Loyalty transferred

By Thomas P. McKenna
This item appears on page 53 of the March 2013 issue.

The editor’s piece on frequent-flyer-mile programs raised some thoughts (Jan. ’13, pg. 2).

As I recall, when frequent-flyer programs first started, only 12,500 miles were required for a round-trip flight anywhere in the US. That requirement soon changed to 25,000 miles, which remained the standard for decades, during which frequent-flyer miles were generally considered to be worth about seven cents each.

A few years ago I tried to book a flight using my United Airlines miles and discovered that any reasonable flight schedule required 50,000 miles. Comparing the costs of the cheaper flights available on other airlines, I determined that United’s miles were worth only about two cents each (and still are), which the editor’s article confirmed.

I canceled my credit card that earned United miles but cost $80 per year and switched to a Visa card issued by my credit union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union (for those in the military and for military contractors, etc.), one without an annual fee. It gives “cash back” credits against the monthly amount due.

Just about everybody in the country is eligible to join a credit union somewhere. If you don’t work for an organization that qualifies you to join, you can probably obtain membership through a relative. The interest that credit unions charge on loans is less, and the interest they pay on savings deposits is more than that of regular, commercial banks (although the interest on CDs and savings accounts is negligible everywhere these days).

Now I buy airline tickets with the best-available combination of price and convenient flight times for me without regard to “loyalty” toward any of the airlines, which have done nothing to earn my loyalty and have increased costs (as with checked-bag fees) and hassles (as with overbooking flights so you’re left to spend the night in the airport).

I still sign up for the frequent-flyer miles but donate them to Fisher House (888/294-8560), which uses them for flights for service members and their families (Jan. ’12, pg. 2).

Stowe, VT