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Oct 19

WestJet Gets Frozen and What to do with Expiring Miles

Seriously? Was this necessary? 

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When WestJet announced a “new initiative” with Disney last week, I should have paid attention.

Long-time readers know of my running battle with my frenemy, the movie Frozen. After tripping over Elsa and Olaf dolls more times than I can count, I was prepared to banish them to that giant ice castle that Elsa built with a wave of her ungloved hand. And it refuses to go away. Yesterday, WestJet announced its new Frozen airplane, and by that, I don’t mean really cold. Yeah, they’re a year or two late to hit the peak of the phenomenon, but there are still plenty of screaming six-year-olds who will go crazy at the site of the princess sisters.

I have to admit, though, the plane is pretty cool (no pun intended) and the airline did a nice job drumming up publicity.

Do you want to build an airplane? Here’s what you’ll get:

Fun Facts:

  • The crew was forced to watch the movie Frozen before beginning.
  • The painters that didn’t quit because of that worked 12-hour days for three weeks to finish the job. In comparison, Elsa built her ice castle in under four minutes.
  • The crew members couldn’t find Timbits in Dallas, so they ate bagels.

Here’s my question: Since the plane was supposed to be a surprise, where did all those kids come from?

What to do with Expiring Miles or Small Balances

Reader question: “I only have a few thousand miles in one of my programs. I’m never going to use them. What can I do with them to get some value?”

The industry term for unused miles that expire is “breakage.” Airlines know that a certain number of miles will never get used (It’s a mid-teens percentage.) and factor that into the price of awards. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to get something for those miles.

Points.com:

Points.com is a site that allows you to exchange miles between programs. For instance, if you have JetBlue miles and want to swap them into Delta, you can do that through Points.com. The catch is that you will get a lousy exchange rate, often in the range of 4:1 or 5:1 (i.e., to get 100 Delta miles, it will cost you 400-500 JetBlue miles). But it’s an efficient way to clean out a small account and you can do a very small swap if you need activity in an account to keep miles from expiring.

 Redeem for Gifts, Media or Charity

Airlines got a lot of complaints about breakage and the difficulty people had using their miles for tickets, so they created other options. Traditionally, the only non-flight options had been magazines, but now most airlines have a redemption shopping mall or other options in case you don’t need another subscription to Auto Mechanics Monthly. Most have options that start at only a few hundred miles, so there’s always something to buy. The downside is that you miles get valued at a very low rate. Here are a few examples:

American’s redemption options are somewhat weak. It has the traditional magazines and newspapers, and will also let you donate miles to charity. You can exchange miles for gift cards, as well, but that brings you back to Points.com to do so.

You’re rarely going to get more than a penny per mile at Delta, but I’ll give them credit in that they have a rich variety of rewards. If you have 10,000 miles or more, you can use them to redeem toward the cost of your next flight. Otherwise, there is a shopping mall, charity donations and auctions. You won’t lack for options.

United also has strong redemption options, with many of the same as Delta. Of course, you can also redeem for hotels, cruises, rental cars, etc. but, by the time you get to that amount of miles, you’ll once again face the problem of exchanging them at a highly discounted rate.

Bottom Line: Don’t let your miles expire without a fight.

Final note: I have a number of friends who work for American Airlines. While I spend plenty of time on this blog mocking the airlines, I did want to congratulate them on the smoothest reservations cut-over that I’ve ever seen a in a merger. Nice job, guys. Thanks.

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