It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but as airlines try to increase revenue per seat by adding fees and dropping flights, frequent flyer rules are becoming more consumer-friendly. The new rules should, theoretically, make free seats "freer" and easier to obtain.
This summer, I’ve been inundated with e-mails from airline frequent flyer programs talking about their upgrades. For example, the new One-Way Flex feature gives American AAdvantage members the option of getting a one-way ticket for half the points of a round-trip ticket. Makes sense, but previously on American, and still on most other airlines, a one-way ticket = frequent flyer points for a round trip. American is also allowing AAdvantage members to mix and match on round-trip flights--you can book economy one-way and business the other, or combine a restricted award (one that requires fewer miles for the trade) with an unrestricted award. The latter addresses the problem of trying to plan a trip when a restricted seat isn't available on one leg.
Meanwhile, United’s Mileage Plus has gotten rid of its fee for booking frequent flyer travel within 21 days of departure. United is the first airline to make this change. Previously, you had to pay up to $100 per ticket for the privilege of exchanging points at the relative last minute.
Next, we come to those wacky newlyweds (or perhaps we should say nearly-weds)--Delta and Northwest. Through December 31, members of the merged airline's frequent flyer program--Delta SkyMiles--can get double miles for all Delta and Northwest flights in all classes of service. But here’s the catch. First, you have to have an American Express-issued Delta Skymiles credit card. The good news is that if you currently leave home without it, you can apply for the American Express SkyMiles card right now...and the fee for the first year is waived. With card in hand, you next have to pre-register for the program at www.delta.com/double by the end of September to qualify.
Delta’s also offering rollover miles for its elite SkyMiles members. That means if you have Silver or Diamond status, any miles earned in excess of the minimum qualifying threshold will now carry over to the following year. Usually, you have to start at square one at the beginning of each year. Now, with the rollover plan, Silver and Diamond SkyMiles types can get those perks like complimentary airport lounge membership, a 125-percent mileage bonus, and exemption from many baggage and ticketing fees starting January 1.