Are Miles Rewards Programs Worth It?

National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: With all of the changes to airline frequent-flier programs, are miles still worth collecting?

My Answer: If you fly only a few times a year, you need to seriously question your loyalties.

Airline programs are shifting toward revenue-based rewards. Practically speaking, if you want to hit a coveted “elite” level, you don’t just have to fly a certain amount—you also have to spend a certain amount.

Frequent-flier expert Tim Winship says it’s part of the airline industry’s efforts to lavish the best perks on its most profitable customers.

For the rest of us, who are just trying to get from point A to point B without breaking the bank, frequent-flier programs are significantly less attractive. “You are now better off focusing on price, convenience, and service,” he adds, and making point collection an afterthought.

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If these program changes wean us from our manic point-collecting habits and force us to think more clearly about our purchasing decisions, then airlines may have done us all a favor.

Christopher Elliott is Traveler magazine’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the August/September 2014 issue). Follow Christopher’s story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

Do you have a burning travel question? Share it with us in the comments section below for a chance to appear in Traveler magazine.

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