Many clients have made the argument that frequent flyer programs and credit cards that earn flight rewards are a good thing.

My reply is, “Are frequent flyer miles worth the hassle?”

Frequent flyer miles

Then I ask how their program works and when was the last time they redeemed a reward. Often they haven’t redeemed a reward in a long time and here are some reasons why:

  1. Plans Change. Airlines are under no obligation, except maybe good business practice, to tell customers when changes are coming, as is the case with American Airlines. Seemingly without warning they changed their reward miles program and even left parts of the program to-be-determined, irking many of their customers.

  2. Blackout dates. Many parents make the argument that frequent flyer miles will help them buy flights or earn vacations for their family. They find that when they go to book the flight or vacation, there are many blackout dates when they can’t even use their reward. Often they end up paying cash to travel on the dates they want, rather than the dates the airline says they can fly.

  3. Non-flight Rewards. Credit cards linked to frequent flyer miles often offer non-flight rewards. A friend recently received a gift that was redeemed using frequent flyer miles. I wondered how many things they had to purchase to get their “free” gift.

  4. Speaking of credit cards. This might surprise some of you. I don’t think credit cards are bad in and of themselves. It’s how we use them that can get us into trouble. You can receive points, sometimes even frequent flyer miles, when you use certain credit cards. This makes sense IF you use the card for recurring expenses AND can pay off the balance every month (but as a fair warning, you’re always operating one month behind – you’re using current month’s income to pay for last month’s expenses). Keep in mind it takes 25,000 miles or more to earn a free flight and thousands more than that to earn a vacation. If your monthly expenses are $2,000 and half of that is rent or mortgage that you can’t pay with a credit card, it’s going to take you a long time to earn a free flight. For most of us, it just doesn’t make sense.

  5. “Free” Flights. Not only does it take years to earn a free flight, except if you’re a frequent business traveler, the “free” flight isn’t exactly free. You have to spend a lot of money on flights to earn a free one. It really only makes sense for business travelers whose companies pay the expense of flights and who can use the earned miles for personal travel. To them, the miles are free…sort of. There is typically a fee charged to redeem miles whether you’re a business traveler or not.

  6. A Mile Flown is a Mile Earned. At least that’s the case until 2015 when Delta changes their frequent flyer program. Today you can fly 1,000 miles and earn 1,000 frequent flyer miles. Next year you will earn whatever you pay for the flight. A $400 flight, for example, earns you 400 miles. It’s hard to rack up the 25,000 miles (or more) needed for an award flight when you’re acquiring next to nothing for each flight, no matter how many miles you fly.

For many of us, it makes more financial sense to avoid the hassle of frequent flyer miles and just find the best deals available for the dates we want to travel.

Tell me what you think – Do you use a credit card for its rewards? When was the last time you redeemed the rewards? How much did you have to spend to earn the reward?