Coming To Terms With Being a Program-Agnostic Disloyal Flier — And My Future Strategy

ever since the writing was on the wall, i’ve been trying to prepare for this moment. now that United, my main airline, will be going revenue-based in terms of mileage earning starting in March, and my backup airline, Delta, has already changed over, i knew i’d become a free agent. at first i was planning to go to American and Oneworld, but their flight deals haven’t been ideal for me, so i’ve already been forced to diversify my flying — from focusing mainly on United/Star Alliance — to pretty much everyone.

i should note again that i don’t carry a grudge or resent United or Delta or anyone else for changing their program to reward people who bring in the money. why reward people like me who, while loyal, are doing it by the cheapest means possible? they’re there to make money, not to serve us — that’s just a side benefit. (i know this is contrary to soooo many other people/blogs out there, but that’s how i see it. they’re not in business to serve those of us that play the system, they’re in business to serve their shareholders.)

Untitledi am actually pretty good with this, as here are my 2015 international trips (with ticket costs, since i think many of you are interested) i have planned and purchased plane tickets for so far (yes, they stretch out until late in the year; i do plan ahead!):


  • Tbilisi, Georgia — United ($748.90)
  • Belgium(?) and Japan — Delta/SkyTeam ($383.89) and United award ticket
  • Tunisia — Emirates ($449.75)
  • Nepal — Etihad ($635.80)
  • Russia/Finland — Delta/SkyTeam ($339.86)
  • Kazakhstan/Vienna — United award ticket
  • Norway/Middle East — United award ticket
  • Armenia — Etihad ($190[!])
  • Thailand — United and Delta award tickets

the (paid) Delta, Emirates, and Etihad flights were incredibly cheap, so i don’t mind that they earn 0 to minimal miles.

i am currently faced, though, with a potential trip to Morocco on American/Oneworld, and it’s causing a lot of consternation — and is something i just plain need to get over. it’s too low of a fare class to be credited to Alaska (the sort of catch-all program) and also too low of a fare class to sail through a status challenge on American, so it’ll just earn normal points, but on the other hand, it’s not as cheap as those mistake fares so i can’t easily tell myself it’s not a big deal that i’m not elite with them — see below). i guess that’s better than earning nothing, right? and we all have to start somewhere with any program.

i guess i just need to talk it out, so thanks for bearing with me.

why have i traditionally focused on one program?

  • United and Star Alliance work out great from San Francisco in terms of destinations served, schedules, and award availability. also, i know the ins and outs of their frequent flier program.
  • more generally, the more you stick with a certain program, the higher up in the elite ranks you move. the more l33t you are, the easier it is to travel. here are the benefits i value most:
    • increased mileage earning (as a United 1K in the old program, i earned double miles, basically)
    • free award changes/redeposits — and i definitely take advantage of this, sometimes changing a ticket over 10 times before actually flying it
    • lounge access when traveling internationally, and you know how much i like having a shower before or after a long flight
    • the end (you expected me to say upgrades, huh. NOPE. not a big deal for me.)

why is it ok now to go agnostic? (is this where i convince myself i can buy that ticket to morocco?)

  • regarding lounge access: the American Express Platinum card. yes, it comes with a hefty fee, but it also gets me Priority Pass and Centurion lounge access. mostly not as great as many airline lounges, but still, serviceable.
  • regarding fees: if i focus on the truly cheap deals, regardless of carrier, i’m saving myself enough money over the long run, i hope, to make up for what i lose in mileage bonuses (and thus free flights faster) and any award change fees. this is the hardest pill for me to swallow, i think, but i have to believe it’s true (and i think it is).
  • regarding the future: based on scuttlebutt, chances are pretty high that American is also going to go revenue-based next year. i could go for one last hurrah, but meh.

why is it not ok to go agnostic?

  • as you can see, a lot of my flying comes from award tickets, and being a free agent means slow-going in terms of earning enough miles for a free ticket.

all in all, i cannot expect only to fly on mistake fares so sooner or later i will have to just come to terms with my new reality — being a free agent means focusing even more on the best deals. is that Morocco deal good enough for the new me? i used to have a 6 cent per mile rule of thumb, but i think i might now tighten that down to 5 cents per mile, if not less, since i can’t count on elite benefits to make up for any slack. this Morocco trip would be 5.46 cpm.

sigh, how much do i want to be back in Djema el-Fna again? pretty bad. but this is the time where i need to reevaluate my strategy. i think i’m leaning towards letting this deal go and hoping for another round of mistake fares and going ham on those.

Djemaa el-Fna - Nighttime 4

i’ve been trying to avoid this, but maybe it’s time to look into the manufactured spending/credit card game. to be honest, it’s perfect for my travel style…

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