World Wise

How one high mileage trav­eler is tak­ing loy­alty pro­gram changes in stride

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Ram­sey Qubein

Fly a Mil­lion Miles in My Shoes

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. BT

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