Are Frequent Flyer Miles a Scam?

Rant: Offered to redeem miles to Europe for a needy friend. Told her to be flexible. She comes back with dates Dec 24-January 1st. What?


If you are one of my 186 loyal followers, you’ve  probably already seen the above rant. Normally, I don’t like to abuse Twitter in such  manner. I mean, who wants to hear about my first world problems? I save those for my blog. But this is a good topic to discuss, even though it has been brought up many times before.

Several months ago, my old childhood friend got in touch with me. I don’t want to rehash the conversation on the off chance she will read this post, but needless to say, at the moment, she is going through some rough stuff in her personal life. She mentioned that she was going to fly to Belarus and leave her daughter there for  a few months with her parents till she sorts everything out here in America.

I knew from some details mentioned during the phone call that she is completely broke. So after I hung up the phone, I knew I had to offer my miles to fly her and her daughter to Europe. And so I did. I told her that she had to be flexible because that’s how miles work. The airline is the “man with the gold,” so to speak. She told me she understood the situation.

Well, last week, she finally called me and told me she had some dates in mind. I said, “Great, let me see what I can do.” That’s where the above rant comes in. Not only did she have specific dates in mind, but I knew right away that I couldn’t possibly help. Sure enough, there was nothing available since it’s a Christmas holiday. Everyone wants to fly during that time to visit relatives.  If I did my search 11 months ahead, there would have been a decent chance of finding something, but not at this point.

Unfortunately, I had to give her the bad news. Even though I’ve mentioned the importance of flexibility several times, I could tell she was disappointed. And I did feel like I let her down somehow, even though this clearly wasn’t my fault. How do I get myself in these precarious situations? I really need to zip it and just keep my advice and miles to myself.

Of course, I’m talking about “zipping” it in my real life, not on the blog. 🙂

That’s why I needed to vent and knew that my “points” brethren would understand. Sure enough, the tweet got favorited 4 times. They knew exactly what I was talking about.

Traditional miles can be extremely valuable if you know what to expect. This is especially true when you redeem them for a family of 4 (or more) and hope to get seats on the same exact  flight. However, if you :

a) Want to fly during holidays,

b) Try to book a month ahead,

c) Insist on non-stop flight that leaves at noon, and nothing else will do

Then, my friend, traditional miles are not for you. They don’t work that way. The airline has no interest in releasing seats during times when they can easily sell them at full price. It’s a game, and you have to be flexible and adaptable in order to win it.

That means settling for 6:00 AM flights on occasion. Sure, we all want to avoid it, but that is precisely why it has 4 award seats available. Maybe you should just grab them and use your first vacation day to relax and unwind.

Traditional frequent flyer miles have their purpose. They can get you to Hawaii, Europe and other places where Southwest doesn’t fly. They can come in handy during emergencies, since pricing is usually flat and not revenue-based. They are meant to fill in a gap, but you have to be willing to put in extra work. Is it worth it?

Well, I flew to Europe and Hawaii several times and brought my parents here for the cost of taxes a couple of times as well.  I did have to compromise on flight times and so on, but saved many thousands of dollars in the process. Not to mention,  I have amazing memories as  a result.

If frequent flyer miles are a scam, then I don’t want to be a savvy consumer.

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4 thoughts on “Are Frequent Flyer Miles a Scam?

  1. Even before miles and points, my husband and I have always been flexible with our flight times and days to get the best price. A few months ago I was trying to coordinate flight times to Florida with a friend and the cheapest flight (by far) left at 7:30 a.m. My friend said, “I prefer to fly only after 10 a.m. and land before 5 p.m..” LOL


    • Nancy, I can totally relate to your experience. I am also willing to compromise when it means saving money on flights or getting award tickets. You almost have to with the latter. It is more challenging with small kids, but you do what you have to do. I was shocked to get decent times on my Southwest flights to Jamaica. What a treat not to have to get up at 3 AM ! 🙂


  2. I have written about similar situations many times! Some people just don’t “get it,” even if you tell them a million times. If they cannot get the exact flight they want, it is simply not worth it to them.

    Personally, I am more than willing to take that 6am crappy flight and arrive at my destination early at the day and get started. I’m also willing to play 9 months ahead or more. It doesn’t bother me one bit.


    • Holly, I did see your post on FTG dealing with a similar topic. I was very much in agreement with your assessment. That’s the hardest thing to explain to people: Flexibility. You have to be willing to take crappy flights on occasion. Southwest makes it a bit easier, but the price is still revenue-based. Personally, I would rather burn 10,000 points and take 7 AM flight, then 25,000 points for a noon flight. When you multiply it times 4, it adds up.


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