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Why You Shouldn’t Be Loyal To Frequent Flier Programs


by Cathe Rubio



When it comes to earning and redeeming miles and points, many travelers are familiar with frequent flier programs offered by airlines. These programs promise a range of benefits, from free flights and upgrades to exclusive perks for loyal customers. However, while frequent flier programs may initially seem like a great way to save money and enhance your travel experience, there are some reasons why you shouldn’t be too loyal to these programs.


In this article, we will explore some of the drawbacks of frequent flier programs and why it may be beneficial to consider alternative ways to save on flights. From lack of flexibility to high redemption rates, understanding these issues can help you make more informed decisions about how to maximize your travel rewards.


It’s important to note that this article does not aim to discredit frequent flier programs entirely, as they can still provide value for some travelers. However, it’s crucial to evaluate the pros and cons before committing to one program exclusively.


Lack of Flexibility

One of the major drawbacks of frequent flier programs is the lack of flexibility. Most programs have a set number of miles required for a free flight, and these redemption rates can vary depending on the distance of the flight and the class of service. This means that if you want to book a flight during peak travel periods or to popular destinations, you may find that the required number of miles is significantly higher than during off-peak times.


Furthermore, frequent flier programs often have limited or no availability on certain flights. This can be especially frustrating when you have a specific destination and travel date in mind, only to discover that there are no award seats available. Some programs also have blackout dates during which awards cannot be redeemed, further limiting your options.


Another issue with frequent flier programs is the restrictions placed on changing or canceling award bookings. In many cases, making changes to your itinerary or canceling a flight can result in hefty fees or the loss of your miles altogether. This lack of flexibility can be particularly problematic if your travel plans change or if you need to reschedule your trip.


In contrast, alternative ways to save on flights, such as using travel credit cards or booking through online travel agencies, often offer more flexibility. These options allow you to book flights with a variety of airlines, giving you a greater chance of finding available award seats that fit your travel needs.


Limited Seat Availability

One of the frustrations frequent flier program members often experience is limited seat availability. While many programs advertise the ability to use your miles for free flights, the reality is that there are often very limited seats allocated for award redemption on each flight.


This means that even if you have accumulated a significant number of miles, you may find it difficult to use them for the flights you want. The most desirable routes and popular travel dates tend to have very limited availability, making it challenging to secure award seats. This is especially true during peak travel seasons and on popular routes.


Furthermore, many airlines prioritize selling seats for cash instead of making them available for award redemption. This is because selling tickets for cash generates revenue for the airline, whereas award tickets are seen as a cost to the airline. As a result, airlines may release only a small percentage of their total seat inventory for award redemptions.


For travelers with inflexible schedules or those who prefer to book their flights well in advance, the limited seat availability of frequent flier programs can be a significant hindrance. This can lead to frustration and disappointment, especially when you have accumulated a substantial number of miles but cannot find available award seats for your desired flights.


On the other hand, alternative ways to save on flights, such as using travel reward credit cards or booking through flexible travel portals, offer more options and availability. By using these methods, you can often find a wide range of flights, even during peak travel periods, giving you more flexibility in planning your trips.


High Redemption Rates

Another drawback of frequent flier programs is the high redemption rates. While earning miles may seem relatively easy through flights, credit card spending, or partner promotions, the value you get when redeeming those miles can be disappointing.


Many airlines have increased their redemption rates over the years, making it more challenging to find good value for your accumulated miles. This means that even if you have saved up a substantial number of miles, you may still need to pay a significant amount out-of-pocket to cover taxes, fees, and surcharges associated with the award ticket.


In addition, certain routes or premium cabins often require a significantly higher number of miles to redeem for a free flight. For example, business class or first class seats typically have much higher redemption rates compared to economy class seats. This can make it difficult for travelers to affordably upgrade to premium cabins using their miles.


Another factor to consider is the devaluation of miles by airlines. Frequent flier programs can change their redemption rates or the value of miles without notice, making it harder to plan and maximize the value of your miles. This can be frustrating, as it diminishes the purchasing power of your accumulated miles and reduces the benefits you can receive.


Alternative ways to save on flights, such as utilizing flexible travel rewards credit cards, often provide more value and better redemption rates. These programs often have fixed-value rewards, where each point or mile is worth a set amount towards travel expenses. This eliminates the worry of devaluations and allows you to have more control over how you redeem your rewards.


Expired Miles

One of the frustrations that frequent flier program members face is the expiration of their hard-earned miles. Many airline loyalty programs have policies in place that require members to either earn or redeem miles within a certain timeframe to prevent them from expiring.


This can be a significant drawback, especially for travelers who do not fly frequently or who may not have the opportunity to use their miles before they expire. It can feel like a waste to see your miles vanish simply because you weren’t able to find suitable flight options or because you didn’t have the chance to earn additional miles within the designated time period.


Expiration policies can vary among different frequent flier programs, with some airlines imposing a strict expiration timeframe, such as one or two years from the date of the last activity, while others may offer more generous expiration policies. Regardless, it is crucial to stay informed about the rules of your chosen program and take steps to prevent your miles from expiring.


Some programs allow you to extend the validity of your miles by earning or redeeming at least a small number of miles within a certain period. Others offer co-branded credit cards that can help keep your miles active as long as you maintain the card and use it regularly.


However, the risk of expired miles can be a deterrent for travelers who want the peace of mind of accumulating rewards over time without the pressure to use them. This is where alternative ways to save on flights, such as utilizing flexible travel rewards credit cards, play a significant role. With these programs, your rewards typically do not expire as long as your account remains active and in good standing.


By choosing an option with non-expiring rewards, you can accumulate points or miles at your own pace and redeem them when it’s most convenient for you, without the worry of losing them due to expiration policies.


Frequent Changes in Program Rules

One of the challenges that frequent flier program members face is the frequent changes in program rules. Airlines have the ability to modify their loyalty programs’ terms and conditions, including earning and redemption rates, elite status requirements, and even partnerships, at their discretion.


This can be frustrating for travelers who have invested time and effort into understanding and maximizing the benefits of a particular program, only to have the rules changed unexpectedly. These changes can significantly impact the value and usefulness of your accumulated miles and points.


For example, airlines may increase the number of miles required for award redemptions, making it more difficult to redeem your miles for free flights. They may also introduce new fees or restrictions that were not present when you initially joined the program.


Furthermore, program changes can hinder your ability to earn and maintain elite status. Airlines may raise the qualification thresholds or modify the benefits associated with each elite tier, making it more challenging to achieve the perks that you were previously entitled to.


Additionally, airlines can alter their partnerships and alliances, which can affect your ability to earn or redeem miles with certain partners. For example, if your preferred airline terminates its partnership with a hotel or rental car company that you frequently use, it can limit your earning potential or reduce the options available for redeeming your miles.


These frequent changes in program rules can create uncertainty and disrupt your loyalty and travel plans. It requires you to constantly stay updated on the latest program changes and adjust your earning and redemption strategies accordingly.


Alternatively, utilizing alternative ways to save on flights, such as using travel credit cards or booking through online travel agencies, can offer more stability and consistency. These options generally have set earning and redemption rates, allowing you to plan and maximize your rewards without the fear of constant program changes.


Inconvenient Partnerships

Frequent flier programs often boast partnerships with other airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and other travel-related businesses. These partnerships are meant to provide additional earning and redemption opportunities for program members. However, in reality, these partnerships can sometimes be inconvenient or restrictive.


One of the issues with partnerships is the limited availability of award seats or rooms. While a frequent flier program may have partnerships with several airlines or hotels, the actual availability of award options may be limited. This means that even if you have enough miles to redeem for a flight or hotel stay, you may not be able to find available options within the partnership network.


Furthermore, the process of booking award travel using partner airlines or hotels can be more complex and time-consuming compared to booking directly with the program’s parent airline or hotel. This can involve navigating different booking systems, dealing with separate loyalty accounts, and potentially facing additional fees or restrictions.


Another inconvenience of partnerships is the disparity in earning and redemption rates across different partners. Some airlines or hotels within the partnership network may offer more favorable earning rates, while others may require a higher number of miles for redemptions. This can make it challenging to consistently optimize your rewards when traveling with different partner brands.


In addition, partners may have different terms and conditions, which can further complicate the redemption process. For example, some partner airlines may have blackout dates or restrictions on certain routes, limiting your options for redeeming your miles.


Considering these inconveniences and restrictions, exploring alternative ways to save on flights and accommodations can be more advantageous. Travel reward credit cards with flexible redemption options often allow you to use your rewards on any airline or hotel, without being constrained by partnerships. This offers greater freedom and flexibility in choosing your travel options, making the redemption process more seamless and hassle-free.


Difficulty in Earning Elite Status

Earning elite status within a frequent flier program is often seen as a coveted achievement, as it comes with a range of exclusive benefits like priority boarding, airport lounge access, and bonus miles. However, attaining elite status can be quite challenging and may not be as rewarding as it seems.


One of the main factors that make earning elite status difficult is the high qualification requirements set by airlines. Typically, elite status is earned based on the number of qualifying miles or segments flown within a calendar year, along with a minimum spending requirement. This means that you not only have to accumulate a significant number of miles, but also spend a substantial amount on flights to qualify for elite status.


For infrequent travelers or those who primarily fly on discounted fares, reaching the qualification thresholds for elite status can be a daunting task. It may require extensive travel or a considerable financial investment in airline tickets, which may not be feasible for everyone.


In addition, some airlines have introduced revenue-based elite status qualification, where the amount of money spent on flights is the primary factor for earning status. This further adds to the difficulty, as even if you fly frequently, if your tickets are at lower fare classes, you may not accumulate enough spending to qualify for elite status.


Another challenge is maintaining elite status from year to year. Once you have achieved elite status, you are required to requalify every year to retain the benefits. This means that the pressure to continue flying with the same airline and meeting the qualification requirements can be overwhelming, especially if you have a change in travel patterns or preferences.


Considering the difficulty and commitment required to earn and maintain elite status, exploring alternative ways to enjoy travel perks and benefits can be more appealing. Travel reward credit cards, for example, often offer perks like airport lounge access, travel credits, and elite-like benefits without the need to meet stringent flight and spending requirements.


Ultimately, it’s essential to assess your travel habits, goals, and preferences to determine whether the benefits of elite status outweigh the challenges and if alternative options may offer a more suitable and attainable solution.


Alternative Ways to Save on Flights

While frequent flier programs have their limitations, there are alternative ways to save on flights that can offer greater flexibility and value. These options provide an opportunity to earn and redeem rewards without the constraints and restrictions commonly found in airline loyalty programs.


1. Travel Reward Credit Cards: Utilizing travel reward credit cards is an excellent alternative to frequent flier programs. These cards allow you to earn points or miles on your everyday expenses and offer flexible redemption options. You can often use these rewards to book flights with any airline, without worrying about limited availability or blackout dates. Additionally, many travel credit cards provide other perks like travel insurance, airport lounge access, and statement credits for travel expenses.


2. Online Travel Agencies: Booking flights through online travel agencies (OTAs) can be another way to save. OTAs often offer competitive prices and deals on flights, allowing you to find affordable options for your desired travel dates. Some OTAs also have their own loyalty programs or reward systems that allow you to earn points or discounts on future bookings.


3. Fare Comparison Websites: Make use of fare comparison websites to compare prices across multiple airlines at once. These websites aggregate flight information from various sources to help you find the best deals and save money on your flights. By comparing prices across different airlines, you can ensure you are getting the best possible fare.


4. Flight Deals and Flash Sales: Keep an eye out for flight deals and flash sales offered by airlines or travel websites. These limited-time promotions often provide significant discounts on flights to various destinations. Signing up for email newsletters or following airlines and travel websites on social media can help you stay informed about these deals and enable you to take advantage of them when they arise.


5. Loyalty Programs with Travel Partners: Instead of focusing solely on airline loyalty programs, consider loyalty programs offered by other travel partners. Hotels, car rental companies, and online travel agencies often have their own loyalty programs that allow you to earn and redeem rewards for travel-related expenses. By diversifying your loyalty memberships, you can accumulate rewards from various sources and have more options for savings.


By exploring these alternative ways to save on flights, you can have more control over your travel rewards and enjoy greater flexibility in booking and redeeming your flights. These options may provide a more seamless and rewarding travel experience, free from the limitations and restrictions commonly associated with frequent flier programs.



While frequent flier programs have long been touted as the ultimate way to save on flights and earn travel rewards, it’s important to acknowledge their limitations and consider alternative options. The lack of flexibility, limited seat availability, high redemption rates, and the risk of expired miles can be significant drawbacks for frequent flier program members. Additionally, the frequent changes in program rules and the difficulty in earning elite status can add to the frustration.


Fortunately, there are alternative ways to save on flights that provide greater flexibility, value, and convenience. Utilizing travel reward credit cards, booking through online travel agencies, and taking advantage of fare comparison websites can offer more options and savings without the restrictions of frequent flier programs. Exploring loyalty programs with travel partners and staying informed about flight deals and flash sales are additional strategies to consider.


Ultimately, the choice of whether to stick exclusively to frequent flier programs or to explore alternative options depends on individual travel preferences, frequency, and flexibility. It’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of each approach and determine which method aligns best with your travel goals and lifestyle.


By considering the drawbacks of frequent flier programs and exploring alternative ways to save on flights, you can have more control over your travel rewards and enjoy a more seamless and rewarding travel experience. Whether it’s through travel credit cards, online travel agencies, or other loyalty programs, these alternatives can offer greater value, flexibility, and convenience in your quest to save on flights and enhance your travels.