Opening Remarks – October, 25 2002

Opening Remarks – October, 25 2002

Here we are, nearing the end of the year, and if you’re not concerned, you should be. Why? Because this is the time of year when various travel loyalty programs determine what next year’s program will look like. From the design of the elite cards to changes in benefits — it’s all being worked on as you read this.

Of primary concern are the elite-level programs, as they are annual programs that don’t actually require any notice of change. The “test” changes that US Airways exhibited a few months back are but an example. What will change in the coming year? I honestly don’t know. I’m not even sure I want to know-it could spoil my Christmas.

One thing is certain;, if these programs are smart, they will read very carefully into the message that was sent by members of all programs when US Airways announced its change regarding mileage accrual on less-than-full-fare tickets. Most rational members of these programs fully understand the state of the industry, but the airlines will have a hard sell if they try to convince members to accept changes that undercut the very essence (and success) of these programs. Which airline is willing to cut off its nose to spite its face? It’s been tried, without success. But despite my words and thoughts, I can’t help feeling that we’re all going to be unhappy with the way things are to become.

Where am I on all this? Simple. I as an airline passenger am more than willing to assist these airlines to get their wings back on (not in all cases, mind you, some deserve whatever they get). In fact, I and many other frequent flyers in my crowd are willing to pitch in and fly right, even though there’s little doubt among us that much of the damage sustained by the airlines is self-inflicted. I’ve got a little antiseptic to spare, but I’m not interested in loaning Band-Aids or crutches. I’ll even go so far as to ignore the fact that many of the services the airlines want to eliminate were instrumental to the success of the programs in the first place and didn’t seem to create any problems when the industry was posting record profits or, for that matter, even in leaner times when load factors were lower than what is being faced today.

I’m willing to accept all of this (heck, you can even throw in some of these fee-based changes as revenue from those who need special services). But I’m not going to accept changes that will alter the nature of the elite level while I listen to the airlines cry that the business traveler hasn’t returned and that, unless they do, all problems will continue. Fine. Listen to what you are saying and don’t mess with your best customers. Seems to me that hotels, because of their overall dependence on airline travel, are hurt just as bad, yet I don’t suspect for a minute that my elite privileges from Marriott, Hilton, Priority Club Rewards, etc. are in danger of dilution.

Let my ramble be heard by frequent flyer programs as they head into this most concerning time of the year. Do what you think necessary to contribute to the return to normalcy for the airlines you serve. But take my word, if you think I haven’t returned yet to flying, burn me and my earned benefits and you’ll be among the last to find out that I really have returned to flying-just not with you.

AND FINALLY, after flying America West to a recent FlyerTalk gathering in Las Vegas, I take a few minutes to visit with their marketing executives on why it seems they aren’t matching cuts to frequent flyer and travel benefits, and about life at FlightFund after the recent end of a domestic alliance with Continental OnePass. Their candid comments appear in 60 Seconds.

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