Are miles dead?

Wired recently pronounced airline miles dead, done in by devaluations and program changes. But are they?

We asked four travel rewards bloggers if miles are really over.

Desirae Aguirre, founder and president of Rewardopoly

Are miles dead? Not if you’re strategic and loyal

Airline miles, Aguirre notes, were developed to encourage loyalty among consumers.

So those who stick to an alliance (Star Alliance, for example, connects more than 20 carriers), will still see their miles collections paying off.

Deal-chasers, meanwhile, may dilute their airline miles earnings

“If you are a deal chaser you are jumping from carrier to carrier, from brand to brand and not focusing on building your nest egg of miles,” Aguirre says. “And in this case, airline miles might not be useful or rewarding.”

Even so, airline loyalty programs are becoming “unclear and confusing” to many, which “isn’t settling well with consumers,” Aguirre says. American, Delta, United and more have all undergone frequent-flier program overhauls in the past few years that have been hailed as unfriendly to budget travelers.

“Change is coming and it’s only a matter of time before smarter systems are in place to benefit the customer to help them monopolize their rewards,” Aguirre says.

Alex Miller, founder of UpgradedPoints

Are miles dead? Only if you earn them the old-fashioned way

If you’re earning miles under just one airline brand (either by credit card or by flying), “you’ll want to change as soon as possible,” Miller says.

To get an evolutionary edge in the current rewards field, start collecting flexible points, Miller suggests. Examples include Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou points and Starwood’s Starpoints. (American Express is a CreditCardForum advertising partner.)

Such points are transferable to airline and hotel programs, meaning they can be transformed into traditional miles. Difference is, you have multiple transfer options and can dole out your points strategically.

“This will really protect you from a situation where all of your branded airline miles are devalued overnight, which happened fairly recent with AAdvantage miles when American changed their rules,” Miller says.

Plus, while incrementally collecting airline miles is a glacial endeavor, flexible points are easier to accrue.

“There are just so many ways to earn mountains of points by leveraging credit card category bonuses, sign-up bonuses, promotions and more,” Miller says.

Charles Barkowski, author of Running with Miles

Are miles dead? No, but the game is changing

Airline mergers and alliances still leave a market for traditional airline miles.

“It allows us to use our miles on partner airlines which can often provide an even better experience than the U.S. legacy carriers anyway,” Barkowski says.

But, like Miller, Barkowski sees flexible, transferrable miles (Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Points, SPG Starpoints) as “the best miles to have right now.”

Their transferability makes them “almost devaluation proof,” Barkowski says. Plus, some of the above-mentioned rewards programs allow you to use your points like cash (at a fixed value per point) to directly pay for tickets, hotel rooms, cruises and more via their portals, which can be advantageous when fares are cheap.

“The miles are not dead,” Barkowski says. “We just need to play the game a little smarter.”

Elena Garcia, founder of Giddy for Points

Are miles dead? Not if you know how to use them

“The mileage game is ever evolving, but it is not dead in my opinion,” Garcia says.

To stay nimble, educate yourself on the ins and outs of your program (better yet, programs) of choice. Plenty of miles-booking companies are willing to do the legwork for you, Garcia notes.

Being informed lets you know which other airlines – and hotels – partner with the airlines you have miles with. For example, Garcia is traveling to Alaska in February. She’ll be using a combination of American Airlines miles and Alaska Airways miles – but flying only Alaska.

“I was able to do this because of the partnership between those two airlines,” she says. “Airline miles aren’t dead, you just need to flex your miles to your advantage.”

If you can’t fly for a while, there are plenty of ways to grow your mileage balance, from co-branded credit cards, to transfers from flexible credit card rewards programs, to airline shopping portals, to airline partnerships with utility providers, Garcia says.

“The possibilities for earning miles are endless,” she says. “It just takes a little more effort.”

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