With several airlines planning to increase the number of frequent-flier miles needed for a ticket in 2014, time is getting short to get the most value for your miles.
While different airlines have different programs with different rules, the bottom line in most cases is that free tickets will require more miles, points, or whatever your airline calls their version of what most people call frequent-flier miles. The miles you may have now may soon be worth less than they are today.
Delta has announced two rounds of Skymiles increases for 2014. Each round will raise the number of Skymiles needed for travel in different categories, to different locations.
The good news is that the basic, least costly (though hard to find) award ticket will not change. That's the "saver" economy award ticket for travel within the continental U.S., Alaska and Canada - still 25,000 Skymiles round-trip.
The bad news: Business and first-class awards will be more costly on many routes, as well as economy tickets to Hawaii, the Middle East, and the South Asian subcontinent.
For example, the least expensive ticket to the Aloha State currently requires 40,000 Skymiles. For travel after Feb. 1, you would need 45,000.
When the second round of increases kicks in, June 1, a business-class ticket to Europe will jump from 100,000 Skymiles to 125,000.
If you're planning to fly Delta using Skymiles in 2014, check out the award travel charts on Delta.com to see if these changes make a difference to you that could alter your travel plans.
Like Delta, United is hiking the number of miles needed for business and first-class seats on many overseas routes, as well as economy seats to Hawaii. The changes apply to awards redeemed starting Feb. 1.
Also like Delta, United is raising the number of miles needed for an economy seat on a flight to Hawaii from 40,000 to 45,000 miles, round-trip. The least expensive business- class ticket to Europe will jump from 100,000 miles to 115,000. Of course, those "saver" awards have limited seat availability.
Notably, United's mileage rates for travel on its Star Alliance partner carriers, such as Air Canada and Singapore Airlines, are skyrocketing for many tickets from the continental U.S. to many overseas destinations. A ticket to New Zealand that now requires 160,000 miles will require 260,000 starting Feb. 1, for example.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest's program works differently than programs such as Delta's. Instead of needing different numbers of miles for different flights or routes, and then hoping seats are available, Southwest rewards are used like money to buy any available seat in one of three price categories.
Currently, the exchange rate amounts to 60 reward points per dollar in the lowest-cost "wanna get away" category. But tickets booked in that category starting March 31 will cost 70 points per dollar.
So, for example, a $500 round-trip ticket would require 30,000 points if booked before March 31, or 35,000 after that. That's a big jump, and it's being applied to the least expensive reward tickets.
Southwest posts its fare calendar roughly six months in advance, so by March you should be able to book travel through September.
Southwest customers who have a Southwest credit card can still trade in Rapid Rewards points for gift cards at a rate of $100 per 10,000 points. The "wanna get away" flights are still a better value than gift cards, even with the rate increase, because 10,000 points will equal $143 in airfare after March 31.
US Airways and American Airlines, which are merging, have not announced mile/point increases, and so far they continue to operate separate loyalty programs.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.
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