You’ve worked hard to earn your frequent flier miles, logging all those flights and using your airline credit card whenever you can. And you probably think your miles and points are safe and secure, just waiting for you to redeem them.
Except your miles might be the target of hackers who have figured out how to crack your account, and are plundering it, selling those points for cash or tickets. Now that most airlines no longer send out monthly statements that keep travelers updated on their balances, hackers have begun taking advantage of the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality to do their worst.
But you can protect yourself from these hackers if you just take a few security steps.
First, you need to protect your airline account. Fortunately, most airlines quit using the 4-digit PIN code they had used for years, and replaced it with full password protection. But that doesn’t help you if you’re still using your dog’s name as the password. Pick a complex password that’s hard to remember or even figure out, the more complex, the better.
Rather than try to remember the password or write it down, use a password management app like 1Password or LastPass to keep track of it. Better yet, let the app generate a complex password. You can choose a random scattering of letters, numbers, and special characters, or a string of unrelated words, and store them in the app. Security experts estimate that passwords like this can take centuries to break.
Wish you could travel the world but don’t see how you could afford it? Meet Ben Schlappig, 25. Since he was 13, Ben has been doing just that. Traveling around the world. Wherever he likes. For free.
A bored, bright teenager, Schlappig figured out how to work the airline travel system, manipulating rewards programs and airline-affiliated credit card incentives and discovering in the process a game he could win. By the time he was 16, he had so mastered the game that he became the first person to cross the Pacific six times in one trip.He loved the high so much he dedicated himself to it full-time. After graduating from University of Florida with a degree in marketing (he traveled the entire time), he decided to start a business to help others do just what he does. The business is called PointsPro and its motto is simple: Make Your Dream Trip a Reality.
Schlappig flies first class and only stays in luxury hotels, all of which he pays for with points. And he does it constantly. A recent Rolling Stone story followed Schlappig around and mentioned that he flew to seven cities around the world in seven days.
He doesn’t stop, except to sleep for the night at one of his luxury hotels, enjoy a session in a high-price spa, and then it’s back to the airport for his next flight. Schlappig doesn’t see what he does as fraud; he just knows how the system works, and he works it. Hard.
He earns points with credit cards, and little-known tricks in the frequent flyer programs. He usually flies about four to six hours a day, and is a well-known figure in this small circle of enthusiasts in the game known as The Hobby. Fans greet him wherever he goes, and he receives a lot of attention — and free champagne — from those who are in the know.
He chronicles his ongoing world traversing adventures via his blog, One Mile at a Time. He has no permanent residence, living exclusively in hotels (he doesn’t pay for them either), and has logged 400,000 miles in the past year.
- The 11 Craziest Elite Airline Perks (wisebread.com)
- 6 ways to fly first class, for free (rss.cnn.com)
- “The Hobby” is an underground club of travellers who “hack” airlines to fly around the world for free (theplaidzebra.com)
One thing that we think about fairly often is frequent flier miles and programs. Since the airlines are changing how their programs are working, we’re always looking for new ways to earn and use miles.
A recent article on Vox.com gives us a few more tips on how to use these programs wisely.
The first frequent flier programs was started in 1981 by American Airlines and was such a raging success that it immediately inspired other airlines to follow suit. And of course, these programs remain in place to this day.
(Which also means if one airline does something, it won’t be long before another one joins them. This includes changes to your frequent flier program.)
When you travel, figure out which program best suits your travel habits. Don’t just think about the airline you always fly; look at the one that best suits your needs based on how you travel versus how you spend money.
There are two basic types of rewards systems: mileage-based and spending-based. Mileage-based systems award you for the miles you travel; spending-based programs (i.e. credit cards) award points based on your spending. In many cases, airlines are now basing their awards on spending as well (cost of ticket).
If you frequently travel long distances, a mileage-based system may be your best bet, although the article says those types of programs are becoming a thing of the past.
Also, choose your airline program based on practical considerations, such as living near and flying out of a particular airport’s hub. If you live near Chicago O’Hare, United Airlines is your main airline, so it doesn’t make as much sense to join Delta’s program.
Another challenge is time and cost. When do you need to fly and what flights are available versus the cost of those flights? If you have the time, you can wait for cheaper flights. If you don’t have time, you may spend more money to fly when it fits your schedule, which may affect whether you can fly on your chosen airline.
If this happens frequently, this is where the spending-based program is your better option.
Finally, we also like the tip, “don’t’ sit on your miles, spend them.” Spend them when you get them. There’s no need to hoard miles. Use them for upgrades, or swap them out for merchandise, or even in a points-swapping program, like Points.com.
How do you manage your miles? Let us hear from you. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.
- Alaska Air, JetBlue take top spots in JD Power airline survey (usatoday.com)
- This Chart Compares the Hidden Fees of Major Airline Rewards Programs (twocents.lifehacker.com)
Reversing the direction of what we’ve seen recently in frequent flyer programs, Business Insider says that airlines are now finding value in their frequent flyer programs.
The recent trend has been for airlines to find ways to deny privileges to customers involved in frequent flyer programs (such as putting a stop to mileage runs). That trend probably isn’t going to change, but airlines are finding ways to monetize these programs in a way that, so far, doesn’t seem to be of much benefit to travelers themselves.
Getting on board the Big Data bandwagon, airlines have started harvesting and selling the data they’ve gathered about their frequent flyers. They’re selling this data to a variety of sources; Business Insider lists credit card providers, rental car companies, and hotels.
This data is so valuable, Air Berlin recently sold a stake in its frequent flyer program for more than what the entire Air Berlin corporation was valued at.
“It’s extremely powerful data, especially as it tends to be slanted towards the premium segment,” said Marc Allsop, senior vice president and head of global business development at Aimia.
In other words, frequent flyers tend to be very desirable customers. Anyone who travels enough to rack up that many miles tends to have money to spare, even when the person’s travel is on the company’s dime.
Plus, the information being harvested isn’t just related to facts about the person. It can potentially include details about recent trips a particular person has taken.
How do you feel about your frequent flyer information being harvested and sold to a third party? Leave us a comment to let us know if that sounds just fine to you or if you’d prefer to go back to the days when your data was just between you and your airline.
- Travel rewards becoming a bigger concern (lexingtonlaw.com)
- Credit companies increasing rewards offers (lexingtonlaw.com)
- Best way to redeem travel points: Why hoarding points is a bad investment (getrichslowly.org)
If you’ve been saving up those airline miles and points for a free trip, you may want to cash them out sooner rather than later. Airline loyalty programs are changing so quickly that travelers are wondering if the programs are even worth it anymore.
We have discussed previously that your frequent flier points are quickly becoming devalued. Delta and United have already produced “eye-popping” changes to their programs, and travelers are keeping a watchful eye on the merger between US Airways and American Airlines to see what happens. Of course, not everyone has to worry too much.
Coach fliers won’t really be impacted from these changes. Many of the frequent flier miles and loyalty program changes are affecting business class travelers. Airlines usually change their programs every couple of years and experts warn that you really should look at the terms and conditions for the programs before committing to a favorite one. Airlines change their programs all of the time because flights are getting so cheap and they are losing money.
Some airlines are even changing their loyalty programs to where it’s based on money spent, rather than number of miles. They even go as far as to offer credit cards. They make tons of money off of these cards, so be critical and wary of the offers you consider.
The way that these programs are changing, travelers are being left in the dust. Airlines are changing their minds so quickly that we recommend that you really think about using frequent flier programs before signing up.
Travelers are more wary as their loyalty points are quick becoming worth up to 40 percent less than they used to be only a few months ago. It’s good to be cautious of these programs and know what you are signing up for.
If you’ve been thinking about signing up for an airline’s loyalty program, you may want to think again. Some airlines are devaluing their frequent flier mile programs, making free airline seats harder to earn.
Several years ago, airlines said they would never be so bold as to change their loyalty programs. They were afraid that if they changed the program, passengers would go elsewhere. You could earn large blocks of miles and obtain a free ticket fairly easily.
Recently, airlines have been consolidating, making less competition for booking airfare. Therefore, they have more flexibility in changing their loyalty programs, adding more blackout dates, increasing the cost of rewards, and decreasing the point value of flights.
Peter Greenberg said on his blog that not only are frequent flier miles becoming harder to redeem, but also that the points to every dollar ratio are decreasing. This means that depending on the airline, your points can be up to 25% less in value.
Why is this happening? Why are airlines making it harder to be loyal to them?
It’s because airlines are already flying at close to full capacity, and there are fewer seats available on the market, which means the airlines don’t need to work quite as hard to earn your patronage. And since people are already paying for seats, why give one away? Ultimately, this is one of their methods to stay profitable. And one of the things that is suffering is the frequent flier programs.
Maybe it’s time to rethink how to earn points without being confined to a loyalty program that could be changed in a few years. You could always earn points on a credit card, something that I do on a regular basis. The value of the points you earn on credit cards can exceed the airline benefits and you are not confined to one air carrier when you book your air travel.
- Delta’s Frequent-Flier Rule Change May Be Sign Of Things To Come (ktoo.org)
- Delta’s Frequent-Flier Rule Change May Be Sign Of Things To Come (wnyc.org)
- Travel rewards becoming a bigger concern (lexingtonlaw.com)
- For some fliers, mileage programs come up short (trib.com)
If you travel a lot for work or pleasure, you likely have a frequent flier account with one or more airlines. But did you know that your frequent flier miles can expire, sometimes without warning? Depending on the airline’s policy, any period of inactivity on your frequent flier account can leave your hard-earned frequent flier account empty, usually when you need those miles the most.
However, there are a variety of things you can do to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. In fact, you likely already do things that could help you earn and protect your frequent flier miles and you may not even know it.
If you have an airline credit card, this is the easiest way to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. Even if you maintain a zero balance on the card, purchasing the occasional tank of gas or bag of groceries will help keep your account active.
If you don’t have an airline credit card and aren’t interested in getting one, making a purchase through an airline’s online shopping portal is another easy option that will keep your frequent flier miles from expiring.
Airline shopping portals are accessed through the airline’s website, and they usually offer a long list of retailers that allow frequent flyer program members to earn miles for purchases. So if you’re signing up for Netflix, making a charitable donation, or about to purchase an album on iTunes, don’t do it without checking your frequent flier program’s shopping partners first, because these retailers may help you earn and protect your miles.
Another way to keep your frequent flier account active is to make other travel-related purchases through the account. For example, if you’re renting a car, staying in a hotel, or going on a cruise, many frequent flier programs offer partnerships with other travel-related companies that help you earn miles and sometimes even offer discounts. That’s a win-win for both your bank account and your frequent flier miles.
Believe it or not, major purchase decisions like refinancing your home, taking out a mortgage, or starting a retirement fund can also help you earn frequent flier miles. Many top lenders partner with airlines to offer lower interest rates and frequent flier miles as a reward for choosing to invest with them. If you have a major purchase or investment coming up, check your frequent flier program to see what opportunities exist with partnering lenders.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways you can keep your frequent flier miles from expiring. It’s a good idea to keep tabs on your account as you would with any other monthly bill. That way, you have a chance to use your miles before you lose them.
- Virgin Australia Offers Frequent Flier Points To Pets (gadling.com)
- Travellers admit lying to get an upgrade (telegraph.co.uk)
- Unused Frequent-Flier Miles ‘Hidden Treasure’ for Passengers – ABC News (julietravelbee.wordpress.com)
- 3 Ways To Maximize Your Frequent Flier Miles This Summer (businessinsider.com)