DALLAS — Airline travelers are adjusting to constant turbulence in frequent-flier programs.
American Airlines is the latest to tinker with its program. The Dallas-based carrier on Tuesday announced changes that make it tougher to redeem miles for a flight during busy travel periods, and to check a bag without a fee.
The changes aren’t as dramatic as Delta Air Lines Inc.’s recent switch to basing rewards on money spent, not miles flown, but they are just the latest example of airlines giving away less as executives increasingly focus on growing profits.
Gary Leff, a travel blogger and co-founder of frequent-flier website MilePoint, said airlines are lowering the value of miles because planes are full and they would rather sell the seats than give them away.
During the Great Recession, when airlines were struggling and many planes were half-empty, airlines lavished miles on customers who signed up for credit cards or made other purchases. Now the big airlines routinely fill more than 80 percent of their seats.
“There’s a real trade-off between giving the seat to a frequent-flier redemption versus cash,” Leff said. “Right now the pendulum is swinging toward less generosity rather than more. Much of this is cyclical and economic.”
Still, American isn’t reducing the value of miles as much as United Continental Holdings Inc. did in November for international trips in first- and business-class, travel experts say. But American’s moves will make its program more complicated and could make it easier for the airline to effectively raise prices without consumers noticing.