The Nightmare of Redeeming Frequent Flyer Miles

Well, it has been for me anyway.

I rack up frequent flyer miles on two airlines (I’ve given up on the others) by eating at select restaurants, staying at designated hotels, and by flying back and forth from Chicago to Hawaii. All I ask in return is to be able to redeem my miles every once in a while for a seat (okay, seats for my entire family) from the airport of my choice to the destination of my preference.

Why that is seemingly asking the impossible is beyond me.

I’m no stranger to frequent flyer programs and by now I am savvy enough to know that to remain profitable airlines place prime seats off-limits, pack passengers onto smaller planes and shorten expiration dates for using miles. I have been a United Airlines Mileage Plus member since 1984 and in my opinion it has never been tougher to use miles for flying than it is now.

Interestingly, airlines claim they are giving out more reward seats than ever. I suppose that’s why United Airlines recently sent me a letter that said effective December 31, 2007 I would have to post activity to my account every 18 months, down from 36 months per a new company policy.

That’s fine.

I also don’t mind that I have to be creative and flexible in order to use my miles. But the degree to which I have had to be open to “alternative routes” and constantly changing itineraries (after I’ve already booked a flight) is what I have a problem with.

Travel experts blame the mile redemption “challenges” to U.S. carriers’ decreased capacity following 9/11. Granted, the percentage of seats filled on U.S. carriers is up almost 10 percent from four years ago, which makes it hard on cash strapped airlines to hand out reward seats that they could sell. But frequent flyers weren’t the ones who designed the reward programs-—we just want the seats airlines promised we would be rewarded with if we remained loyal to them.

Do you have an award travel horror story to share?

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.