The downside with reward miles and frequent flyer programs : gambling

There are downsides and potential minefields with frequent reward programs:

  • the program, or the airlines administering them, can change the rules ANY time they want. They can change the levels, the miles required, the routing, apply new restrictions: your points that you accumulated for a while, saving for a round the world trip in business or first class, or that special hotels that you planned, suddenly get more expensive: it is a devaluation.
  • In the Miles “game”, like a casino, it is inherently rigged in favor of the “house”: the airlines, the hotels, : they can restrict or release any numbers of seats they want. They can apply blackout, release seats only at least minute, or only at 333 days out, applies surcharges, extra fees, change the terms, etc. The house always win long term.
  • Like gambling, the “house”, hotels and airlines, tried to lure as many people to play as possible, to collect points, luring them with big rewards like possible first class travel, suites upgrades etc… They count on the fact that most players will lose, and will not have the time to learn, to maximize the value of the points.
  • To lure you to spend more money with them, the airlines are masters at luring you with potential upgrades, which does not cost them much more.They are usually unsold seats anyway.
  • Like a central banker, the airlines and hotels can print unlimited amount of reward miles and points without restrictions, devaluing the value of the points anytime. They are in firm control of their costs.
  • Similar to gambling, when you play the game, you cannot sue the house. The contract of reward points is tilted in favor of the airlines and hotels. It specifically said that they can change the terms and conditions of the programs anytime as they wish, when they wish, because it is the only agreement between you and the reward program. You can only “potentially” sue only under the terms of their contract, their rules.
  • to get the maximum value for the rewards points, it is complicated enough that you may need to hire consultants to help you. There are so many rules, restrictions, routing, different classes (not all first class are “equal”)

So why should you spend the time for the reward points game?

1. Unlike in a casino, where luck and probability are the  rules, if done properly, a small group of savvy travelers can always maximize the value of the rewards points.

2. Competition between airlines and hotels create opportunities

3. Human errors, omissions, managements mistakes, create unexpected deals

Once the initial learning curve is mastered, the rest is pretty standard and similar. Once familiarized to the way the reward system works, with any changes of any reward programs, it is very easy and efficient for you to get answers, to understand how to maximize the value of the reward programs.

IF you have time and health, and want to learn, to search, to travel, then it is worth it. The savings, or value, per hour of “work” spent on the rewards points is invaluable. It allow you to explore and experience the world, different cultures, different cities, to try aspirational products like international first class, hotels suites, at a fraction of the normal cost.


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