Travel News

How Frequent Flyer Miles Programs Will Change in 2015


When the frequent flyer mile program started back in 1981, it was considered one of the most ingenious marketing inventions of the twentieth century. It was, in fact, brilliant—everyone wanted to be rewarded for loyalty, so most people joined at least one program.

Then, the credit card companies joined forces with the airlines and co-branded the programs—use your credit card and earn even more miles. The premise was simple and direct: you were induced to join the program with the promise that when you got to 25,000 miles, you were rewarded with a free airline trip to the destination of your choice.

Today, nearly 35 years later, we have become a nation of addicted mileage junkies. Many of us belong to more than one program, and we can earn miles for everything short of breathing.

That’s the good news. Now, some sobering news—which was almost inevitable: It’s become more and more difficult to redeem your hard-earned frequent flyer miles. In fact, there are now more unredeemed frequent flyer miles than currency in circulation—around the world!

To be precise, there are 17.5 trillion unredeemed miles. Yet, we continue to earn more of them. Yes, we have become addicted to these programs. As of now, 54 percent of frequent flyer miles aren’t earned in the air—they’re earned on the ground through credit card purchases.

But, it’s about to get worse.

Not only is it much harder to redeem your miles, but starting early next year, it’s going to be much harder to earn them. Even if you get to that coveted mileage tier that allows for “free” flights, it’s about to get even more difficult—if that’s even possible—to redeem them.

Soon, the award miles you earn on Delta and United flights will no longer be based on the miles you fly, but on how much you paid for your ticket. For nearly 35 years, if you flew on a flight of 1,000 miles, you got a minimum of 1,000 frequent flyer miles, no matter what fare you paid.

But airline fees are changing. Here’s how United will change its frequent flyer mileage program:


How Delta will change their program:

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Watch my report for CBS News on how these mileage programs will change in the coming year—and my advice on how, with just a little more finesse, you can actually still redeem your miles:

For more information about frequent flyer mileage programs, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for