Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Free and Not So Easy Airlines Make Bonus Flights Harder to Win

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Free and Not So Easy Airlines Make Bonus Flights Harder to Win

Article excerpt

First, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that frequent-flier awards represent income subject to taxation.

Now, some of the top U.S. airlines have decided that such perks are subject to the laws of inflation as well.

Three carriers - United, USAir and American - have announced plans to raise the number of mileage credits required for a free domestic ticket to 25,000, from 20,000.

Industry analysts expect most other major airlines to follow suit.

They say the change is overdue, especially considering the wealth of miles that many travelers have accumulated by flying on tickets bought at deeply discounted prices during recent fare wars.

In short, many travelers have been getting more miles for less money - partly because of the proliferation of so-called affinity credit cards that offer awards for dollars spent on the ground.

The increase would be the first in the 13-year history of frequent-flier programs, which have become an indispensible marketing tool for luring lucrative business travelers.

Although the impending change has perturbed some people who prize their credits, the perception is worse than the reality, said Stanley Dale, publisher of Mileage & Points, a newsletter.

"The true frequent flier is hardly going to notice at all," he said.

The change will have the biggest effect on casual travelers - those who take only a few trips a year and earn one or two free tickets a decade.

Frequent fliers in the St. Louis area probably will be affected less than their counterparts in other cities.

Trans World Airlines Inc., the biggest carrier at Lambert Field, has no plans to raise its threshold.

Southwest Airlines Co., the second-busiest carrier at Lambert, uses a different, flight-based system that also will remain intact.

Frequent fliers who have earned free trips and want to cash in their miles under the old system still have several months to act.

United is waiting until Aug. 1 to raise its threshold. USAir will change on Jan. 1, and American will follow on Feb. 1.

The certificates that airlines issue when people claim their awards generally are good for a year.

Most airlines have made other adjustments to their frequent-flier programs in the past few years in an effort to limit their financial exposure. …

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