Less business travel clips fliers' privileges
With their wings clipped by corporate travel cutbacks, thousands of business travelers may have to scramble this year to earn enough miles to retain their status among the nation's elite frequent fliers.
Some are even paying thousands of dollars of their own money to earn enough miles to requalify for membership in the top tiers of frequent-traveler plans such as Continental Airlines' One-Pass Platinum Elite and United Airlines' Mileage Plus Premier Executive 1K.
What's at stake: frequent access to first-class airline seats, special check-in lines, guaranteed hotel room availability and an array of services that very frequent travelers say business travel is too painful to do without.
Many travelers aren't earning as many miles as they did last year, because budget cutbacks are forcing them to travel less, fly low-fare airlines or stay at cheaper hotels to save money on business trips.
But most airlines require travelers to fly at least 100,000 miles in a calendar year to qualify for top-level membership in the next year typically, bonus miles, hotel stays, car rentals and telephone calls don't count.
Biff Picone of Houston says he expects to spend about $6,000 of his own money this year on weekend domestic trips just for the miles. He has 15,000 fewer miles now than this time last year and says he may not reach Continental's 75,000-mile requirement for OnePass Platinum Elite status.
Bill Ihle, of Medford, Ore., flew to Hong Kong for a three-night-stay at his own expense in March just to earn miles he needs to hold on to his United Airlines Mileage Plus Premier Executive 1K status. His $620 round-trip ticket earned him 30,000 miles.
About 13 percent of frequent fliers are at risk of losing their status with airlines this year, says Randy Petersen, editor of "InsideFlyer."
That's almost twice as many as last year.