Saturday, August 23, 2008

Airline Elite Programs Not So Special Anymore

Airlines, having all the marketing savvy of a 4th grader, have been targeting those frequent passengers on their elite rosters with new restrictions and fees.

As a frequent flier on United Airlines, I have started seeing changes in the availability of upgrades. Where a couple of months ago, if I was using miles to upgrade to first, I would be cleared right away, now it is not happening until the day of the flight.

My suspicion was validated in today's Washington Post where I discovered United Airlines is holding back more first and business class seats in the hope of selling them opposed to giving them for miles or certificates.

The following is a list of new fees added by U.S. carriers to elite fliers over the past month:

Delta Airlines - $25 fuel surcharge on domestic tickets, $50 for international regardless of medallion level

US Airways - No more elite level bonus miles, $25 fee for domestic tickets, $35 for Mexico and the Caribbean, and $50 for international.

American - $5 processing fee to redeem ticket online, $50 co-payment for one-way upgrades from economy, $150 for upgrades when traveling between North America and Central America, and $350 for travel to Europe, India, Asia and South America.

Continental - Three-week advance ticketing deadline or $75 fee, less availability on high demand routes. Miles required for China or Hong Kong rise from 250,000 to 300,000 (that is about 300 domestic round trips to acquire)

Northwest - $25 charge for domestic tickets, $50 for trans-Atlantic tickets, $200 for trans- Pacific travel.

Southwest - No changes

United - No bonus miles for elite travelers, reduction in available upgrades.

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