Airline Frequent Flyer Points: Are They Useless?

For years and years, I’ve collected airline frequent flyer points.  Like any good traveler, I’ve looked at the award charts and come to the fortunate conclusion that with only 25,000 miles I can get a free roundtrip to anywhere in the United States.  Cool.

The Problem with Airline Frequent Flyer Points

1. Flight Availability

The deceptive thing about airline frequent flyer points is that, though they offer you the opportunity to get a ‘free’ roundtrip for only 25,000 points, you very rarely can actually find a flight available for your city pair and dates.

I was reminded of this frustrating reality just a few weeks ago when I was planning some upcoming travel in the States.  Equipped with sufficient Continental points, American points, and Delta points, I figured I would be able to use points for at least one of my three flights. 

However, after searching different date combinations and city pairs, I found out that economy seats were not available on a single one of my flights.  Three city pairs, three different programs, and not a single flight available for the 25,000 points.

2.  Flyer Point Fees

When you use points for flights, you will still be responsible for a chunk of change that helps cover taxes and fees.  The worst part is that if you  change your travel plans later even if you are using points, you will be subject to more points and fees.

3.  Flyer Miles Points Have A Low Value

Because of the issue of availability, miles become more and more useless.  Each time you try to book a flyer miles flight and you don’t, you now have a larger surplus of points.  The problem is your neighbor also has a larger surplus of points because she wasn’t able to find an economy flight either.  This trend is continuing in the wrong direction for consumers.  There is the same number of seats, but hundreds of thousands of miles are being stock piled. 

In the end, if you ever have a hope to use your points, you bite the bullet and use the flyer miles to book a flight that requires a lot of points because “we can’t use them anyways”.

If you are thinking about collecting air miles, just be aware that they are not nearly as valuable as they might appear.  For this reason I would never pay extra for points.

How Do You Successfully Book Flights with Frequent Flyer Points?

This is going to sound ridiculous, but here is the only way I’ve found that you can use points at the cheapest level to book award flights.  It almost seems as though you need to call the airline 10-12 months before your flight.  Then you need to have complete flexibility for your travel dates.  In addition, you might need to be willing to travel to a neighboring country just to get a flight to the area around your intended date of travel.

Useless Flyer Miles Conclusion

I collect flyer miles – when I fly.  However, as a money saving travel strategy, there are much better ways to get value out of our your credit card rewards or travel dollars.  Instead, I suggest focusing on accumulating hotel points at Starwood.  Starwood Starpoints offers the best flexibility and some great value for your points.  Thus, when given the choice of shopping online to get flight points, hotel points, or cash back, I’d either go with cash back or hotel points.

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