Quitting a frequent-flier program looks easy: You cut up your card and donate the miles to charity. And that’s it.

But after a recent column in which I questioned the value of loyalty programs, I realized that there’s a little more to it. Living miles-free in a world that’s polluted with points is exceedingly difficult – and for some, impossible.

Vera Finberg decided to toss her United Airlines miles into the recycling bin after a recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. The carrier made her buy more miles to redeem an award ticket and denied her priority wait-listing benefits because of a technicality, she says.

“We canceled our United credit card after that,” she told me. “I go to Boston every six weeks and will travel to L.A. this summer. I may even go to Europe in the fall. I won’t fly on United for any of these trips. JetBlue gets my vote for trips to Boston, and I’m trying Virgin America to L.A. So long, United!”

Problem is, people like Finberg, a retiree who lives in Fairfax, will now be tempted to join JetBlue’s or Virgin’s loyalty programs, which may work better for her but in all likelihood will just work better for the company offering the incentives.

It’s easy to see why people might be having doubts about their loyalty. Take the issue of seat availability. A recent survey found that from June to October, 68 percent of the United award seats requested were available. United’s numbers are so-so in comparison with other carriers. Southwest Airlines ranked highest, with a 99 percent availability rate for the same period, while US Airways trailed the pack with just 10 percent. (Neither Virgin America nor JetBlue was surveyed.)

There’s also the value of points. Airline miles have been assessed as being worth anywhere from one-tenth of a cent to no more than two cents a mile, and not by an admitted skeptic like me, but by the companies themselves.

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  • Elliott

    Christopher Elliott has been called one of the world’s leading travel experts. But his focus isn’t on the destination, or ev…

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