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Here Are the Changes to Frequent Flyer Programs You Need to Know About

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Points of Departure

Travelers are a fickle bunch so one surefire way to “buy” their loyalty has been through dangling elite air-mile status and frequent-flyer points. Whether done through a frequent-flyer program or indirectly through a tie-up with a brand name credit card, hotel chain, the goal is simple, to encourage you to accrue and spend those loyalty miles/points. 


While 2020 was the year of no travel, 2021 is the year of frequent-flyer program changes, which has been a mixed bag of positive and not-so-positive developments. According to WalletHub, “five of the 10 largest airlines are offering more rewards value in 2021 than in 2020, sweetening the pot by an average of 30 percent.” Major airlines like Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest, and Frontier Airlines have all said accrued miles will not expire because of inactivity, and for the aspiring elite traveler, chalking up those status miles has just gotten a lot easier. While there’s talk of airlines potentially devaluing points and changing award charts, for now, these are the changes to note and take action accordingly. 


Related: 25 Carry-On Essentials to Pack for Your Next Flight

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Expect More Ways to Spend Your Miles

While travel has yet to bounce back fully, one of the perks has been airlines like Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines implementing a no-expiration policy for frequent flier miles. Axel Hernborg of Tripplo foresees airlines making the most of the link between customer satisfaction and mileage redemption by giving travelers more options to spend their miles. 


“Just as airlines are leveraging data to drive intelligence into their rewards programs, members are better leveraging data to understand how they want to spend their valuable miles. For instance, when it comes to seat selection, the value travelers place on seat selection has skyrocketed. Also, other benefits like free bags, more legroom, and overhead bin space, [JetBlue’s "Blue Basic" tickets have to pay extra to carry on a bag stored in overhead bins], these features are now available for purchase.”

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Use Your Points Before They're Devalued

Even frequent flyer miles are not safe from “inflation.” While there are plenty of bonus promotions and accelerated reward points being extended currently, it is still a good idea to use your miles when you can. 


"During the pandemic, people were still earning copious miles and points through credit card spending with nowhere to go. Even in normal times, airlines, hotels, and credit card companies issue more miles and points daily than they can handle on the redemption side. This means that as the imbalance between awarded miles and points grows against a limited supply of award inventory, it only makes sense that more devaluations are on the way. It is never a good idea to hoard points; instead, redeem them when you have saved up enough for the reward that you want,” says travel writer Ramsey Qubein


Related: 15 Worst Domestic Airports, According to Travelers


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Be Aware of Award Charts Changes

Frequent flyers know that award prices vary greatly on certain routes and airlines. Already there have been under-the-radar changes with British Airways quietly increasing the number of Avios points needed for redemptions on partner airlines Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, as outlined by The Points Guy, and they won’t be the alone, so keeping track of what’s happening will be crucial. 


“Kudos to travel companies like Alaska and American Airlines and Marriott for continuing to issue award charts that provide a general guide on how much you need to save to achieve a particular award redemption. As they switch to full dynamic pricing (where the cost of an award is based on the date and particular demand for travel), other travel brands have removed these guidelines making it difficult to know how much you might need for a particular award. Changing the goalposts (or not providing any, to begin with) makes it difficult for travelers to get the best value for their points." says Qubein. 


Related: 15 Expert Secrets to Stress-Free Flying


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Your Miles Could Expire

Airlines have not had it easy since the onset of the pandemic, and what’s not making things easier are the unused air miles that would normally be redeemed over a year. As reported by Bloomberg, “Liabilities tied to the five most valuable airline-loyalty programs in the U.S. soared almost 12 percent to $27.5 billion last year, according to a new analysis by LendingTree Inc.’s consumer-finance website ValuePenguin. Airlines looking to shore up their balance sheets could reduce the value of those rewards or reinstate policies that allow miles or points to expire.” 


While many airlines have automatically extended their member’s elite status until 2022/2023, the rules and benefits can change overnight


Insider Tip: If you’re finding it hard to spend your miles, consider donating them to the charity Miles4Migrants, which helps displaced people.


Related: 13 Travel Rewards Loopholes and Hacks to Get You More Points

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It’ll Be Harder to Use Miles to Fly First Class

Strategizing the best way to spend air miles normally involves “splurging” on a first-class seat. In pre-pandemic times, this was already a tricky scenario, according to God Save The Points, but now it’s even trickier. As of Aug. 31, 2021, Alaska Mileage Plan and JAL Mileage Bank mile holders can no longer book Emirates first class award seats as this privilege will be extended only to its Skywards holders. While they aren’t the first airline to do this — Singapore Airlines has always reserved its first or business class awards seats for its Krisflyer members — it’s a miles-expenditure opportunity many travelers will miss. 


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Southwest Wants to Reward Your Social Clout

Southwest is offering 100,000 bonus points if you refer up to five friends to become one of their co-branded cardholders. While the deadline of Jan. 4, 2022, is looming, there’s still time to hustle your crew to get approved. Aside from the bonus boost, according to The Points Guy, the points also count toward earning a Southwest Companion Pass, which is a year’s worth of free companion flights on all Southwest-operated flights, domestic or international. 


Insider Tip: The 100,000 points are approximately worth $1,500, so expect a 1099 form, as it will be a taxable incident.

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Chase Credit Cards Get an Upgrade

Frequent travelers know that having a Chase-backed travel credit card is a good move as its Ultimate Rewards points are transferable to 10 airlines like United, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines. And their offer has just gotten better with recent updates to the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve card. For a start, they’re not increasing the annual fee on either ($95, Preferred; $550, Reserve) even with amped-up reward benefits. These include extending a $50 hotel credit (Preferred) and $300 travel credit (Reserve) and boosting its Ultimate Reward points from between 3X-5X for travel, dining, streaming services, and online grocery store purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs). So which is the better card? Dustin Waller of Waller's Wallet recommends the Chase Sapphire Preferred for its affordable annual fee, and while it doesn’t grant lounge access, you earn 100,000 bonus points (versus 60,000 on the Reserve) points provided you spend $4,000 within the first three months. 

Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200LR
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Delta Extends Frequent Flyer Status Until 2023

Airlines are not tone deaf. They’re aware travelers have not been jetting about as they used to pre-pandemic, and the airlines are using their loyalty programs to reward their frequent flyers. 

  • Medallion status members will maintain their elite status until Jan. 31, 2023.

  • All Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) will roll over to 2022 to qualify for 2023 Medallion Status. 

  • SkyMiles members will continue to earn rewards at an accelerated rate on most tickets through Dec. 31, 2021. 

  • As of Feb. 1, 2022, those who qualified for Medallion status in 2021 will receive complimentary upgrades ahead of those at the same tier level who had their status extended. 

Allegiant
Allegiant

Allegiant Launches Allways Rewards

It’s simple, fee-free, revenue-based (every dollar spent earns one Allways Rewards point, two for every dollar for purchases above $500) and you can pool points as a family. Low-cost carrier Allegiant has kept its no-frills appeal with its newly launched frequent-flyer program that comes without restrictions, blackout dates, or mileage tracking — basically what many travelers would like to see in their frequent flyer programs. 


“This program is about always earning, redeeming, and getting something in return — without having to calculate miles, or worry about exceptions like blackout dates and point expiration," said Scott DeAngelo, Allegiant executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "It specifically benefits the way that leisure travelers fly, where they stay, and how they play. Always Rewards members are free to spend their points at any time, in any amount for anything sold at Allegiant.com.”  


The only downside to this program is the points expire after 24 months of inactivity. 


Insider Tip: Members also are entitled to a 5 percent discount on airfare purchased at Allegiant.com, and membership includes special travel discounts, live events, and sports-related ticket giveaways and promotions.

American Airlines
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American Airlines and JetBlue Buddy Up

This isn’t fresh news, but American and JetBlue's Northeast Alliance might boost your frequent-flyer mile stash when used correctly. Travelers now earn AAdvantage miles and elite status credits when flying JetBlue, for those flying on American Airlines, earning TrueBlue points and Mosaic elite status is now possible. Rather than basing point accumulation via flight distance, it’ll be based on the fare paid. 

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Look for Reciprocal Benefits

When airlines decide to partner up, the benefits for travelers can be huge. American and JetBlue have also announced launching reciprocal elite perks, One Mile At a Time tells us to expect the following: 

  • Priority check-in

  • Priority security

  • Priority boarding

  • Up to two complimentary checked bags

Skywards
Emirates Skywards

Skywards+ Has Added a Subscription Model

You have a monthly subscription for everything from your streaming media to your coffee and protein bars, so why not have one for your frequent-flyer miles? Emirates has just launched its Skywards+, an online subscription platform starting from $399 that’ll dish out bonus checked bag allowance, lounge access, and 20 percent bonus Skywards miles on flights. While this program caters to travelers who fly frequently by Emirates, this could well be a trend other airlines soon adopt to entice more loyal travelers to their brand. 


Hawaiian Airlines Jet in Maui
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Hawaiian Airlines Miles Never Expire

The folks at Hawaiian Airlines know how to extend the spirit of Aloha. Besides a no-expiry miles policy, they’re allowing mileage points to be redeemed toward the cost of their pre-travel COVID-19 tests and halving the requirements needed to qualify for Pualani Gold or Pualani Platinum status. 


For newbies to their loyalty program, they’re currently offering 70,000 miles (after $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening) for their co-branded MasterCard that earns triple Hawaiian Miles (redeemable on JetBlue, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia, etc) on all qualifying purchases and which gets the first checked bag free. For the annual fee of $99, that’s not too bad.

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Book Flights on Qatar with Alaska’s Mileage Plan Points

With Alaska Airlines joining the OneWorld alliance earlier in the year, it opened up the option to earn miles on partner airlines like American Airlines and British Airways, but it’s only as of August that partner redemption offers have gone live. The first to kick off is Qatar Airways where flying from the U.S. to the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East costs 42,500 miles in economy, 85,000 miles in business, with complimentary stopovers in Doha (even on one-way tickets) and no fuel surcharge. Other airlines are expected to announce redemption award charts later this year, according to One Mile At A Time


Related: Goodbye, Baggage Fees: 10 Carry-On Tips

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American Airlines Gets Rid Of Reduced Mileage Award Benefit

Loyalty has its rewards, and in the past, holders of American Airlines co-branded credit cards were privy to a sweet perk: a mileage discount saving up to 7,500 miles off a round-trip award ticket. Sadly, this is coming to an end as of Oct. 1, 2021. Since there’s no charge levied for changes or cancellations made on award tickets, this might be the last chance to maximize this mileage-discount benefit.

Insider Tip: There will still be Web Special Awards (​​special awards tickets available on select dates to certain destinations) for AAdvantage members. One Mile At A Time has some handy tips.