The MileCards.com Mile Satisfaction Survey is a national online survey, via Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of MileCards.com, that included over 600 U.S. adults who are currently saving miles or points for an award flight. The survey was conducted from February 24 – 27, 2016 and the PDF below includes a summary of data and findings on success with booking award tickets, concerns about miles and points programs, and how actively people monitor their points.
53% say they are satisfied, and another 9% are obsessed with their miles, but 28% say they are dissatisfied, and another 10% say their miles are worthless.
17% of people saving miles check their balance monthly, vs 15% who check their credit score monthly.
24% of people age 25-34 check their mile account balance at least monthly, matching the 24% who say they check their retirement accounts monthly.
Despite changes to award programs that make earning miles by flying harder, only 26% say miles getting harder to earn is a top concern. United and Delta stopped awarding miles based on how far you fly in the last two years, and American will switch to that model later this year, instead awarding flight miles based on how much you spend.
The biggest concern among mile program members is award flights getting too expensive, like American AAdvantage’s coming increase in many award prices on March 22nd. 36% of respondents cited it a top concern. This can be balanced by more award availability at lower mileage levels, though members seem satisfied with the flight options they receive. Just 20% of members said having no awards available when they want to fly is their biggest concern.
75% of people who tried to book an award flight in the last year said they were successful booking one. But only 39% of people saving miles tried. This is likely due to low mileage balances. 46% of respondents report having fewer than 20,000 miles in their accounts, below the typical 25,000 entry level roundtrip award threshold.
12% of Southwest passenger miles were flown on award tickets in 2015, vs 6-7% for United, Delta, and American, according to SEC filings.
For travelers who are sitting on miles, but haven’t yet used them for a flight, MileCards.com recommends these strategies.
Consider transferable points. Each of the major frequent flier programs is partners with a bank or hotel program that allows 1:1 transfer of points into your airline mileage account with multiple airlines. For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards allows you to convert its points into your United MileagePlus and Southwest Rapid Rewards accounts. Amex Membership Rewards lets you transfer your points into your Delta SkyMiles account, along with over a dozen other airline programs.
These offer a new way to earn points in your favorite program, even if you already have that airline’s credit card, and lets you diversify your options with other airlines.
They also offer ways to earn more miles from your spending than traditional airline cards. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earns 2x points on all dining and travel spending. These are all points you can convert into United miles or Southwest points. Yet United and Southwest’s own main credit cards don’t offer double points on dining or travel spending away from their respective airlines. So you can earn more miles by holding a card that doesn’t belong to the airline.
Leverage one way tickets. Most mileage programs let you book a one way award ticket for half the price of a round trip. So if you’re short on miles, you can book a one way flight for half the miles and still save hundreds of dollars. Then you can use cash to pay for the other direction of your trip. Unlike years ago, when one way cash tickets cost as much or more than a round trip, many destinations now offer one way cash tickets for half the price of a round trip. That way it’s easy to use cash one way and miles the other.
Pick up the phone and call. If you don’t see the award you want online, call the airline directly. Many partner airline awards are not bookable on the airline website. Be specific about the partner and route you are looking for – and be prepared to call multiple times. Agents often offer different answers based on their own interest and skill level.
Consider an award booking service. There are many providers that will find and book award seats for you at the lowest mileage price using search methods that are too time consuming and complicated for the average traveler.
Services are typically about $100 – $200 for a round trip international ticket in Business or First Class, the most coveted and toughest award tickets to find.
Earn miles via unconventional ways. Any time you shop online your first stop should be a portal that lets you earn bonus miles for your purchases. Most of the miles and points programs have portals that give you extra miles when you click their links before heading to your preferred online retailers, giving you 2, 3, 5, or more miles per dollar you spend. And that’s on top of what you earn from your credit card rewards. You see the exact same prices and items you would if you shopped without going through the portals, so there’s no downside. Dining rewards programs also let you earn miles for dining at participating restaurants, on top of your credit card rewards, even for take out and delivery.