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Traveler's Aid: Frequent Flyer Programs (3/1/2002)

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Diana: If you've traveled anywhere on a plane in the past year, chances are you're a member of a frequent-flyer program. I fly over 200,000 miles a year and belong to a bunch of them myself. Every major airline has one of these programs, and collectively, about 100 million travelers participate.

The reason most travelers join, of course, is to accumulate enough miles to earn a free ticket. But some people are attracted by other perks: upgrades, faster check-in, use of the "Ambassador's Executive Club Platinum Lounge" -- or whatever pretentious title the cushy first-class room in the airport is given.

But most travelers will never have enough miles to cool their heels in the Platinum Lounge. So, the question we have to ask is: Do frequent-flyer programs make sense for the average traveler -- the traveler who just wants the occasional free ticket? Are you really saving money in the long run? Our Travel-Expert-in-Residence Rudy Maxa is here to give us the scoop.

Rudy discusses ...

  • Frequent-flyer programs are designed to drive you mad. Exhibit A: mile inflation. Exhibit B: blackout dates.
  • Despite the drawbacks, frequent-flyer programs usually pay off.

    Then, airline analyst Terry Trippler weighs in ...

  • You might not be saving money with your frequent-flyer program. Do the math to find out.
  • Northwest says it eliminated blackout dates. Hah! Just try to get an award ticket to a popular leisure destination.
  • Don't believe the reservations agent when she tells you there aren't any seats available.
  • Not all frequent-flyer programs were created equal. Southwest and Vanguard are among the best. Northwest needs work.
If you'd like us to address your travel questions or concerns, send us an email. Or call us at 888-SAV-TRAV.

Savvy Resources:

For more info on Terry Trippler's frequent-flyer study, check out www.terrytrippler.com

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