If you have traveled by air the past two months, you may already have noticed some big changes with your favorite airline loyalty program in the new year. Airlines are always making changes to frequent flyer programs (usually resulting in the devaluation of your hard-earned miles), but the changes in 2015 are bigger than most. More changes are likely on the way as well.
The most significant change in 2015 is that two major U.S. domestic legacy airlines have gone “revenue-based.” This means that you no longer earn miles based on the distances you fly. Instead, you earn miles based on the amount you pay for your ticket.
Airlines have additional bonuses and multipliers for elite travelers. This means an infrequently flying family will earn fewer miles than a business traveler with high-level status even if they pay the same price for a flight. The new programs are meant to better reward the most profitable customers for the airlines, but if you’ve been collecting miles for a long time with a particular trip goal in mind, having the rules change on you mid-stream is never comforting.
These new rules may mean you need to change your accrual strategies or even consider switching to another airline. Before you do anything drastic, however, make sure you first know the lay of the land across all the frequent flyer programs.
Here is a summary of the key differences (a few good but many bad) you might notice in 2015. There are a number of smaller changes that have been made that affect those with elite status on many of these airlines as well. (If you have status, now is the time to check the fine print with your airline’s frequent flyer program too.)
Delta Airlines SkyMiles
- As of January 1, 2015, miles are awarded based on price paid with elite members getting more miles per dollar spent.
- Reportedly, there are more “saver” award tickets available (Delta had been notorious for a lack of saver ticket availability for many years), but many flyers are also reporting that these saver awards are only available for flights booked more than 21 days in advance.
- Delta now allows one-way award bookings for half the price of round trip travel (although some other airlines have offered half price one-way awards for a few years now, Delta was not among them until this year).
- Delta recently removed its published award chart from its website, drawing the ire of many SkyMiles loyalists. As a result, it is now harder to plan for a redemption you want on an upcoming trip because you can’t consult the chart. Many speculate that Delta may try secretly to inflate redemption prices over time as a result.
United Airlines MileagePlus
- As of March 1, 2015, miles are awarded based on price paid with elite members getting more miles per dollar spent.
- United has taken away a number of elite benefits in recent months as well. One of the most discussed is that if elite members booked award tickets for friends and family with their MileagePlus miles, elite benefits used to be granted to those passengers too. That benefit has now been taken away. Many families with one parent who did a significant amount of business travel used to leverage these benefits for everyone in the family but can no longer do that (unless everyone is traveling together and booked on the same reservation).
American Airlines AAdvantage
- Due to the ongoing merger between US Airways and American Airlines, there are few changes to American’s AAdvantage program this year. That doesn’t mean that 2016 won’t have some big changes in store though.
- Customers with both USAirways Dividend Miles accounts and American AAdvantage accounts can now link the two accounts. Miles will be combined some time in the second quarter of 2015.
- In 2015, American is actually offering flyers with AAdvantage accounts bonus miles for the highest fare First and Business Class tickets (more than the number of miles flown). This gives the most lucrative business travelers some of the benefits of United & Delta’s changes without the burdens.
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- Southwest recently announced changes coming in April 2015 to its already existing revenue-based frequent flyer program. No specifics have been announced other than that “Beginning April 17, 2015, the number of Rapid Rewards Points needed to redeem for certain flights will vary based on destination, time, day of travel, demand, fare class, and other factors.” Pay close attention in coming weeks if you are a fan of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards.
Want to read more about frequent flyer miles and how to make the most of them? Further recommended reading:
- Frequent Flyer Miles 101: Basics Every Traveling Parent Should Know
- Want Free Travel? Rewards Programs Can Get You There
- Save Money with Frequent Flyer Miles & Points