Frequent Flier Miles Will Soon Favor the Rich

Libby Kane
Posted

Airplane in the SkyWe don’t need to tell you that air travel is expensive.

That’s even with airline loyalty programs, which generally grant frequent-flier miles to travelers based on the distance traveled. These are later redeemed for a free trip (or part of a trip).

But rewarding customers this way is slowly being abandoned by the industry. MarketWatch reports that, following the example of JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America, Delta will change the structure of its loyalty program starting in 2015.

A rewards program based on mileage means someone who flies cross-country in a middle seat halfway down the plane earns the same miles as someone flying that same route in business class, even though they paid different amounts for their legroom—or lack thereof.

Starting next year, miles will instead be based on money spent. Fliers without elite status will earn five miles per dollar spent, while those with elite status (which you get by … spending more money) may earn up to 11.

The drawback to this approach is pretty clear: People who can afford to spend more money (or expense their travel to their company) will be disproportionately rewarded. With the new system, those of us who spend less on air travel will lose ground.

Then again, the miles-for-dollars approach isn’t without logic. Just like your favorite store rewards you for dollars spent—not times visited—it makes sense that airlines like Delta want to reward the people who spend the most money with them. After all, air travel, just like a retailer, is a business.

For you deal-hunting travelers who need to look elsewhere to save money for your next trip, keep these best times to book tickets in mind and make sure to check out our insider tips to beat excessive airline fees.

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  • Adrienne

    I’m sorry, this headline is garbage–changes to frequent flyer miles are a first world problem, not a populist rallying cry. I am disappointed in you LearnVest.