Credit Cards

How to Protect Your Airline Rewards

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Are Airlines Doing a Bait and Switch with Rewards Programs?For decades, banks have partnered with airlines to offer rewards to holders of their co-branded credit cards. And while nearly all airlines in the United States offer a credit card, American Express and Delta currently have seven different versions of their SkyMiles credit card, the most of any airline. For its part, Delta airlines boasts of its membership in the SkyTeam Alliance, which allows customers to earn and redeem miles for flights on alliance carriers. But how would you feel if, after saving your miles for a trip to Europe or beyond, you found out that Delta was no longer issuing business class awards on Air France-KLM, the largest European carrier in SkyTeam?

In mid-September, Delta stopped issuing awards in business class for flights operated by Air France-KLM before June 15th, 2013. This has been reported by travel bloggers and I was able to confirm many award flights offered by Air France-KLM that were not listed when searching Delta’s site for award seats. In addition, customers can no longer use their upgrade certificates on flights operated by Air France-KLM. They have reportedly not notified their customers of this change.


In the fine print of their SkyMiles membership guide, Delta says:

“Delta and its program partners reserve the right to change program rules, benefits, regulations, Travel Awards, fees, mileage Award levels, and special offers at any time without notice. This means that Delta may initiate changes, for instance, impacting partner affiliations, rules for earning mileage credit, continued availability of Awards, or blackout dates. Delta may also limit the seats available for Award Travel to any or all destinations (including, but not limited to, allocating no Award seats on certain flights).”

Other airline frequent flier programs have similar terms. But even if customers were to closely read this statement, would they conclude that placing a “limit” the seats available on “certain flights” would mean the elimination of the type of flight they need? Delta’s media relations have not responded to queries about these changes.

What does this mean for credit card holders?

Changes in partnerships, and terms, will happen. And it’s always important to read the fine print and do your research to make sure your miles cover your travel needs. So what else can customers of Delta and other carriers do to ensure they’re getting what they want out of their airline miles?

1.     Earn and redeem airline miles quickly

Unfortunately, gone are the days when travelers could prudently accumulate miles over the course of years. Today, it makes sense to quickly redeem miles when an award becomes available.

2.     Look for credit card programs that offer multiple redemption paths

American Express also offers the Starwood card which earns points in Starwood hotel’s Preferred Guest program. These points can then be transferred to Delta SkyMiles or miles with the programs of 30 other airlines including Air France-KLM. So if one airline won’t offer you the award seat you need, you can go directly to the partner airline. Other similarly flexible programs include American Express’s Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards.

3.     Stick with cash back and fixed value rewards

Capital One’s Venture Rewards card offers two “mile” per dollar that can be redeemed for any travel purchase at a rate of one cent each. This offers you more rewards per dollar spent than most SkyMiles award ticket options. Otherwise, cardholders can simply look for cash back credit cards with rewards that do not rely on the policies of its partners.

By taking reasonable steps to earn the most valuable credit card rewards, you can still fulfill your dreams of a European vacation.

At publishing time, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American ExpressGold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Capital One’s Venture Rewards card is offered on Credit.com product pages and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Image: Andreas., via Flickr

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