airlines are obliging them.

There are three reasons why this won’t destroy miles.

First, cost controls may go by the wayside when the economy turns.

Second, when fares fall miles will still be necessary to differentiate product (the lowfare carriers tend to have their own loyalty schemes).

And third, a plurality of miles are earned by means other than flying (such as credit cards, long distance, etc.) and selling miles to vendors is a profitable business for the airlines.

There may be fewer loopholes to get excited about exploiting in the future, as airlines get better at using technology to target flyers (fewer inefficiencies in the system). But even that is far from guaranteed — after all, I went to Puerta Vallarta in December on a $55+tax business class ticket on Mexicana (oops!) that also netted me about 6000 miles — that same number of points I spent for two nights at the Westin Regina while I was there, soaking up the direct ocean front view from my balcony. So much for technology squeezing out deals!

And you know what? When I got back I made sure to recoup those points spent on the hotel as quickly as possible with credit card spending. Because after all, I’ve redeemed miles in the not too distant past for first and business class tickets to Australia — which I could never afford to purchase on my own.

Frequent flyer programs are dead. Long live frequent flyer programs!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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