Opening Remarks – February, 26 2003

Opening Remarks – February, 26 2003

Our cover story this month reflects on the growing increase of member militancy. I really hated to use the word “militancy,” since it has such strong overtones, but as noted, it’s a word that has been well-used over time to indicate the involvement of consumers in issues they feel very strongly about — the ultimate sign of loyalty. Can your concern and support of cause, truly make a difference? We think so, having been involved with various issues over the past 17 years.

Yes, 17 years. In February we celebrated our seventeenth year hustling news and opinions about the glory of frequent flyer miles — I opened my first office in mid-February, 1986. In those years, I’ve seen a lot of things come and go, but I have to say, we’re as busy now (if not busier) than at any time in those previous 17 years. The only thing I’m disappointed in is something that we write about in this month’s feature story — the apparent loss of public confidence in some of the frequent flyer programs. And even though times are, by definition, temporary, the die has been cast. The loss of public confidence is very hard to restore. That’s why when we had a meeting to discuss a cartoon idea for this month’s Exit Row, it seemed entirely natural to compare what is with what should be.

And it looks like I’m in this thing alone. In the past six months, I’ve watched as every other person who writes anything about business travel (with an interest in frequent flyer programs) has come out with advice to burn your miles with United and US Airways before you lose them. It doesn’t matter if it is print, radio or TV, the message always seems the same — use your miles now. And here I sit month after month answering question after question with the same advice — don’t do it. There’s time for alternatives if it comes to that, but as for me, I continue to earn and burn miles as I always have.

While the news for United hasn’t been all that great lately, I can’t yet make the call to eject. So if you want to know what my advice is: Do as I say, AND as I do. I earned 22,761 miles with United Mileage Plus in January (no redemptions) and have a ticket ready to London on US Airways (not redeeming miles). That’s right, I’m practicing what I preach. Some of you think I’m wrong, as do those writers who have sounded the “evacuate” sirens. We’ll have to wait and see, but when this is all over, I’ll either be the guy you continue to read because I know what I’m talking about, or I’ll be gone. Since I feel responsible for those of you who have followed my advice, you can be very sure that each and every day I’m out there asking questions and uncovering information for your benefit.

These truly are uncertain times, and my daily count of emails seeking advice continues skyward. Last week, in just one day, I received over 450 emails from members of frequent travel programs around the world hoping I could pass along some advice to make their use of miles and points that much more efficient. I’m falling further and further behind in that deluge of requests — if you’re in the mix of people that have tried to contact me, please bear with me. I don’t know how Dear Abby did it for so long. It’s always the best part of my day when I can devote minutes (and sometimes hours) to answering these requests, but even now I can feel myself falling behind again. My apologies if you’re in my inbox.

By the time you read this, we should have chosen a site for the 15th annual Freddie Awards to be held in late April. If you are interested, and it seems that many are, the official date and location will be posted on the Web site.

Next month we have an interesting feature story planned: A look at what United and US Airways have done to stem the fearsome tide that comes with a bankruptcy. From a rush to redeem awards, to making decisions that leverage the best those programs have to offer, we’ll take you inside these two programs and hope to share with you a positive outlook for 60 million members — all with something at stake.

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