JetBlue Lets Family And Friends Earn Frequent Flier Points Together

JetBlue Plane
John Murphy, Flickr

If you’re one of those travelers who flies every now and then but not super often, you’ve probably all but given up hope of ever racking up enough frequent flier points for a free journey. Now jetBlue is giving less frequent travelers a better chance of earning a free flight by letting them pool their reward miles with family or friends.

The airline says its TrueBlue loyalty program will allow a designated group of travelers to accumulate points together. A family who is pooling its points can include a maximum of two adults aged 21 and over and up to five children. But friends who aren’t related can also decide to form a group for the sake of collecting miles. And you don’t have to share all your points either –- family or group members can choose to contribute a percentage of their miles to the group pool. Anyone who is part of the group can then use the points towards an award flight.JetBlue says the new point-sharing option now removes all the obstacles when it comes to redeeming an award flight. The carrier says it doesn’t have any blackout dates and loyalty points don’t expire, meaning families have better chance of accumulating enough miles to make that free trip a reality.

Virgin Australia Offers Frequent Flier Points To Pets

virgin australia plane
Aero Icarus, Flickr

Air travel is getting better and better – if you’ve got four legs, that is. Just last month we told you about first class airline lounges that had been designed especially for pets – now airlines are offering award miles to furry fliers.

Virgin Australia announced this week that it will reward its frequent flier members with an extra 300 points when they book a domestic flight for their pet. For the time being, the program applies to cats and dogs only.

About 30,000 pets fly with Virgin Australia each year and the carrier’s CEO says the initiative is aimed at enhancing the airline’s image as a family-focused carrier.Virgin is the first airline in Australia to offer mileage points to pets, but the concept isn’t entirely new. In 2005, Virgin Atlantic offered various rewards through its Flying Paws program and a few years later, JetBlue began providing frequent flier miles through its JetPaws initiative.

The Best Airlines For Redeeming Frequent Flier Miles

gTarded, Flickr

If your frequent flier miles are languishing unused in your account because you keep coming up against blackout dates whenever you try to use them, then perhaps it’s time to switch airlines, or maybe even rethink your booking tactics.

A survey by IdeaWorksCompany looked at 25 of the biggest frequent flier programs to figure out which carriers were best when it came to redeeming frequent flier points. The study checked each of the airline’s primary routes to see what level of availability there was for travelers looking to book a flight using their miles.The results? Coming out on top were Southwest Airlines, Air Berlin and GOL, which all showed reward seat availability 100 percent of the time.

Among the big players, United Airlines took out eighth place on the list with 80 percent availability. Other large airlines did worse, with American Airlines making reward seats available about 49 percent of the time, while travelers trying to redeem miles on Delta or US Airways would have been successful only 36 percent of the time.

So why did budget airlines fare so well in the study? According to the company behind the survey, low cost airlines focus on offering short- and medium-haul flights that operate multiple times a day – meaning there are simply more seats to go around. The same principle applies if you’re trying to book a short-haul flight on a major airline, with reward availability hovering around 85 percent for flights under 2,500 miles. It’s the long-haul intercontinental flights with lower seat density that drag the big carriers down the rankings.

Some experts also believe the reason budget airlines keep topping the survey is that fewer business travelers (who tend to dominate frequent flier program enrollment) use them – meaning that when it comes time to claim your reward miles, you don’t have to compete with as many people for your seat.

Delta Air Lines Changes Mileage Program, Budget Travelers Lose

The announcement came quietly last week, amid bigger, louder clamor over another airline’s new branding. Delta Air Lines will be changing its mileage program for the 2015 status year, and in a very big way. Coming up, passengers will soon be required to spend a minimum amount of money on the airline per year in order to reach elite status. So, for example, for one to reach Platinum status, it will soon be required to earn either 75,000 miles or 100 segments and spend a minimum of $7,500 on the airline per year. The full qualification table pulled from Delta’s announcement is below

MEDALLION QUALIFICATION

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

MQDs

$2,500

$5,000

$7,500

$12,500

and

and

and

and

MQMs

25,000

50,000

75,000

125,000

or

or

or

or

MQSs

30

60

100

140


This change shouldn’t be a surprise for regular travelers. Skymiles has been eroding for several years now, and this is the next step in completely trivializing the program. Options for low-cost mileage redemptions have nearly evaporated, and many passengers are holding onto stockpiles with nothing to buy. One disgusted passenger on the forum Flyertalk puts it this way:

“[Delta]… rarely has the seats to begin with. It’s of such limited utility to me that anytime I see even the most mundane 25,000-mile award within the U.S., I’m tempted to grab it.”

Delta’s spin on the change, for their part, is that they need to make room for their most valuable customers. From their release last week, they state:

“These changes are a result of considerable research that we’ve conducted including conversations with hundreds of customers, many of whom expressed a desire to see the Medallion program truly target our best customers”

Delta would never release data on the ranks of their Skymiles program, but this suggests that their stables may be bloated with elite (and thereby costly) travelers and that they need to be thinned. It makes reasonable business sense: reward the travelers who spend the most money on the airline.

But what about the budget traveler? Delta is effectively moving its focus to high-paying passengers with this change, and budget travelers – some of whom are the biggest fans of the airline – will be left in the cold.

Proof will come when the budget travelers shift their business away from Delta and the costs of running their elite program drop over the next two years. If elite ranks stagnate and the frequent fliers keep coming, the airline can move forward with a smaller, more robust and profitable mileage program. And if membership spirals down to a handful of deranged loyal fliers, they’ll know that their mileage program is officially dead. In the end, that may have been part of the plan.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user redlegs21]

Bloggers v. The Community In The Great Mileage War

There’s a lively discussion going on among feisty members of the MilesBuzz! forum on Flyertalk about a blogger’s role in the mileage and airfare deal community.

At issue is a group of bloggers who have been scouring the forums at sites such as theirs, identifying the best deals and then publishing the information in their blogs. Built for a wider audience, the blogs bring enormous traffic, often leading to a change in terms or cancellation of the deals.

Think of it like a trampoline. If two or three people discover the trampoline and take a jump, everyone has a good time. But if the entire town is invited, the trampoline breaks.

As an example, a recent loophole discovered by members of the forum found that prepaid spending cards could be loaded for no fee with a credit card, meaning one could charge two thousand dollars to a prepaid card, earn reward points and then pay off everything with no fee. The result was a way to effectively earn points for free, something that any budget traveler would swoon for.

Once the blog community caught wind of the deal, however, the financial companies got wise and changed their terms. Members of Flyertalk were enraged.

Further inflaming the situation is the income that many of the bloggers are earning from their sites. A blogger can poach a deal from Flyertalk, several community members pointed out, earn thousands of hits to their site and then burden the reader with dozens of potentially profitable credit card ads. Each credit card application processed from a referral link could score the blogger up to $200. Need an example? Count the credit card ads here. With a popup blocker enabled, I still count 20. Another blogger meticulously shows that with credit card offers he can make about $4000/month in extra income.

On the other side of the coin, bloggers point out that they do a service to the masses by distilling complex info into a simple, easy to read format. But are they putting their pocket books in front of the community?

It’s a grey area. On one hand it seems that the credit card companies have so much influence over the bloggers that they’ll post anything that they think will drive traffic. But on the other hand, public data is public data, and if they want to do the work to build the articles then traffic should dictate success. Whether they can do it with class is up to each blogger respectively. My guess is that when the axe man (ie FTC) comes calling all dues will be paid.

[Flickr image: sfbaywalk]