If you’ve ever joined a frequent-flier program, you know all about the frustrating catch-22 that comes with reward miles: They’re very easy to save up, but thanks to blackout dates, airport restrictions, and other limitations, miles are nearly impossible to cash in when you want to fly! That aggravation may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to two new alert services we read about in the New York Times. One service, offered by Yapta.com, is completely free but only works with five airlines so far. The 2nd service, offered by ExpertFlyer.com, costs $10 per month. Either way, each site asks you to register a flight you’re planning to take and if an award seat becomes available on that flight, you’ll be notified via email – in time for you to cash in your frequent flier points for a free ticket. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll always get one of those free seats. Airlines typically set aside only 5% of their seats for reward customers – and they fill up fast! With so many airlines cutting flights this year, officials estimate there will be about 1 million fewer reward seats available globally.
Still, experts believe these new alert systems could be a boon for the airline industry. First of all, they encourage customer loyalty – since alerts will mostly benefit people who spend all their travel money on a single airline. There’s also a customer service benefit – since a large number of calls to airline call centers are from people trying to cash in their frequent-flier points. With an estimated 14 trillion unused frequent-flier miles on the books, that adds up to a lot of calls! So more alerts may mean fewer calls, and fewer headaches for overworked agents.
The email alert system isn’t perfect. The reality is that many award seats become available the night before a flight’s scheduled to leave which can make it tricky for customers to book a flight ahead of time. So planes continue to take off with their award seats unfilled. It sounds like a step in the right direction.