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It has been a tough couple of days in the points and miles world for hobbyists (those who collect points and miles with airlines, hotels, and other travel providers) and low-fare leisure travelers.
On Monday the announcement came that frequent traveler darling Starwood was being acquired by Marriott. And then yesterday American was changing almost all the rules of its frequent flyer program (extensively – and emotionally – reported by my friend Andy over at Andy’s Travel Blog).
My social media feed has been overflowing with posts about both as angry travelers vent their frustrations. I’ve seen lots of threats to move all business travel from one of those hotel programs to Hyatt or Hilton. Or threaten to leave American for Delta (where the frequent flyer program already reflects the types of changes American is moving toward). Some have said their heavy travel days are now over.
And yet, I’m not that upset about any of these changes. I’m not surprised either.
Anyone who believed that the world of points and miles would forever stay a collectors game was in denial. The proliferation of websites devoted to helping teach travelers how to game the system (by qualifying for the highest status while spending the least money and then redeeming for the most lucrative awards) didn’t help. Manufactured spending didn’t help. Heck, I didn’t help – I’ve been guilty of taking top tier status I have no intention of using properly, doing mileage runs, redeeming over 4 million of my own miles for only the highest value awards, purchasing mistake fares. And “sorry, I’m not sorry”. I’m glad I did.
BUT those days are over… and the end has been in sight for quite some time. I’m not going to dwell on all the things I’ll miss. Instead, I’ll focus on four things I’m excited could be possibilities in the future:
- Less pressure to book early – Right now, the early bird gets the deal – AND the upgrade. I’ve watched jealously as my friends who book months out boast about their near perfect upgrade records while I usually book tickets anywhere from same-day to (at most) 14 days out and not only pay more, but also sit in the back of the cabin. I’ll delight now in knowing that I’m earning more miles than they are for those tickets, even if I am still stuck in a center seat in the back.
- Better opportunities for reward redemptions – Some mileage ticket requirements have gone up as much as 40%. That means my miles don’t stretch as far. For those without status or purchasing tickets, their earnings also dropped. But it also means that the burn rate should slow which would potentially open up better choices for award redemption so I might have a better chance of finding that partner award I really want.
- Less hassle managing my hotel status – I’ve talked plenty about being a quad-elite with my hotels (and that excludes four more programs I collect points in!) and its a pain trying to juggle stays to qualify. My colleagues want to stay at a Marriott but I need Starwood stays more? Awkward. My life just got so much easier because I will only be managing two programs now – Marriott and Hyatt. I have lifetime platinum status with Starwood which I would speculate would roll into some kind of nights credit towards Marriott’s program and put me in a good position there. Or so I hope!
- Less agony over missing out on a great fare sale – I used to kick myself every time folks jumped on a $400 round-trip to XYZ exotic destination and then upgraded it with systemwide upgrades and earned a bazillion miles in the process. Now I know those earnings will not be something I’d be willing to sit in coach for (which will be what many of them will be doing with only four SWUs to go around).
Okay… so my reasons may sound smug, but it is what it is. I still have to travel for business and my viewpoint is going to be different than the folks who do this for fun.
Do I wish the gravy train were still rolling? Not necessarily – the system was unsustainable and I know I was a contributor to breaking it.
Will my travel or redemption patterns change? I doubt it. I plan to keep doing exactly what I do now. My business travel is unlikely to change so I don’t expect to see a change in my elite qualifying miles and only expect a negligible change in my domestic earnings based on my calculations (which are based on the prices and distances I flew this year). I will still take 3-4 leisure trips a year and will look at a mix of paid and award tickets, possibly buying up to the cabin of choice or finding other ways to maximize value.
Will I relish the memories I’ve had? Absolutely – it’s been a fun ride and I’m glad I rode it as long as I did.
Sorry, I’m not sorry.. points and miles are not dead to me. Not yet.