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Now 30 Years Old, Frequent Flier Plans Draw Ire
CNBC.com | May 17, 2011 | 09:53 AM EDT

On the 30th anniversary of frequent-flier programs, miles and user options have soared — but so has frustration.

With literally billions of miles chasing a scarcity of cheap seats — 25,000-point flights, the longtime industry minimum for a domestic coach seat — consumer complaints are rampant. Ever-changing fees, blackout dates and other restrictions are adding to the discontent.

Now — thirty years after AMR'sAmerican Ailrines introduced the idea in 1981 — a third of all air miles go unused.

“They are trying to make it easier to redeem miles, but the travel and hospitality sector still has a long way to go,” says Kelly Hlavinka, managing partner with Colloquy, a loyalty marketing research company.

To help ease consumer ire and gobble up some of the estimated 15-trillion to 20-trillion miles outstanding, airlines, credit card companies and others doling out frequent-flier points have come up with a slew of new ways for customers to cash in.

Choices now go well beyond free flights and first-class upgrades to anything from flat-screen TVs and Super Bowl tickets to a lease on a new Mercedes, cooking school or charity donations. If those options aren’t enough, some miles can be converted into cash.

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