Airlines make it harder to earn free flights for loyalty

Airline loyalty programs are losing much of their allure even for frequent flyers, and the rules for navigating the system have changed. Flying is no longer the best way to earn miles or points. The biggest bang for your buck comes from signing up for the right credit card.?And those come-ons from the airline to sell you miles? Ignore them unless you are very close to a qualifying for a big trip. Frequent-flyer programs get relatively little attention from Wall Street, and their financial importance to the airlines is not widely understood by travelers, who just hope to earn a free flight now and then. Airline profits are subject to vagaries like the price of fuel, the actions of competitors on key routes, even the weather. Amid all that uncertainty, the airlines have found a reliable source of revenue in selling miles to banks, which then use the miles to persuade consumers to sign up for the cards and use them as much as possible. The bottom line is that the business of selling miles is a very profitable one and has proven historically to be far less cyclical than the core airline, Joseph DeNardi, a Stifel analyst who tracks airlines, said this month in a note to clients. The downside for airline customers is that the world is awash in frequent-flier miles, and the airlines are constantly making each mile, or point, less valuable. Many trips don’t earn as many miles or points as they once did, and the price for claiming a reward flight keeps going up. In many cases, availability of reward seats on flights has gotten worse. It is harder to use miles at the price that people are expecting to pay, says Gary Leff, who writes the View from the Wing travel blog. Even for frequent flyers like Leff, a once-cherished benefit of the miles � using them to upgrade to first class � has been diminished because airlines sell more of those upgrades for cash. That doesn’t mean travelers shouldn’t sign up for the airline programs. After all, there is no charge for joining.

Source: Civil Aviation Authority, Qatar