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Fine print, Protecting yourself, Rewards, Travel

No more free travel for some airlines’ frequent fliers

Matt Schulz

Those miles that you’ve been stockpiling by charging everything from a pack of gum to a flat-screen TV just got a little less
valuable.

Delta announced that cardholders who book frequent-flier tickets will soon be charged up to $50 per ticket, depending on where their travels take them. According to the New York Times,
“Delta will charge a $25 fuel surcharge on tickets booked within the United States, and $50 on tickets booked for travel elsewhere, including the Caribbean, the United States Virgin Islands, Latin America and other international destinations.”

Delta, however, is hardly alone in this move. The Times report says, “Earlier this month, American Airlines began charging $5 to book frequent-flier tickets. Meanwhile, US Airways will charge up to a $50 processing fee for frequent-flier tickets booked on or after Aug. 6.”

The frequent flier booking fee is just another example in a line of price hikes blamed on sky-high fuel prices. For instance, some airlines recently announced plans to charge for each bag that a passenger checks. The parade of new fees likely won’t be stopping anytime soon, either, since some experts believe oil prices will continue to break records.

However, these fees (and the possibility of more coming in the future) should give pause to airline rewards cardholders and those considering the cards. After all, if the free rewards flight is no longer free, is the card as alluring?

The most significant impact to cardholders is that it may “change the math” involved with the cards. For example, annual fees can go as high as $85 per year, and over a period of years, those fees can potentially cancel out any reward benefit. Mix in high interest rates and the new booking fees for these “free” tickets, and the benefits continue to shrink.

An earlier CreditCards.com story advised the following: “Cardholders hoping to make the most of airline rewards credit cards should keep up-to-date with current promotions, use the partner merchants when convenient, and pay for cheaper trips while reserving the miles for more expensive travel.”

Now those tips seem more important than ever. After all, while there may not be an imminent need to give up your airline rewards card as a result of the airlines’ latest fees, you should certainly be mindful of the costs the next time you try to cash in miles since your free tickets are no longer free.

See related: Rewards junkies take cash back credit cards to the max; Cash back or airline reward credit cards

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