In a consumer analysis released this week of airline frequent-flyer programs, Australia-based http://www.choice.com.au reports that for most travelers, booking the cheapest flight will work out more economical than using frequent-flyer schemes to earn free flights.
In reviewing Australian frequent-flyer programs offered by airlines such as Virgin Australia and Qantas, Choice found that an entry-level Virgin Australia member would need to travel Sydney or Melbourne-LA in economy 13 times to earn enough points to pay for the same trip with points. A Qantas bronze member would have to fly Sydney-LA return in economy seven times to earn enough points to pay for the same trip with points.
Choice's Ingrid Just was also quoted as saying, "These points have become a virtual currency for airlines; you are better off finding the best flight deal and saving your money to spend elsewhere." Choice said that for really frequent travelers who often book business class or above seats, the programs could be worthwhile, but warned that for most, the "programs are more about creating a lucrative income stream for airlines than a genuine reward for customer loyalty."
COMMENT: This is really useful information for all of us and makes a great deal of sense. At the same time, though, many of us are loyal to particular carriers largely because when we reach a certain mileage level, we often are able to board after first-class passengers, given the fact that many air travelers bring more carry-on luggage aboard a flight due to bag checking fees. Due to this reality, passengers who board after everyone else, often have no compartment space available for their carry-on luggage. Once a certain frequent-flyer level is reached, many airlines also often waive the baggage fee.