MADISON Wis. (6/9/10)--Planning to fly this summer? Expect full flights, higher prices, delays, and a difficult time using frequent flyer miles. The number of first-class, business-class, and economy class travelers is up more than 7% from a year ago, and those increases are in no way being matched by increases in passenger seats. Air Transport Association, the trade group for the American airline industry, says domestic capacity will only increase about 0.2% this summer over last year (The New York Times
June 1). In April, Delta, United, American, Continental, and US Airways averaged domestic load factors of 85%--the measure of how many seats on planes are occupied by paying customers. Airline loyalty programs are sitting on a cache of at least nine million frequent flyer miles, say some observers. With planes filling up with paying customers and airlines not increasing the number of potential seat availability, it becomes obvious that airline reward programs will pay off less frequently (frequentflyer.com
May). Frequent flyer programs started in 1981; by 2005 travelers had accumulated more than five trillion
unused miles. Where once consumers racked up rewards by flying, today consumers are more likely to rack up miles based on credit card reward programs. As a result, today there are more miles chasing fewer reward seats. In 2008, airlines began making program changes that made it more difficult and costly to exchange miles for free tickets and upgrades. All this means travelers will have to be even more diligent when trying to recoup frequent flyer miles. Here are some suggestions from frequentflyer.com
* Choose one frequent flyer program and concentrate your mileage earning in that program. * Monitor your account and look for new mileage-building opportunities. * Know how to get points from partner programs--businesses that reward miles with your particular frequent flyer program. * Track your miles diligently. Keep receipts and reconcile mileage statements. * Monitor expiration dates of your miles and redeem them before they expire. * Make your plans as early as possible; space is limited.
For more information, read “Rx for Airline Cancellations and Delays” and listen to “Travel Packages: Are Bundled Vacation Deals a Bargain?” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center