Are Airline Mileage Programs Still Worth the Trouble?

I’ve been a member of the American Airlines Aadvantage program for something like 25 years. I originally chose American because they have always had a serious presence here in Hawaii. United Airlines was the other option—this was before Hawaiian Airlines began flying to so many West Coast cities—but I had constantly heard people complaining about not being able to redeem their miles for the United flights they wanted. Still do, in fact.

And so we joined American’s program and got one of the credit cards that give you a mile for every dollar you spend. It’s been our practice over the years to charge everything possible to that card in order to pile up as many miles as possible. That includes groceries, gas, dry cleaning … everything. And of course we pay it off in full every month. The fact is, we’ve enjoyed a lot of “free” travel over the years as a result.
But now the travel experts are saying that these programs are no longer of any serious benefit … that we’re being hit by “inflation”, meaning the actual cash value of a “mile” has fallen dramatically over the past 18 months or so—from a bit more than 2 cents on average to about .7 cents today.
Yesterday, I wanted to use some of my American miles for a flight on July 10th from Los Angeles back to Maui. For many years, the LAX-OGG flights have been almost always available for 17,500 miles. When I started the booking process yesterday, however, I discovered that the cost had jumped to 22,500 miles. Well, OK, that’s almost a 30-percent increase, but it’s still affordable. Let’s go for it.
Oops! Wait a second, for those 22,500 miles, American Airlines offers me a flight on Alaska Airlines and it includes a stop in Seattle! So now it would take me 11 hours to fly from LA to Seattle to Maui instead of the normal five hours for a non-stop flight.
Of course, I can still use my Advantage miles for a non-stop American Airlines flight from L.A. to Maui … but it will now take 50,000 miles. Bottom line: the cost in Aadvantage miles for the L.A.-to-Maui flight has almost tripled in just the last couple of years.
How the hell can they continue to call this a “loyalty” program?