Airline Miles Don't Go as Far as They Used To

Airline Miles Don't Go as Far as They Used To

First the in-flight meal, now the miles.

The Wall Street Journal points out that airline miles programs, which traditionally have allowed loyal travelers to earn miles exchanged for tickets, are fading fast.

It's not because no one uses them—in fact, it may be because too many people want to.

Fewer Tickets, Higher Prices

The Journal writes that airlines set mile "prices" for tickets much like they set cash prices, based on demand. More popular flights are more expensive, less desirable trips are cheaper. Now, as airlines suffer through the recession, one of the ways they can bring in more cash is by upping the number of miles needed to earn the lowest tier of ticket. Since airlines are also dialing back flights to cut costs, there is generally a higher flight capacity and fewer unsold seats that would have been offered for miles.

While the standard lowest price for a ticket is 25,000 miles, major airlines in the United States now offer an extremely limited amount of flights at that price—The Wall Street Journal found only seven cross-country flight dates from Portland, Oregon to New York in the entire second half of this year.

Miles, after all, are money. You have to spend to get them, so asking for more miles in exchange for a ticket is effectively upping the price, making your miles less valuable.

What's a Traveler to Do?

We can just go ahead and add this to the list of crappy things airlines are doing to us (the other eight are here). The worst part about airlines changing their policies is that it's extremely difficult to work around the new rules. We can help you out by advising the best ways to book travel, which airlines are best to let your kids fly alone on and even how to avoid baggage fees, but our reach just doesn't extend to expanding dates available for lowest-cost travel.

After all, we never got back our in-flight meals.

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