Thursday, February 07, 2008

Choosing Frequent Flyer Programs

A couple of bloggers we regularly read and enjoy (View from the Wing and Smarter Travel) have recently discussed variations on the theme: “What Frequent Flyer Program To Choose.” A lot of words are spent on this versus that. To us, unless you are truly a “frequent” flyer, where you are aiming for elite status with its upgrades and other perks, the point is moot. You really don’t have to “choose” a preferred program, just join the FF program of any airline you fly – it costs you nothing, and it really isn’t hard to keep miles up-to-date with other activities (sending flowers, dining out, shopping, etc.).

Admittedly, the more miles you dump into the fewest number of programs, the better chance you have for reward flights and upgrades, but we think your airline travel preferences should be routing (non-stop), destinations, convenience (times of day, etc.), price, aircraft configuration/seating, and only then the airline’s FF program (especially with frequent-flyer seats notoriously hard to snag on many airlines). If you do fly a lot, you probably already know a lot about airlines and their FF programs, and then choosing an airline by its FF plan might make sense.

All that said, if you’re savvy enough to know every airline’s other airline partners, you are probably best off trying to consolidate miles in one program. In the View from the Wing article, the example is used of a hypothetical Houston passenger who would normally choose Continental’s FF program, yet who might be better off in Alaska’s program – even if flying Continental he can use an Alaska FF number and accumulate AK miles, which then could be used for FF tix on Alaska’s partners such as Continental, Delta, Northwest, Air France, or KLM. But then, I wonder if most travelers are sophisticated enough to even know which airlines partner with which others. We in the travel biz can get pretty focused on little details that the average traveler just isn’t aware of.