SmarterTravel asks how much that free ticket costs?


BOSTON, MA (September 10, 2008) – Since 1981, the value proposition underlying the airlines’ popular loyalty programs has been simple and straightforward: earn miles; redeem them for a free ticket. But with free tickets becoming more difficult to redeem, the editors at,, and have compiled a chart comparing 14 frequent flyer fees imposed by 12 US airlines.

Consumers are still required to earn miles but truly free tickets have become an endangered species, and now, some of the largest programs have added cash fees to the miles they collect for award tickets. And there are more than a dozen other new and increased fees that make participating in mileage programs an increasingly costly proposition.

In fact, there are now so many fees being assessed by so many airlines that travelers need a scorecard to keep track.

Among the chart’s key revelations:

— Free tickets? Not from American, Frontier, or US Airways, which have imposed fees of up to $50 simply to issue an award ticket. And members of the programs of Delta and Northwest will have to pay fuel surcharges of as much as $100.

— Low-cost carriers charge fewer fees, and the fees they do charge tend to be lower.

— US Airways has the most fees, and the highest fees.

— With fees as high as $150 to change an award ticket or redeposit miles, travelers face new financial pressure to plan their award trips carefully.

— Two carriers charge cash co-payments for upgrade awards. Frequent flyers who regularly use their miles for upgrades might get better value by switching to fee-free programs.

The chart is available as a free download from the website (

Tim Winship, frequent flyer program expert and SmarterTravel editor-at-large, is available to provide commentary and analysis.