In today's Wall Street Journal, columnist Scott McCartney offers his forecasts for 2008 travel. Among his predictions, McCartney says the airlines--still trying to fly above the financial turbulence of the past few years--will likely sell off some assets, including their frequent flier programs.
What does this mean for travelers? According to McCartney:
* New owners of an airline's reward program could seek to develop more partnerships. In turn, that could result in more ways to earn and spend your accrued miles.
* The downside: Having spun off their rewards programs, airlines might make you spend even more miles for free travel--a trend that is already happening.
What can you do about this? Lower your expectations, for one thing. The days of getting a free coach ticket for 20,000 miles are disappearing quickly, if not already gone forever. Booking business class tickets to international destinations is even harder. Recently, the best deal I could find for a business class trip to Buenos Aires from San Francisco was 250,000 miles.
Also, it helps to become savvier about how you earn miles.
Example: I had nearly 19,000 United Airlines miles set to expire Dec. 31, 2007. I'd paid little attention to my United rewards program, as I don't often fly United. But I didn't want to lose the miles, and all I had to do to save them was to generate some activity on my account before year's end.
So I signed up to earn miles from Safeway whenever I shop there (which is often). And I joined United's dining rewards program, in which you earn miles by spending dough in participating restaurants. Just by doing things I always do--grocery shopping and dining out--I'm now earning United miles. Plus, I charge those expenditures on Amex, where I earn additional miles.
If nothing else, I saved my 19,000 miles from vanishing. That won't get me to Buenos Aires, but it's a start.