With the changes in the earning structure for award miles this year, many fliers face new choices over which programs are the better ones to credit to. Which program(s) will offer the most/best benefits long term if the redeemable miles are being stripped in the earnings?
Mileage Program Earning Shifts
We have seen the gutting of several programs over the last year or so when it comes to earning miles flown on airlines. The two that come to mind the quickest are Delta and United. With both airlines, the days of flying cheap fares to earn miles are over since mileage earning is tied to the price of the ticket.
Elite Miles Intact
The good news was that the earning of the miles when it came to the elite side of things stayed intact. In other words, the earning of miles that could be redeemed for award travel began to be tied to the price of the ticket (so cheaper tickets earned fewer miles, regardless of the distance flown) but the amount of elite miles earned was still tied to the distance flown. That is still the case with Delta and United.
Alaska Airlines – The Best Crediting Option?
With the change of award mileage earning with Delta and United, many people began to credit these flights to other airlines. In the case of Delta, Alaska Airlines began to be a very popular choice. Well, Alaska changed their earnings chart for Delta flights, essentially cutting the amount of miles credited for elite status down to as low as 25% for the cheapest fares.
Now, this has happened again with Alaska updating their earnings chart for flights flown on British Airways (according to One Mile At A Time). Same as before, the cheaper fare classes earn less than they used to. While this is not tied directly to the dollar spent for the earning potential, in a way it is. Since lower fare classes = cheaper ticket, the cost of your ticket will have some relation to the amount of miles earned.
And this has happened again – this time with Air France/KLM. Now it is becoming more difficult over choosing where to credit miles from certain flights because of the earning structure changes with partner fare classes.
Partner Fare Class Earnings Being Cut
But, this brings up an even bigger difficulty – what do you do with flights you booked on an airline for the express purpose of earning miles? While the trip may not be solely to earn miles, many people will select a particular airline – even if it costs more – in order to earn those elite miles for qualification/re-qualification.
I am currently an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K member thanks to a status match last year. I fully intended on requalifying but that will be difficult to do with the shaving of the earning capacity on the lower fare classes of partners. Instead, I am needing to focus on my primary carrier now, Aegean Airlines. But, the problem going on with Alaska and her partners is not just their problem.
It is common now to see airlines publish new earning tables for partner fare classes and put them into effect with no notice. This really stinks if you had booked a flight on a partner to credit the miles to your primary program for elite purposes – only to finally take the flight and learn that you only get half of the miles you had planned.
This is a problem I am facing now because my travel thus far this year has been much more award travel than I had originally planned. While that is great to get to maximize my miles in that way, it has cut into my ability of earning miles for elite status again.
So, I am planning a couple of trips to cap out my status earning for the new year but I have to be careful with how I book them. If I book them during a great sale for travel five months from now, I may find that those fare classes have been cut by then.
Use Higher Fare Classes
One solution is to search for fare classes that are of the higher earning capacity. With many carriers, it may be possible to bump up as many as 3-5 fare classes (and get into the “safe” zone) for only 10% more than you may have already been paying. Booking those tickets will make you more confident that your fare earning for status is safer than with the lower classes.
Book Business Class
This may sound stupid, but depending on where/when/what airline you are trying to fly to credit the miles from, you may find that business class is a relatively inexpensive alternative. Not only will you be assured that those fare classes will maintain their earning integrity, but you will also likely earn more miles from class of service bonuses (plus, it will be a more comfortable journey!).
We have seen some incredible business class deals lately from the US to Europe – in some cases, cheaper than economy (around $1,100 – $1,200 roundtrip). If you search for business class out of some cities in Europe, Egypt, or Sri Lanka, that price can easily be matched on an almost consistent basis.
Book Now, Fly SOON
Another option is to book tickets now for travel in the next few days/week. While an airline may make a change to your fare that you are flying on, the chances of that happening so quickly are slimmer than waiting months. Not only that, but if you book tickets now for travel in 2 days, you will have 24 hours (or more, depending on where you book them) to cancel for free. Online agencies like Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz all offer 24 hours or more and services like Expedia will actually let you see the fare class you are buying before you buy it.
Crediting miles to partners can be one of the best ways to earn status and earn award miles since the changes to Delta and United. However, the cutting of these fare class earnings is beginning to happen more and without prior warning. How will you plan to gain status in light of these changes?