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Executive Travel

Airlines Make It Harder to Claim Mileage Awards

August 28, 1996|From Associated Press

Flying for free may come at a price nowadays.

Airlines, saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars in potential liability from burgeoning frequent-flier programs, are adding fees and restrictions that make it harder for customers to claim some of the 2 trillion miles outstanding.

Airline executives say they are making the changes to match the rules for paying passengers. But critics say such moves run counter to the purpose of frequent-flier programs.

"There has to be some element of recognizing, 'Hey, you're a valued customer to us,' " said Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer magazine. "Frequent-flier programs were meant to build loyalty to a particular airline. I have a problem with once you've earned the miles they don't know you anymore."

Petersen estimates that 30% of the 13 million frequent-flier awards given out last year had some charge attached.

Beginning Sept. 1, American will follow an industry trend by increasing the charge to customers who cancel frequent-flier trips and want the miles put back in their accounts. Like United and TWA, American will raise the charge to $50, up $10. Delta and Northwest charge $35; USAir, $40.

Other airline charges include penalties for changing an itinerary (up to $50) or not booking well in advance (up to 15,000 miles for failing to book three weeks ahead).

Most airlines also limit the number of frequent-flier seats on a given airplane. All the major carriers last year raised to 25,000 from 20,000 the number of miles needed to get a coach ticket.

Despite those restrictions, 8.2% of United's seats in 1995 went to frequent fliers, down just 0.9% from a year earlier.

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