It was bound to happen. American, US Airways, and Delta are now charging to cash in your frequent flyer miles, and it's almost certain that others will follow, and that these fees will become a permanent fixture. On Delta, you'll pay $25 now for domestic frequent flyer tickets and $50 for international. On US Air, beginning in August, "free" tickets for US and Canada travel will now be assessed a $25 fee. Flights to Mexico and the Caribbean are $35 while flights to Hawaii or to international destinations outside of North America will cost $50. American Airlines charges a flat $5 fee.
Keep in mind the other fees associated with these once "free" tickets. You'll pay $100 or even $150 to change a frequent flyer ticket after issuance; $100 or more to rebank your miles should you decide not to use the ticket; an additional fee to issue a frequent flyer ticket over the phone or in person with a ticketing agent.
And get this: American recently announced copayments for certain business class tickets on various routes. Meaning that you'll have to fork over miles plus cash!
Plus there is no doubt in my mind that the standard 25,000 mile award level (which is virtually impossible to get in any case) will soon be history, as will the 50,000 "anytime" award (meaning there are no blackout dates).
So if I were you, I'd cash out. In fact, I just cashed in 150,000 miles in the British Airways Executive Club to buy a first class New York-London ticket. BA raised the price of their frequent flyer seats a few years ago and caught me unawares, and I vowed it would never happen again.
Cash in those miles! And beware of expiration. Miles are expiring faster than ever unless you have some activity in your account. And then look into a cash back credit card rather than a mile-producing one.
US Airways' Frequent Flyer Fee Structure
As you can see from the chart below, copied from US Airways' site, there's no such thing as a free ticket anymore. If you book a "free" frequent flyer ticket by phone with insufficient advance notice a domestic ticket will cost you $100 in fees ($25 processing fee plus $75 quick ticketing fee). Change your mind? Up to $150 to re-deposit your miles or change your flight. Want to fly confirmed standby on the same day of travel? That's $25.