What you need to know about frequent flyer programs for airlines

More airlines now awarding points based on money spent.

Cashing in frequent flyer miles and getting a free flight makes travel a lot easier on a bank account and can slice $500 or more off the price of a trip. But some frequent flyer programs have been changing this past year: the most recent — Frontier Airlines.

Area resident Terri Fox is a Frontier frequent flyer, and has been happy with it until now.

“It’s a good program, you get free flights,” she said, while grabbing her bag at the airport. “We flew free today.”

But like many Frontier program members, she’s concerned about the new change to the program, now called “Frontier Miles.” It will now reward passengers for money spent — not miles flown in the air.

That means a coast-to-coast flight with a deep-discount $300 fare might earn fewer points than it did last year.

Fox worries could make earning flights harder in the future.

“That might be a little hard to get a lot of points,” she said.

Frontier says it has added more perks, however, and that most people will not struggle to earn trips.

What travelers should do now

Eric Rosen is the director of travel content for The Points Guy. He says people often hang on to miles and points, only to see them lose value when programs change.

“So many of us are saving up tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of miles for a trip to Hawaii or the honeymoon in Mexico,” he said.

And if program makes a major change, travelers might have to wait longer to get that free trip.

Frontier, American, Southwest and Delta are just a few of the airlines that have recently announced changes to the way miles work, Rosen said.

Delta actually backed off on some of the changes pertaining to lounge rules after hundreds of members complained.

“These programs can change on a dime,” Rosen said. “And then you’re left learning the rules all over.”

The Points Guy says do not leave an account sitting dormant for several years.

“Airline miles and hotel points aren’t an investment currency,” Rosen said.

He says travelers get the most bang for their buck if they don’t hold off booking.

“If you’ve got them, use them,” he said.

Both airlines and hotels see their rewards programs as profit centers, Rosen says, and they like to keep customers happy. But he says that doesn’t mean the rules are set in stone or will make an exception for a dream trip.

“They can change them at their discretion and there’s not really much consumers can do about it at this point,” Rosen said.

He recommends getting familiar with the latest rules of the loyalty program you use the most.

Frontier frequent flyer Hasan Latif says he’ll need to do just that.

“No matter how much you fly with Frontier, you have to keep a tab on it and make sure you know the new deal they are bringing out,” he said.

Finally, Rosen says pick programs with no expiration dates for long periods of dormancy.

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