Frequent flier programs are big business. Northwest has 30 million registered members; American Airlines, 52 million; Delta Airlines, 38 million; and United Airlines, 40 million.
In 2005, the airlines combined awarded 2.7 trillion miles, but redeemed only about 895 billion miles. And the unredeemed miles have climbed exorbitantly since the frequent flier program was launched in 1981 by American Airlines.
But increasingly, travelers can’t use them to go where they want, when they want.According to a survey of Insider Flyer Magazine’s 175,000 subscribers. Industrywide, about one out of every two frequent flier requests is honored. Customers complain the airlines often ignore them when they try to redeem miles for free tickets. They also grumble about having to cough up more earned miles for a ticket, fly when they don’t want to and fly to destinations that are not their first choice.
Frequent flier programs are so popular — growing at 14 percent a year — travelers are sitting on 14.2 trillion unredeemed miles or the equivalent of 568 million round-trip tickets at 25,000 miles each. That could fill every U.S. domestic commercial carrier flight for the next 20 months.
"It’s no longer a frequent flier program," said airline analyst Terry Trippler, of CheapSeats.com in Minneapolis. "It’s a frequent spender program. They have created a monster and have no idea how to keep customers happy. Read more