I despise the word "hack," especially when associated with the word travel. Like the buzzword innovation, hack has become one of the most overused and misused, clickbait-y words on the Interweb.

Hack: to gain unauthorized access

One well-known travel “hack” in particular relies on a process of obtaining airline, hotel and travel brand reward points through the use of credit cards. Open a new card and automatically receive tens of thousands of reward points. Charge up the card. Pay it off. Receive more points. Open another card, charge it up. Transfer balances around. Receive more points. Repeat. Nowadays, those travel “hackers” who have bought into this illusion through use of their credit cards are being exposed to a harsh reality of less generous reward travel.

The reason: The travel industry’s retooling over the years of their reward programs to benefit only those travelers who actually spend the most cold hard cash.  As Grant Martin recently wrote in an article for Skift: “The world of airline loyalty programs is contracting this year, making it harder for travelers to both earn and spend their frequent flyer miles.”

Like a dotcom bubble past its due date to burst, this year alone has seen several more airlines adjusting their reward programs away from a ridiculously unsustainable model with the rest of the industry likely to follow in the immediate future. Most airlines now factor in the hard currency price paid for a ticket as opposed to doling out rewards simply based on miles flown. Additionally, the bar for reward seats, for class of service upgrades and for reaching a higher tier status enabling complimentary perks like lounge access is being set much higher. In essence, the points are being devalued in a way that stings the consumer on both ends, making those reward points earned through credit card transactions much less valuable as industry giants work to quash the hacking illusion by bringing perception and reality much closer into alignment.

Over a decade ago Joe Brancatelli wrote a straightforward article about reward points and loyalty programs in which he categorized them as more marketing scheme than anything having to do with loyalty. He also reminded us that there is no free lunch. But as I said in the beginning, these “hacks” were always just an illusion, an illusion that is vanishing rapidly as airlines and travel brands race to weed out those who do not significantly contribute to the bottom line — otherwise known as those who gained “unauthorized access.”


Link to this story: http://www.wessence.com/news/the-most-popular-travel-hack-was-always-just-an-illusion

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