Christopher Elliott just wrote an interesting piece on LinkedIn titled “Frequent flier programs are a scam – here’s why you should quit yours now.”
Mr. Elliott suggests you “Remove all the frequent flier cards from your pocket. Grab a pair of scissors, cut the plastic into tiny little pieces and toss it in the trash.” I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I say do the opposite. Travelers should sign up to as many reward programs as possible because it’s basically free money if you play the game right.
I’m not suggesting you stick to one airline or alliance because if you do then Chris has a point that “loyalty programs are the crack cocaine of the travel industry.” I know firsthand as I used to give 98% of my business to United Airlines and their Star Alliance partners. I would fly them even if they cost more money than a competing airline on the same route. Actually, I was so obsessed with my United miles I would check the account balance every day and back then you had to call. Even worse, I would make a connection just to fly United even if another airline was flying where I needed to go without a stop.
Fortunately, I snapped out of it. It happened when I needed to fly from Los Angeles to Albuquerque (ABQ) and United didn’t have a nonstop flight so I went through Denver. When I learned my colleague flew nonstop on Southwest for less money and beat me to ABQ by about four hours I realized it was time to stop drinking United’s Kool-Aid.
I was able to quit cold turkey and you can too. All you have to do is purchase tickets based on the cheapest price and most convenient flight times (be sure to factor in the ancillary fees like baggage, seat assignments, ticket changes…).
I fly over 150,000 miles a year but instead of giving my business to one airline I spread the love which saves me money. So I’m not a super elite on one airline but I’m at least a silver (lowest level) elite frequent flier on three airlines: American, Delta and United. Because each of those airlines are a member the three airline alliances I get perks on all of their partner airlines.
That’s important to me since I fly about 30 different airlines a year. And when I fly I want to be able to get a good seat assignment (preferably exit row aisle), access to cheap or free upgrades, special lines so I don’t have to wait and can board early so my bag will have a spot in the overhead bin.
Chris Elliott does have a point that frequent flier programs are scammy (ahem, Delta) and I admit they can be addicting. But if you buy the cheapest and most convenient ticket then there’s no reason to cut up your frequent flier cards. I’ve taken hundreds of flights all around the world thanks to using my frequent flier miles – including treating my parents first class to Europe on multiple occasions. That never would’ve happened if it wasn’t for taking a few minutes to sign up to airline’s mileage programs and keeping track of my number.
For those who argue they stick to one airline so they can check bags for free… There’s ways of getting around it. First of all, you shouldn’t be checking a bag domestically. I rarely check a bag — even when I flew around the world for weeks at a time. You just don’t need that many clothes. Trust me – if my wife can do it – so can you. However, if you must check a bag, ship it ahead of time using FedEx, UPS or USPS’s ground service. If you do it a week in advance it’s usually cheaper, more dependable and will save you time and money once you land. You won’t have to wait around the baggage carousel and can then take public transportation.
Keep in mind some airline credit cards give you free checked bags. Heck, anytime an airline is offering thousands of bonus miles just to sign up to their credit card I do. The trick is you have to pay your bill off on time and negotiate or cancel it after a year if they won’t waive the annual fee. Here’s a list of the best travel credit cards and yes I do make a small commission on them but it doesn’t cost you anymore money and I would still be recommending them regardless if they paid me or not.
I could go on for hours on why you shouldn’t cut up your frequent flier cards but I’m about to book an award ticket so I can fly home for FREE.
Do you agree with me or Chris Elliott?
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.