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Don’t Even Try to Spend Your Frequent Flyer Miles

Airline rewards programs no longer benefit the leisure traveler

If you’ve flown anywhere in the last year or so, you’ve probably seen some airlines trying to sign you up for a credit card by catching your attention as you walk to your gate, offering a certain amount of points to entice you to sign up for the card. You ignore them as you rush to your gate but later think: Why is an airline pushing me to sign me up for a credit card?

Well, over the past few years major airlines have been adjusting their rewards programs. Rewards were once based on miles flown, but most airlines now emphasize ticket purchase price and the use of airline-affiliated credit cards. Unfortunately, this switch may only benefit business flyers purchasing more expensive tickets, while making it harder for those who travel less frequently and buy discounted tickets (nearly everyone else) to accumulate points.

Any customer-loyalty miles you have can still be redeemed, but they’ve lost value and are no longer much of an incentive to choose any particular airline over another. The airline companies originally created these programs to fill the more expensive seats at the front of the cabin, but under the new rewards systems, the more expensive seats are likely to be purchased to accumulate more points — leaving fewer (if any) open seats to be offered to rewards members.

JetBlue and Virgin America paved the way with these credit card programs, with American Airlines, Delta, and United the most recent airlines to make the switch.

Once you’ve booked your flight, here are 12 things every savvy traveler needs to pack.

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