237-Strangling the Goose

Some time ago, we wrote a blog (see HERE) on the declining value of airline miles programs. At the time, we noted that most of those miles awarded were worth less than a cent. In fact, the airlines themselves believe that these miles are worth far less than a cent. That means the miles that you gain return less than 1% of your spending to your account.

Here is an example. United Airlines offers a one year membership in its Red Carpet Club for 70,000 miles. If you are a normal flyer, without particular value to United as a Premier or Premier Executive and so forth, you can buy a one year membership for $425. United Airlines is telling us that its miles are worth 6/10th of 1 cent.

But let’s say you are a highly valued flyer with United Airlines. Let’s assume you are a 1K flyer, one of their top categories. If you are in that fortunate (or unfortunate as you will have it) position, you may purchase a one year membership in the Red Carpet Club for $325. As an alternative, you can purchase the membership with 40,000 of your frequent flyer miles. This is a much better deal. Here your miles are worth 8/10th of a cent.

These airline-sponsored deals strike me as dangerous. (See the Symptom & Implication, “Customers are more price sensitive” on StrategyStreet.com.) They telegraph clearly that airline miles are worth less than 1%. This is dangerous because there are a number of credit cards available to you which will return 1% of your spending every month, in cash. That is a considerably better deal than the United Airline miles offer you. (See the Symptom & Implication, “New competition is entering a settled market” on StrategyStreet.com.) These airline miles keep losing their allure.

Posted 01/10/11

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