Debunking the Debunking of 3 Points and Miles Myths — At Least, Partially
A video of the debunking of three myths pertaining to frequent travel loyalty program miles and points was created earlier this week by Andy Luten of Andy’s Travel Blog — I always liked the tagline (imagine a more creative title) — and although I generally agree with his thoughts on the topic, there are exceptions about which you should know.
Debunking the Debunking of 3 Points and Miles Myths — At Least, Partially
First, please watch the video to which I referred. Its length is ten minutes and 33 seconds.
Now that you have watched the video — or even if you have not done so — the three myths pertaining to frequent travel loyalty program miles and points are as follows, according to Andy Luten:
- Points and miles let you travel for FREE
- I can travel WHEREVER and WHENEVER I want
- My airline points and miles will continue to be VALUABLE
In the Beginning: Frequent Travel Loyalty Programs
Before we continue, let us briefly revisit the beginning of frequent travel loyalty programs.
American Airlines was the first major airline to introduce a frequent flier loyalty program in 1981 — which will be exactly 37 years ago on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 — in order to encourage loyalty amongst its customers. When other airlines launched their frequent flier loyalty programs, they actually used incentives — such as bonus miles as one example — to entice customers to join as members.
“The roots of these programs can be traced back to 1979 when Bill Bernbach, CEO of Doyle Dane Bernbach — the advertising agency for American Airlines proposed that American do something special for its best customers”, according to this article written by Randy Petersen for WebFlyer. “After some ideas were kicked around at American, the Marketing Plans group agreed that a free trip would mean a lot to a frequent traveler if it included a deal for a companion and a first class upgrade. At the time, first class was a relative unknown for the frequent traveler, the space was usually occupied solely by movie stars and VIPs. The idea was then defined in a short paragraph for Tom Plaskett, asking to pursue a concept that offered a frequent traveler the equivalent of a free first class trip to Hawaii from any domestic point, with a free upgrade for any companion for whom a ticket at even the lowest fare was purchased. Of course, Hawaii was kind of a symbolic destination because most business travelers would not have traveled there on business and would find it an attractive incentive for them to fly American Airlines.”
You read that correctly: premium class flights and upgrades for companions really were free — not even taxes or fees were charged — and Randy Petersen took advantage of that, according to this article which I wrote on November 23, 2017: “Intrigued, Randy — who had always aspired to travel — decided to follow the advice of what he read and wound up enjoying a trip to Hawaii for free.”
Frequent flier loyalty programs were not designed for people who annoyingly call it a “hobby” and purposely “game the system” — some even went so far as to ruin some deals for everyone else in order to selfishly feed their insatiable greed — nor were they ever designed for that purpose. They were initially designed to reward customers who already flew as passengers frequently order to drive future business. The ideal customers typically already traveled frequently on business trips; and airlines such as American Airlines were trying to sway their business from other airlines and give them an incentive to consolidate as much of their air travel as possible on one airline — especially if the customer had an expense account.
Generally, the idea was to spend the company’s money to conduct business travel and earn free flights to go on a well-deserved vacation with your family. What sane person would refuse free flights?
Now let us move on to the aforementioned three myths pertaining to frequent travel loyalty program miles and points…
1. Points and Miles Let You Travel For FREE
Frequent travel loyalty program points and miles do not let you travel for free. That is the absolute truth — especially if opportunity cost is factored into the equation…
…but there is one notable exception: if you are required to travel frequently anyway and stay in hotels often, redeeming frequent guest loyalty program points to stay truly for free in a hotel room is still possible where you do not have to pay a penny for the room.
Note the disclaimer of “if you are required to travel frequently anyway and stay in hotels often”, which means that there is virtually no opportunity cost and you are already earning enough points to redeem for an award stay anyway…
…although the plague known as the mandatory resort fee — which is also known under such aliases as a facilities fee or a destination fee, whatever those mean — is still spreading like wildfire.
Putting aside the mandatory resort fee out of the equation, if you are spending hours of your time finagling ways to get that “free” hotel stay instead of earning them anyway as a part of doing business, are you really spending your time wisely — or is the opportunity cost just too great to ignore?
2. I Can Travel WHEREVER and WHENEVER I Want
People who believe that they can redeem 25,000 miles for premium class travel during Thanksgiving week or spring break are delusional at best. Forget it. It ain’t gonna happen…
…or can it? Flexibility — or better yet, being different — still works wonders, if you are able to do so.
Using Delta Air Lines as an example, I literally spent several seconds searching for round-trip travel between Atlanta and Los Angeles during the week of Thanksgiving.
Sure — if I travel right before Thanksgiving like everyone else does, I will need to redeem anywhere from 32,000 SkyMiles to as much as 71,000 SkyMiles if I return that Sunday…
…but if I travel on Thanksgiving Day itself and return on a Tuesday or later in the week, the redemption drops to 28,000 SkyMiles. A typical award ticket within the 48 continuous United States used to cost a minimum of 25,000 SkyMiles round-trip when award charts used to exist; so 3,000 additional SkyMiles is really not a bad deal — and taxes of $11.20 apply to all but the most expensive redemption applies anyway.
People tend to take Monday through Wednesday immediately prior to Thanksgiving off to take advantage of two weekends. Even though you “lose” a weekend, why not take Monday through Wednesday of the following week off instead? Do you really want to be around your family for that long of a period of time?!?
Of course, how many miles you are required to redeem for a trip may vary depending on your choice of origination and destination — but the route between Atlanta and Los Angeles as served by Delta Air Lines is heavily traveled; so it is not like I chose flights between Whatsa Schmosis, Arkansas and East Squeedonk, Idaho with a 47-hour layover in Quasapiquadaqua, Delaware.
3. My Airline Points and Miles Will Continue to Be VALUABLE
Miles and points do not appreciate in value. They virtually never do. Arguably, they depreciate significantly faster than cash; and you are limited to how you use them as dependent on the terms and conditions of a frequent travel loyalty program — which basically repeats in 183 different ways that the airline or lodging company can do whatever the heck they want on a mere whim; and you cannot do anything about it…
…but opportunities can appear — and they usually do. For example, not all of the hotel and resort properties of the worldwide portfolio of Marriott International, Incorporated which changed categories effective as of Monday, March 5, 2018 are all dumps to which no one wants to go. For example, you just saved 5,000 Marriott Rewards points if you want to spend a night at The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin or JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro hotel properties and have not done so as of yet…
…and at the time this article was written, you can redeem fewer SkyMiles for round-trip award flights between the 48 continuous United States and South America during what has become a monthly sale with a different offer every month.
Being aware of changes to redemption values of award travel is very important; but do not listen to the “bloggers” who “scream” at you to spend your miles or points as soon as possible simply because a perceived devaluation will become effective by a certain date. Rather, use your miles and points for what you want — and, more importantly, for when you are ready to use them…
…and if you happen to be ready during a sale on award travel — well — even better.
You may also want to wait to use those miles or points until after you have earned elite level status in a frequent travel loyalty program, as you can then take advantage of benefits you might otherwise not have available to you.
Although the opportunities may seem infrequent and dour, good things come to those who wait can still apply here — you just have to be as smart as possible about how, when, where and why you spend your miles and points.
The true key to being smart about using your miles and points is to consider quitting that loyalty program mindset once and for all and gaining your self-respect by “launching your own frequent travel loyalty program” while maintaining perspective in life by adjusting your expectations.
Remember that few absolutes in life exist — one of them is death — and whatever advice you read about what to do with your miles and points are not amongst those absolutes.
Even though using miles and points to your complete advantage may be tougher than ever in recent years, you can still benefit if you keep yourself aware with a clear head and an open mind…
Illustration ©2012 by Brian Cohen.