From the travel desk: Are your frequent-flier miles safe?

  • Updated: December 21, 2013 - 3:24 PM
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Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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We cherish frequent flier miles, wrangled with our loyalty to an airline, hour upon hour in cramped seats, and dollars spent at the mall. These hard-earned treasures let us dream of vacations to come.

Take them away, and who wouldn’t put up a fight?

Earlier this month, a St. Louis Park man brought his complaint against Northwest Airlines, which had kicked him out of its WorldPerks program, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg charges that Northwest stripped him of membership in the program in which he had earned elite status and scrapped his banked miles unfairly. The airline claims Ginsberg was abusing its rules, and that it had the right to close his account. A decision is expected in June.

In the meantime, the case provides an opportunity for fliers to take stock of their own miles.

First up: If you consider the miles “yours,” think again. Airlines track your miles, and in most cases own them, based on the terms of their frequent flier programs. Still, unless you violate the terms of the program by, say, selling miles to a third party, your miles should be safe.

Secondly, while I hoard miles, the wisest course is to use them quickly. Not only do airlines own the miles, but they can change the programs at any time by raising the “cost” of a flight or adding fees. They can also alter how miles accrue. Sun Country and Southwest award points based on dollars spent rather than miles flown, and major airlines may begin doing the same in 2014.

 

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com.

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