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Friday, December 26, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 10/20/2001

Frequent flyer has a few ideas

Granted, it isn't nice to kick someone who is down on his luck.

Still, as sympathy for the airlines mounts since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I can't help but wonder if they won't find it in their hearts and budgets to be more considerate to us, the passengers, who have kept the billion-dollar businesses flying.

Is there a possibility that the airlines will change their ways and extend a hand of courtesy and understanding? Is there a chance that the drop in business will raise their customer relations policies?

Thousands of Americans travel by plane more than I do, but I am no piker when it comes to air travel, which gives me the backround to vouch for the agonizing procedures that have been in place for several years.

The airlines have been making it tough for the consumer to a degree that while waiting a half-hour or longer, on the telephone and listening to their promotions, you wonder if it's worth the effort. Maybe you should just stay home and avoid the hassle. The options of traveling by bus, or train, would be less stressful, but there is never enough time. We have grown accustomed to fast travel - breakfast at home and lunch in Los Angeles.

Improved customer relations can begin with improved food, and that includes getting rid of the cold, chewy bagels served for breakfast. It can include not charging us $75 or $100 to change flights. And what about that Saturday-night stay rule?

The frequent flyer programs lead the list of airline policies that could use sweetening. When you call for a reservation, often the airline just doesn't have a seat available for the destination and day you want to travel. The disappointment goes for the big 747s and DC 10s as well as smaller planes.

How many frequent-flyer seats are allotted on each flight? Only the frequent flyer fairy knows that answer, but you can bet your pillow and blanket that it's only a few.

Americans have been urged to use airline credit cards to pay for everything from the doctor, the dentist, hotels, groceries, gasoline, and any other business that accepts them to chalk up miles for a free trip. The deal is one frequent flyer mile for each dollar charged on the card, and before you know it, your mileage totals 25,000 and you qualify for a free ride.

I hold high frequent-flyer totals on three major airlines. Still, when I called for a recent trip to Honolulu, not one of the airlines had a seat. Even when I gave them a four-day departure window they couldn't accommodate me. The explanation was that most travelers make their plans a year in advance, or at least several months.

I had to pay for a ticket even though my free mileage on one airline is 85,000. I have a little less on two others.

While consumers are hanging on the telephone trying to get a reservation, the promotions luring them to go for more free miles continue to pour in. The number of frequent flyer promotions airlines offer came to light when I returned home after a month to a bushel of mail.

Hotels, rental car agencies, and telephone companies long have cooperated with airlines on mileage giveaway deals. Staying in member hotels or renting a car earns a few hundred miles, but opting to change telephone companies can mean as many as 40,000 miles.

Depending on the amount of the transaction, a house buyer could earn 100,000 miles. Another promotion announces there are 7,500 restaurants participating with the airlines, and by patronizing one of them the participant is awarded 10 miles for each dollar spent in the restaurant, and another mile for each dollar spent if the airline credit card is used.

Opening and funding an online brokerage account can really boost the mileage account in a hurry. Investing $50,000 earns 50,000 miles.

The mileage take is just 750 miles when flowers are purchased through the one national florist.

The National Park Service has joined the mileage game, too. One airline is awarding 10 free miles for every dollar over $10 that is donated to the foundation.

So you buy a house, eat at 100 member restaurants, invest your savings in an online broker, send your wife flowers, donate $500 to the park service, and change your telephone service. What good would the frequent flyer miles be if you couldn't use them?

There are some solutions. You can will them to your heirs or give them to someone you want to come home for Christmas. Or, you can donate them to charity. You won't get a tax break, but it's a nice thing to do. Major airlines have mileage donation programs.

Delta's Sky Wish includes donations to the American Red Cross and other charities. To donate miles, contact the Delta Sky Miles Service Center to request the number of miles to be donated. American's mileage donation program is Miles for Kids. Miles donated are used for critically and terminally-ill children who cannot otherwise afford to travel by plane. American accepts phone calls for giveaway miles.

United has a similar program. It requests a minimum donation of 1,000 miles, and gives the donor a list of charities, including Children's Circle of Care, Ability Awareness, Breast Cancer Research, Habitat for Humanity, and the Dream Foundation.

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor. E-mail her at mpowell@theblade.com.



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