Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Even Bother With Frequent Flyer Miles?

“The Wall St. Journal [says] American, United and US Airways [are] the most at-risk [of bankruptcy].” – Today in the Sky

“After leveraging everything from frequent-flier miles to spare jet engines, United is running low on assets that it can use as collateral.” – Chicago Tribune

“[Standard & Poor’s analyst Philip Baggaley] doesn’t rule out one or more carriers filing [for bankruptcy] as soon as this fall.” – Wall St. Journal

“At this point no one US airline is too big to die.... The industry is still too big – with too many network carriers, too many regional carriers and too many hubs.” – Swelblog

Why in the world are we (frequent or infrequent travelers) wasting time on accumulating airline frequent flyer miles? Sure, if we fly an airline and it has a mileage program (and virtually all do), we might as well accept the miles offered. But using credit cards with annual fees just for a few more miles? Deciding which car to rent based on how many miles we’ll receive? Shopping for products we don’t need to build up our mileage?

The travel/mileage blogosphere is awash in words about how to add gazillions of miles to your various airline frequent flyer mileage accounts. But nearly every method “costs” you something – an annual credit card fee; a cheaper price on a product that doesn’t offer miles; a hotel room that’s more conveniently located vs. one that gives you bonus miles. Some part of your time and your life.

Some of our favorite travel blogs are primarily concerned with ways to boost your mileage accounts. And we ourselves have probably taken nearly half our flights in the past five years on award tickets. But at what cost? And what of the future (or not) of your miles in an airline bankruptcy situation?

If you’re one of the top 1% who hasn’t been impacted by the world’s financial meltdown, maybe you don’t care about saving cold, hard cash. (But then you can pay for full-fare first class anyway.) But if you spend a dollar here and 10 dollars there just so you (we) can get a few more miles.... We’re beginning to think that’s nuts.

Yes, we’ll gladly take advantage of anything that is truly free or less expensive. There is absolutely no cost to using a cash-back credit card vs. one that has no reward scheme. There’s no reason to pay 3% for foreign purchases when some credit cards charge nothing extra. There’s no reason to pay more for an airline ticket than necessary – and there are several great airfare alert sites that offer timely fare information. Why not try for a better deal on a hotel room through an opaque booking site (if you’ll be happy with whatever hotel you end up in)? There’s no shame in wanting the most bang for your buck – the highest quality at the lowest price is our mantra.

So we’ve just about given up on bothering to collect frequent flyer miles in any way other than flying. Our world is too complicated as it is, and our time (and other ways of saving money) are more valuable than the vague intangibles of frequent flyer miles.