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Should I Join a Non-U.S. Mileage Program?

The question often arises: Is there any benefit for an American traveler to participating in the mileage program of a non-U.S. airline?

The answer has always been no, for two main reasons. First, the U.S. programs have generally proven more generous than their overseas counterparts. That’s probably a reflection of the fiercer competitive environment in which American airlines operate. In addition, programs hosted by U.S. carriers were designed principally for a U.S.-based audience and therefore tend to offer Americans more options for earning and redeeming miles.

In these days of sky-high oil prices, there’s yet another reason to stick with a local program: fuel surcharges.

The following note from Angela illustrates the point:

“I just transferred a TON of Diners Club points to my British Airways Executive Club account in order to book round-trip travel from Washington, D.C., to London. When I went to book the trip using 50,000 BA miles, I was also hit with about $450 in fees (including a huge fuel surcharge). What a rip-off. I could have purchased the ticket outright for less than $200 more. I am sharing this as one of your loyal subscribers and a frustrated traveler.”

While the U.S. carriers have imposed a raft of [% 2642212 | | frequent flyer program-related fees %] in recent months, fuel surcharges have been the exception to the rule. Currently, only [% 2624314 | | Delta %] imposes a fuel surcharge for award tickets ($25 for domestic, $50 for international); Northwest will do the same beginning September 15 ($25 to $100, depending on flight distance).

Foreign carriers are much more likely to assess fuel surcharges on award tickets; and those surcharges are apt to be significantly higher. In some cases, they can add more than $400 to the cost of an award ticket.

So next time you’re contemplating an exotic mileage program, review that program’s award fuel surcharges before signing up for membership. You may decide the hometown program is the better deal.

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