Frequent Flyer Programs: Have We Been Missing Out?

While I have been flying several times per year for the last nine years, I never considered myself loyal to any one airline.  We are almost always flying for weddings or other events so our dates are inflexible and we choose flights strictly based on timing and price, not what airline is operating the flight.  (Although I do love when a direct flight on Jet Blue or Virgin is the cheapest!)  Because I never practiced loyalty to any one or two airlines, I didn’t bother to sign up for frequent flyer programs.

In 2012 I have three flights to Atlanta scheduled, all with Delta.  The tickets we bought to our reunion are with Delta.  That piqued my interest, so I looked back at all our airline spending in the last couple years (this is why I love Mint – answering that question is so easy!) and Delta has cropped up often – about half our flights total and increasing in frequency.  So I decided to sign up for Delta’s frequent flyer program just to have a number to add to these upcoming flights.

I looked at the rewards details, and it seems that the best value for our buying pattern is to put miles toward a ticket priced above $100 (which is every flight we buy).  For our two upcoming flights we already bought we should get a little over 10,000 miles, which should knock $100 off our next Delta flight.  That seems easy.

I feel a little silly.  Have I been passing up rewards for all these years with Delta and other airlines?  There seems to be no hassle in participating in these programs and if I don’t let my association with them change my buying behavior (like with rewards credit cards), is there any downside?

Do you participate in any frequent flyer programs (not associated with a credit card)?  Have you found them to be beneficial?  Have you had any problems with these programs?

photo by Cristian Ghe

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28 Responses to "Frequent Flyer Programs: Have We Been Missing Out?"

  1. Daisy says:

    I didn’t even know you could participate in such a program without having it linked to your credit card rewards. Flights are so expensive so it would be awesome to get one for free!

    1. Emily says:

      Seems that way… You just get assigned a number that you link to your ticket for each flight. Of course they all also have credit cards available.

  2. WorkSaveLive says:

    The only problems I’ve heard of on the credit card side is that there are “blackout” dates – dates that you can’t use your miles/rewards.

    I personally don’t have anything like this though. We don’t travel very much (at this point in our life) and I’m too lazy to dig into it for 1-2 trips a year.

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve heard that about these programs too, but according to Delta, they don’t have any blackout dates. I figure if it turns out I can’t use the miles for some reason, it’s just a little wasted time. But the upside is pretty big I think. I hope!

  3. I love reward miles for travel.

    Here in Canada Air Canada has an Aeroplan program that you can use independent of your credit card or earn points based on what you spend with your credit card. I have be accumulating their points for 25 years and earned a lot when I use to travel back and forth to the UK for work.

    25,000 reward points buys you 1 return ticket to fly anywhere in North America, but to get a ticket at the low price you need to book pretty far in advance. You can also use Aeroplan points with their affiliate airlines such as Luftansa.

    1. Emily says:

      Glad to hear about a good experience!

  4. H says:

    When I went away to college I decided to sign up for the rewards program offered by Southwest. They had a deal where after 6 round-trip flights you got the next one free. (There may have been some other limitations, I don’t recall.) Purchased enough weeks in advance, I could get a $75 round-trip ticket from PHX to ONT. So I paid about $500 after 6 round-trips, and I got a free round-trip flight. I went to NH to visit a friend. That cross-country flight alone was close to $500 and I got it for free.

    While I’m not loyal to any one airline, I am signed up to as many of the no-risk rewards programs, where you enter your frequent flier #. Sometimes rewards expire, and I just let them without feeling a loss. But other times, they come through. Unexpectedly, last fall I had enough miles on Delta to get a free round-trip flight from ATL to SEA for a friend’s wedding. Not bad!

    1. Emily says:

      Awesome! It sounds like I want to be doing exactly what you are. Have you encountered any frequent flyer programs that have some risk, and what tipped you off?

      1. Heather says:

        When I say risk, I mean some buy-in, really. Either with a specialized credit card (I’m happy with my current credit cards and I don’t need another one) or with some start-up fee. But I really never looked any closer, since I’ve become very good at turning down offers as soon as they arrive in the mail or are announced on the in-flight radio. 🙂

  5. AverageJoe says:

    Absolutely, it’s worth it! We fly only a couple times a year and it feels like we score a free ticket once every couple of years.

    We do the same with hotels. I’m not beholden to any hotel, but if I’m on the road anyway, I make sure and add the room to the point program if possible.

    1. Emily says:

      Glad to hear it!

  6. We’ve been racking up the air miles – but are disappointed that they’ve eliminated a lot of rewards! We’d always cash them in for restaurant gift cards – but that’s no longer an option.

    1. Emily says:

      Are you using a credit card or a frequent flyer program?

  7. Even though I traveled quite a bit a few years ago, I never bothered with the frequent flyer programs. Hotels…now that was a completely different ballgame. I would go out of my way to stay at a Marriott hotel just to earn more points. when I finally cashed them in I got all kinds of crap I really didn’t need; PS2, golf clubs, Wii (even though I already got a free PS2), etc.

    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that sounds like quite a program! We only stay in hotels 1-2 times per year when we attend weddings, so we always stay whereever the bride and groom have negotiated a discount. Why did you prefer the hotel rewards over the frequent flyer rewards?

  8. Alice says:

    I signed up for a Delta rewards card right after undergrad and I was also able to use my number when I attended a conference my first year of grad school. However, now that I got married, I am unable to use my FF number because the name on that account doesn’t match my new name. I’ve talked to Delta about it and apparently the only way they’ll let me continue to use that number is if I present them with an original copy of my marriage license… which is way more trouble than I’m willing to go to. Right now I also have rewards with American Airlines (which I signed up for to earn miles for our trip to Europe) but I’ll probably give up on my old Delta number and just start a new account with my new name. That experience sort of makes me not want to fly Delta anymore, but I usually go with what’s cheapest anyway!

    1. Emily says:

      That is annoying! I would probably send in the marriage license but I guess it depends how many miles you have. Have you been able to redeem any rewards through Delta or AA?

      1. Heather says:

        I’m trying to look through old emails to see how I changed my names on frequent flyer programs. I know that they were more of a hassle than changing my name on my credit cards, but I don’t recall anything more than a copy (scanned, then printed) of an original. I didn’t have any problems with Delta, and having those extra miles saved up paid off in my case!

  9. I think, unless you fly a lot, the airline miles are more hassle than they are worth. The real winners are the folks who fly a lot for business, get their tickets reimbursed, and get to keep the miles!

    1. Emily says:

      What in your experience makes them a hassle? Flying “for business” was actually what made me want to sign up (3 tickets to Atlanta) but I don’t expect that to continue as densely in the near future.

  10. CultOfMoney says:

    When I was consulting, I was flying somewhere every week, so I very much appreciated the airline rewards. I was able to get a free trip to Hawaii at least once a year, and as an MVP super plus gold member, I got free first class upgrades, no change fees, priority boarding, first on the list of changes if a flight was cancelled for weather or mechanical problems. A lot of non-monetary benefits. If you’re able to fly one airline, I think it’s generally worth it, assuming they have competitive rates.

    1. Emily says:

      I’m happy to hear of your excellent experience! As a much less frequent flyer we won’t be getting the same but maybe a little!

  11. Leigh says:

    I love frequent flyer miles! I wish every airline didn’t have its own program though… I try not to worry about if they expire and just fly on the airline that is the best deal. In my case, it seems to be a different airline each time. In the last year, I’ve flown United, Southwest, Horizon, Virgin, and Delta. I have numbers for all of them and make sure to enter my number when I book a flight.

    I don’t use airline credit cards – so many of them have annual fees and I’m still trying to build up my credit history.

    I’ve generally found that booking flights with miles requires you to be super flexible on dates / book a few months out (especially in summer and you can very infrequently use them at Christmas time). So it can be a hassle, but just throwing my frequent flyer program numbers around doesn’t hurt anything.

    1. Emily says:

      Your approach is the one I want to take so I’m glad to hear you’re still working it. I hope we’re able to redeem some miles at some point, but if not no harm.

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