Do it now.
Specifically, use your frequent flyer miles to book that award trip now, before newly announced fees and increased award prices take effect.
That's the best short-term advice for frequent flyer program members whose airline programs have announced new policies that will make award trips more expensive, either in cash or mileage terms, or both.
Following is a checklist of upcoming policy changes that consumers can avoid by acting sooner rather than later.
Members of Alaska's Mileage Plan program have until September 30 to book domestic coach awards at the current 20,000-mile level. On November 1, the price of that award rises to 25,000 miles, as do the prices of a number of other award types.
Also on November 1, Alaska will impose a $25 fee for award tickets issued on partner airlines.
Among the changes that will cause the most pain to the most program members is a new $50 cash payment in addition to the 15,000 miles required for a one-way domestic upgrade from discounted coach fares. That means that a round-trip domestic upgrade will cost 30,000 miles plus a $100 co-payment.
Beginning September 3, Continental will stop offering last-seat availability on some flights, even if members of their OnePass program are willing to redeem twice as many miles for an unrestricted award.
So if you plan on using Continental miles for a hard-to-book flight, don't dawdle. Reserve now, while you still can.
When Delta's much anticipated three-tier award chart takes effect in September, the price of completely unrestricted awards will rise—in some cases precipitously.
An unrestricted domestic coach ticket will increase from 50,000 to 60,000 miles. An unrestricted award ticket to Asia will cost 370,000 miles, up from the current range of 240,000 to 300,000 miles.
So if you anticipate needing an unrestricted award—most likely in cases where you're hoping to fly on a popular route, during a high-demand period—you can save miles by booking before the new policy kicks in.
On September 15, Frontier EarlyReturn members will pay more miles for awards, and more cash for various program-related fees.
The price of an award ticket for travel within the contiguous U.S. and Canada will rise from 15,000 to 20,000 miles. Award tickets to Alaska, Mexico, and Costa Rica will also cost 5,000 more miles.
On the fees front, non-elite program members will have to pay $25 every time they have an award ticket issued. Frontier will also increase existing fees for rush ticketing, ticket changes, and award trip cancelations.
On September 1, Hawaiian will increase mileage requirements for HawaiianMiles award flights.
For transpacific flights, one-way coach awards will rise from 17,500 to 20,000 miles for SuperSaver awards; from 25,000 to 30,000 for Saver awards; and from 35,000 to 40,000 miles for Anytime awards. Comparable increases are in store for first-class and inter-island awards.
Beginning on September 15, Northwest's WorldPerks members will pay a fuel surcharge when booking award tickets as follows: $25 for domestic flights; $50 for transatlantic flights; $75 for intra-Asia flights; and $100 for transpacific flights.
While the fees and award price increases discussed above can be sidestepped for now, by snagging awards before the new policies are in place, they will eventually become permanent features of the programs. And they're just the latest in an extensive list of recent changes that have been slowly but surely chipping away at the programs' value. The long-term question looms ever larger: Is it worth my time, money, and energy to bother participating in these programs at all?