It was only recently that I was presenting to an airline partly on the topic of redemption programs and the concept of mixing miles and cash, so I was interested this week to see an article in the New York Times on airline reward programs making it easier to spend your miles.

Starting next month American Airlines plans to let its frequent fliers use miles to book car rentals and hotel stays online.

Online is the key word above, as most programs offer the ability to redeem cars for points, but speaking from experience, it is not the easiest process in the world when you have to call the contact center and then be mailed a voucher. The article continues:

Alternative awards attempt to address “the perception that may exist among some travelers of difficulty in using their miles,” said Tom O’Toole, chief operating officer of Mileage Plus Holdings for United, which has also been promoting a guarantee that any open seat on its plane can be booked with frequent-flier miles — so long as you’re willing to dole out enough miles. “We study intensively what travelers want in a loyalty program, and travelers told us they want to be able to use their miles.”

That last line is a classic understatement. I hope they didn’t have to pay a market research firm too much to discover that insight.

Delta and United also offer the option of using a combination of miles and cash to book travel. Delta frequent fliers without enough miles in their account get a message during the payment process to let them know. “We’re sorry. You do not have enough miles to redeem for your total itinerary. But don’t worry — you can still pay using a combination of miles and money.”

Even nicer than the message referred to above was the message I received when trying to redeem flights on Iberia last year – giving me a credit when I was just short of the required points, that really was an impressive touch.

If you want to see something nice with Miles & Cash take a look at the slider on sites like Finnair, Etihad, Qantas or a growing number of others where the anyseat redemption concept allows a virtually infinite number of combinations for the passenger to choose how much cash and how many points/miles he wants to spend to acquire a given seat. Where I see this trend going in future is a much deeper integration between commercial and redemption to the point where in order to compete even more effectively against OTA’s and metasearch, there may be a point in the future where the commercial booking flow and the redemption booking flow may merge into one. That is true Miles & Cash.