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.
While you may try to rack up frequent flyer miles from travel, airline-branded credit cards or online shopping, have you ever thought about pudding? One clever traveler turned a Healthy Choice promotion into enough miles to fly the world multiple times.
In 1999, Civil Engineer David Phillips noticed a promotion from Healthy Choice offering 500 American Airlines miles for every 10 product bar codes sent in, with a double bonus for sending them in the first month. Phillips figured out that the promotion would extend to all of their products, and searched his area supermarkets for the best deal. He started with 90-cent cans of soup, and then found a better deal: individual packages of chocolate pudding for 25 cents apiece. He bought every one available, spending a total of $3,140. This gave him 12,150 puddings worth over 1.2 million airline miles.
The story gets sweeter when you hear how he collected the bar codes for redemption. He started by putting his family to work, but they were soon (literally) sick of peeling the pudding lids and eating the stuff. He offered them up to Salvation Army for free, in return for the bar codes. For this, he was also able to get an $800 charitable tax deduction, bringing his investment down to around $2200. Netting over a million miles also gives him lifetime gold elite status on American, giving him an extra boost for accruing miles. His story inspired a similar plot in the movie “Punch Drunk Love.” Phillips continues to take advantage of frequent flyer promotions and deals, and now has over 4 million miles in his accounts.
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.
United Airlines’ new mileage program is set to include a minimum annual spending level, essentially cutting budget travelers out of the perk-earning picture. The new plan forces travelers to spend a set amount of money to get benefits, meaning those who smartly snag deals and rack up miles will no longer garner elite status.
Starting January 2014, those enrolled in United MileagePlus will need to earn a combination of either miles or segments, plus dollars, to get rewards. For example, to reach the first tier, a frequent flier must earn either 25,000 miles or 30 qualifying segments, plus a minimum of $2,500 qualifying dollars. So now, two round-trip flights from the United States to Europe that could have otherwise landed a traveler an upgrade might not qualify any longer, especially if a traveler found a great deal on airfare before booking.
As outlined above, travelers who only hit the road when they find a can’t-miss deal will be hurt most by the new qualifications, leading us to believe that the airline might want to reconsider the MileagePlus program tagline: “the world’s most rewarding loyalty program.”
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.