Have you ever noticed that changes to frequent flyer programs usually make it harder for you to qualify for a free trip? If so, you might be surprised to learn that a few small airlines actually make it easier for savvy travelers like you and me to convert our miles into free seats. The process, called pooling, allows customers of JetBlue, Sun Country and Hawaiian Airlines to share frequent flier miles with friends and family members, without additional fees.

Essentially, pooling lets customers to get more value from loyalty programs. For instance, a family can combine their miles to get a free ticket much more rapidly. It might take a child a decade to accumulate enough miles for a free seat, but pooling lets the kid's miles benefit the family much sooner. The flexibility afforded by pooling also means that parents can use their kids' miles to stow their children with the grandparents and fly away with free seats for a well-deserved holiday.

The first pooling program, ShareMiles from Hawaiian Airlines, dates back to 2001. Members of this program can give their miles to anyone who is the primary account owner of a Hawaiian credit card or debit card. Non-pool transfers cost $20 for 2,000 miles plus a $25 transaction fee.

Sun Country Airline, which connects Minnesota to warmer climes, began offering point pools in 2013. Their program allows groups of up to 10 people to pool their miles. An executive from the airline notes that many of its travelers take leisure trips with family members, and that these may not occur very frequently. Point pools rewards these kind of travelers for their loyalty, even if they don't fly frequently.

The JetBlue program uses family pooling, which allows up to five children and two adults to share their miles. The company lets you define your "family" any way you want. If you want to transfer miles outside the pool, it will cost you $12.50 per thousand miles transferred. The airline has hinted that it might increase the number of eligible adults in the future, though. For those who don't know yet, JetBlue also specializes in leisure travel.

United, Southwest, Delta and American have no pooling programs. Several reasons are given for this. One travel blogger chalks it up to a belief that Americans are less family-centric than Europeans and Asians are. Another reason could be that the big airlines have more frequent flyers, hence it can be very costly for them to give away free seats just like that.

Also, without pooling, a share of miles is never redeemed. This share would be smaller under pooling, and thus costlier to the airlines.

The four mammoth airlines charge fees to transfer miles, so pooling would potentially cost them another source of revenue:

  • United: $15 per 1,000 miles and $30 per transaction
  • Southwest: $10 per 1,000 points
  • Delta: $10 per 1,000 miles plus $30 per transaction
  • American: $12.50 per 1,000 miles and $15 per transaction

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