Over the last year and a half, several airline loyalty programs decided to ditch their awards charts and switch to dynamic award pricing. This includes one of my favorite programs — Air France /Flying Blue — along with others like Hawaiian Airlines (which is now offering a range of miles for each flight) and United MileagePlus. Of course, Delta SkyMiles hasn’t had an award chart since 2015.
Airlines dropping award charts isn’t anything new, but it is annoying. After all, how can you plan for an award when you have no idea how many miles you’ll need once you’re ready to book? It’s hard enough to find Saver availability — or the cheapest flights in miles on any given route — with an award chart. Now we are basically left to guess and hope for the best.
My Airline Rewards Strategy
The erratic behavior airline loyalty programs exhibit is one of the reasons I think loyalty is dumb — at least for me. There’s zero chance I’m going to stick with an airline that may or may not be the least expensive when they can’t even inform me of how many miles I’ll need for an award.
So, here’s what I’ve been doing instead.
- I focus on earning flexible points. I love earning flexible points with programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards first and foremost. Both programs let me earn points on my regular spending then transfer to airlines if I want to. I like having flexible points instead of airline miles because I get to “shop around” among frequent flyer programs to see which is offering the best deal for the flights I want. For example, I can rack up Chase Ultimate Rewards then decide later on whether to transfer points to United, Southwest, British Airways, Air France, or others depending on where I’m going.
- I score big signup bonuses and use them when I find a good deal. I also pursue signup bonuses from co-branded airline credit cards, which is why I have so many Delta SkyMiles right now. Even when utilizing programs without an award chart, credit card signup bonuses offer enough miles that it’s worth the effort to earn them. With a co-branded credit card from Delta, United, Southwest, or another airline, you can earn a big bonus then wait for the perfect trip to use it.
The Bottom Line
Any time a rewards program announces changes, it’s always going to be bad news. Hotel, airline, and credit card programs aren’t in the business of increasing the value they offer, after all. If anything, their goal is giving as little as possible while still retaining their market share.
Still, I don’t think dynamic award pricing is all bad news. Air France/Flying Blue used to start their one-way economy trips to Europe at 25,000 miles, but I’ve found many routes for 22,500 miles lately and booked one the other day.
Either way, all we can do is make the most of the programs as they’re offered — even as award charts disappear.
How are you dealing with new airline changes?
[Image Source: Wikimedia/ Kentaro Iemoto]
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