There are now more unredeemed frequent-flier miles in circulation than currency around the world, but the redemption rates for those miles are less than 8 percent. It begs the question: Do frequent-flier programs and hotel loyalty programs have value anymore? Peter sat down with Eric Rosen, managing editor of The Points Guy, to debate the current offers and hash out the best frequent-flier strategies.
Peter Greenberg: What is The Points Guy, Eric?
Eric Rosen: The Points Guy is a website where we talk about any kind of loyalty program under the sun including hotels, airlines, credit cards, car-rental programs. And in my opinion, there are still plenty of ways to get value out of your points and miles out there.
PG: So when a traveler calls any airline on the planet, they say, “I’ve got 25,000 miles, I’d like to redeem it.” So many people are induced to join the program under the auspices that when they reach got 25,000 miles, they’ll be on a beach with a pina colada.
ER: The problem is that many travelers don’t take time to read anything about the program before joining it. Still 25,000 miles will get you pretty much anywhere round-trip domestically on most of the legacy carriers. The fact that a lot of people don’t redeem their miles actually means that people like you and me who actually want to redeem the miles and have a little time to do so will be much more likely to get the award that we want.
All those people not redeeming those miles and points means there are awards out there to be had, you just need to take advantage of the opportunity.
PG: Whenever I give speeches around the country and I speak to three, four, five-thousand people in the room, I always ask how many people are a member of a frequent-flier program. And everybody raises their hand. How many are members of more than one? Everybody raises their hand. Then I ask how many people in the last six months were able to redeem a mileage award to a destination they wanted to go and when they wanted to go, you could hear a pin drop.
ER: Well, that’s absolutely too bad, but I’m going to tell you how to do it. First of all, you can be a member of as many frequent-flier programs as you want. In fact, you should join as many as there are out there because they all run promotions and chances are you’ll be able to accrue miles or points in any number of ways–whether it be just shopping online or dining out at your favorite restaurant.
Like an investment strategy, you can’t just throw your money into every random fund that’s out there. You have to strategize about where exactly you want to put it. So anytime you think about where you want to use your miles, you’ve got to put your frequent-flierstrategy in place.
That means deciding which airlines fly in and out of your home airport, which airlines fly to the airports in which you’re interested in going to, and which credit cards are associated with them. You can’t just expect to get an award without having to put in any work, but that work can be fun because at the end of it you have that trip to look forward to.
PG: Lets shift over to hotels because they’re devaluing their points, aren’t they?
ER: That’s absolutely true. Last week, Hilton announced major devaluations to their points program. Not only did they add another top-tier category but in some cases because they’ve introduced seasonal award pricing. The cost of an award could go up as much as 90 percent depending on where you want to stay.
Right now if you were able to book before the end of March when those changes take place. You could book a room at the Conrad Maldives for as low as 37,500 points. After the change, 90,000 points. That’s pretty horrible.
Marriott also added a new top-tier category and raised the categories of one third of their properties, which means we’ll all be spending more points there.
PG: When it comes to hotels, you are in agreement with me that it’s getting tougher and tougher to redeem your points.
ER: You’ll still be able to redeem them, but you’ll just have to redeem more of them, unfortunately.
PG: That’s my definition of tougher!
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By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide