The Future of Flying on “Miles”

Last year my colleague wrote a great post about how to maximize frequent flyer miles. But if you are to believe recent news stories, the frequent flyer reward model (where miles are redeemed for tickets), seems poised to change in the near future – if not already changing.

Last week Delta Airlines updated a SkyMiles policy to prevent administrators and executors of estates from transferring mileage credit to other members in the event of a death in the family. And recently there have been rumors that some air carriers may convert from traditional mileage-based schemes to revenue-based schemes, like Southwest (where you earn points for every dollar spent, versus miles flown).

Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for CBS News, certainly believes change is the air. To paraphrase, he feels there is less incentive for airlines to give away free tickets when many are already flying at full capacity.

So what does all this mean? And how can you protect the miles that you have worked so hard to accumulate?

What You Should Do

1.    Do your research

As reported by USA Today, some airlines, like Delta Airlines, make it incredibly difficult to redeem miles so do some random flight searches to see if it is easy to redeem your miles for a ticket. If it isn’t, consider redeeming your miles with a partner airline.

2.    Don’t hoard your miles for a “dream trip”

Ultimately a mile that is redeemed today is worth more than tomorrow because you don’t know how programs will shift and change. Tomorrow it may cost you more miles for the same flight. Or there may be more blackout dates a month from now. Or, according to Mr. Greenberg, there may be a time when airlines switch out ticket rewards for lifestyle items like toasters, magazine subscriptions or even a box of chocolates. However, make sure that you are smart with how you spend your miles: you should aim to get at least two cents for every mile.

3.    If you are trying to reach a certain award level try and reach it now

If your primary goal is to get “elite status” with your favorite airline, do what you can to execute on that goal before there are higher costs. A good way to do this is by opening a mileage/points credit card with a big sign-up bonus. According to’s Best Credit Cards in America series, the PenFed Premium Travel Rewards from American Express and Capital One’s Venture and VentureOne Rewards are good options.

4.    Transfer miles to friends and family

If you have an obscene amount of miles stashed away and you don’t think that you will be “cashing them in” any time soon, consider transferring them to friends and family.

Featured Image: Commercial Airplane With Sunset (

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