Free flights may not be the best way to gather rewards from an airline frequent flier program. In many areas the reward miles market is over-saturated. There are too many people with too many miles and not enough reward seats.
Only 7% of airline seats per year are designated as reward ticket seats, according to IdeaWorks, a Wisconsin-based consulting firm that specializes in brand development.
Other ways that airlines are seeking to compensate and retain loyal customers are:
Letting frequent fliers use their miles at affiliated companies for other services that include car rentals, hotel stays, eating at restaurants and shopping.
“The more participating companies a particular program has, the easier and the more convenient it’s going to be to earn the most miles,” says Tim Winship, publisher of Frequentflier.com, which doles out frequent flier information and expert advice.
So how do you now know that you are flying with the right program?
Jay Sorenson, president of IdeaWorks, says people should make their decisions based on which airlines they fly most. Legacy carriers, because their programs offer more opportunities to earn points through credit cards, such as American Airlines’ AAdavantage Citi Mastercard or Delta’s Gold Delta SkyMiles American Express.
“Legacy networks are trying to reach out to every possible commercial relationship that a consumer might have,” says Sorensen.
However for casual travelers, newer airline rewards clubs, while not penetrating the market as much as legacy carriers, do have fewer people vying for seats so the chances are better for reward.
Winship also points out that it’s best to consider which airlines fly out of your hometown airport and your usual travel patterns when choosing a program.
The rewards future may be changing though, so don’t get too attached to the whole reward system as it is currently. “Five years from now, you’re not going to earn miles anymore,” Sorenson predicts. “You’re going to earn points, and your points will be tied to how much you are spending with these programs.”
More like rewards to consume, than rewards to actually fly?