Frequent Flyer Programs

Frequent flyer programs allow you to earn certain travel benefits based on the number of miles (or occasionally the number of trips) you fly on a particular airline. Typical awards include a free ticket or a free upgrade from coach to first class. Some airlines also offer "elite" programs which provide check-in and boarding priorities, and "affinity" credit cards which earn mileage credits when you use them for purchases.

In order to earn these benefits you must become a member of that airline’s program; this can often be done through a travel agency. There is no limit to the number of programs you may join. Before deciding which program(s) to join, compare them carefully. You don’t want to get "hooked" on one program by accumulating a high mileage balance, only to learn that another program offers superior benefits for your particular situation. In making your decision you should consider:

Each airline’s program carries certain conditions and limitations. You should carefully read the promotional material and the "fine print" booklet that the airline should give you when you become a member. Also, pay attention to notices that you receive in the mail after you enroll; they sometimes describe changes in the program.

Here are some other important considerations to keep in mind when comparing frequent flyer programs:

One special reminder: airlines often restrict the transferability of mileage earnings. Almost without exception, the sale (or even attempted sale) of credits or awards violates the provisions of the program and may result in the revocation of all accumulated mileage and/or termination of your participation in the program. However, awards can usually be given to others as gifts.

Persons who buy coupons also run a risk. If the airline suspects that the bearer of a coupon or ticket is not the party designated to use the travel document, the airline may refuse to honor it and may even confiscate it. In such cases, the airline invariably disclaims any obligation to the bearer of the coupon or ticket; the purchaser’s recourse, if any, would be with the seller of the travel document.

The Department of Transportation does not have rules applicable to the terms of airline frequent flyer program contracts. These are matters of individual company policy. If you are dissatisfied with the way a program is administered, changes which may take place, or the basic terms of the agreement, you should complain directly to the company. If such informal efforts to resolve the problem are unsuccessful, you may wish to consider legal action through the appropriate civil court.

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(Last Updated 07/23/2013)