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Fly a million miles in my shoes

Published: 02/07/2014 - Filed under: Home » World Wise » Home » Archive » 2014 » July/August 2014 » LifeStyles » Home » Features »

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It’s true. I am a little obsessed; with miles and points, that is. I was quite proud of myself when I achieved Delta Million Miler status at age 28. It’s an honor that few really know (or care) about, but I still felt like I had achieved something. 

Sure, there are the invaluable perks. Being thanked at each turn, fees waived, lounge doors unlocked; they all make the high flying worth it. 

But, it’s not about the personal recognition or the spontaneous gifts or the first class upgrades. It’s about the travel rewards those countless miles flown can bring. There’s something about being rewarded for a business necessity that is gratifying. No matter what one’s line of work, the ability to travel is a privilege.

Flying is something I have valued since childhood when I watched my father travel for work. He stretched the limits of what is humanely fair: countless middle seats, long lines to use pay phones, crummy hotels, all to provide for our family. Earning miles is a perk that my father did not always enjoy in the early 1980s, before modern-day loyalty programs were developed. Back then, travel was simply a chore. 

In today’s world, even though travel is not always joyous, it still comes with perks. Everyone loves to hate the airlines for a perceived difficulty in using miles—it’s a universal pet peeve. But flexibility and creativity prove that there are plenty of opportunities for exceptional travel experiences.

That’s why recent news from Delta and United to switch to revenue-focused earning schemes stings a bit. Sure, it makes sense. Why should airlines reward people for mileage flown? The incentive should be to honor those who spend more. 

This new revenue-based model is the wave of the future. Hotel loyalty programs and airlines like Southwest and jetBlue have done it for years. Who knows? Big-name holdouts Alaska and American may switch at some point, too, but for now those airlines may be the holy grail for those that want to still earn miles based on distance flown. Don’t hold your breath for long though. 

Bottom line: The new programs translate into earning less than before for most travelers. Many travelers did not mind spending a bit more to travel with their preferred carrier, but now there is a smaller incentive for a business traveler, since price is a defining factor making a mile no longer equal to a mile.

In the new world of mileage programs, I earn the most when paying a lot to fly short distances. That is really the only way for me to earn more than before. Flying long-haul, I need to pay the top prices in order to benefit in the same way mileage-wise. That means buying those higher, refundable fares. I suspect savvy company accountants will start cracking down on their own travel policies to prevent abuse from their travelers who are spending more than they need to.

There are some workarounds though. For example, booking Star Alliance partners on their own ticket stock and crediting miles to United will still earn miles based upon distance flown. And there’s a silver lining since racking up points via credit card bonus programs is even more lucrative than ever.

We may not like it, but these changes are with us for good. Nonetheless, mileage still holds immense value that makes constant travel worth it for the savvy traveler. 

Middle seats excluded, of course.  

By Ramsey Qubein

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