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Is it time to switch your loyalty?

Many travelers complain that they’re dissatisfied with frequent flyer programs. They gripe about unredeemable miles, grouse about diminishing elite perks, and groan about added costs and hidden fees. If you’re not benefiting from your continued support of one airline, you may want to call it quits and spend your money elsewhere.

Despite what you may think, you have many options for how to switch your loyalty. You can choose to dedicate your travel spending to another airline, focus your points earning in a hotel program, or throw loyalty to the wind and purchase only the cheapest tickets available. The choice depends on what works for your travel style and budget.

Switching from airline to airline

This option is best for travelers who still hope to earn free flights or take advantage of elite perks, but just aren’t having any luck with their current airlines. Perhaps you moved and your preferred carrier doesn’t have the same level of service at your new home airport. Or, maybe you’ve discovered that platinum members consistently nab the few first-class upgrades available, leaving your low-tiered elite self stranded in coach.

If you plan to switch your airline loyalty, choose your new airline carefully. Research which carriers have a large presence at the airports you use most frequently or which offer the lowest prices on the routes you often fly. Learn about elite program benefits and read the FlyerTalk boards to see whether program members are able to take advantage of the promised perks. When you choose a new frequent flyer program, don’t forget to switch your airline-affiliated credit card and miles-for-dining registration and always request an elite status comp or challenge.

Switching from airline to hotel

Frequent travelers who think airline perks are too elusive should consider switching their loyalty to a hotel program. Many major hotel brands allow guests to earn points for stays that can be redeemed for free nights. They also offer elite status to the most loyal guests and affiliated credit cards to facilitate points earning. Plus, you can instantly benefit from membership with perks such as complimentary newspapers or extended check-out.

Hotel stays can be a costly part of any vacation or business trip, so earning free nights is a smart financial decision. Plus, one free hotel room can benefit two people, whereas each frequent flyer needs her own free plane ticket. Many hotel programs do not impose blackout dates on award redemption, and you can get awards for as few as 1,000 points (a Starwood room upgrade). Frequent travelers can earn elite status after only four stays or 10 nights (with Hilton HHonors) and have options to get status through credit card purchases. And, hotel programs offer many ways to earn and burn points, including transferring points into airline miles.

So, you don’t have to worry about a cold-turkey switch; many of your miles-earning habits will apply, plus you can still get a free flight if you really need one. You may even find that a hotel program rewards you more often than your former airline ever did.

Switching to no loyalty

Travelers who feel hoodwinked by the whole frequent flyer loyalty scheme may simply want to opt out. Maybe you don’t travel enough to reap the benefits of airline or hotel loyalty or don’t think it’s worth the time, effort, and money to focus your earnings on one airline. In this case, your best option might be to become mercenary and book whichever airline is offering the cheapest rate for any given flight.

You won’t earn free flights or upgrades, but that’s why this approach is best for people who weren’t earning these perks anyway. And with the money you’ll save by always booking frugally, you may have enough cash left over to book an extra trip. Plus, by ditching your miles-earning credit card and applying for a cash-back card with no annual fee, you might even make money on the deal.

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