Opening Remarks – June, 27 2003

Opening Remarks – June, 27 2003

Item One: Write Three, Get None
Several weeks have passed since I sent THE LETTER (see my Opening Remarks from the June issue) to officials in Washington D. C., asking for clarification and support of frequent flyer rights with respect to potential bankruptcy and cessation of flights by an airline. Regrettably, there is still nothing to report. They are either taking my comments under serious consideration, or the letter has been filed in the “known loony” bin. But I’ll be patient and let you know about my efforts and progress.

While I’m reminded that the wheels of progress can turn slowly, I can’t help but wonder if I should have mentioned to them that I have a plaque in my office from the National Republican Congressional Committee for serving as a co-chair of the Committee’s Business Advisory Council (and I’m not even of the Republican persuasion). Heck, I donated to — I guess I could also donate to the President’s re-election committee.

Item Two: Fly Three, Get One Free
In this issue, we report on the eruption of “Fly Three, Get One Free” frequent flyer promotions. While the promotions aren’t necessarily unique, the feedback from some of the media is. I’ve done a few interviews on the topic, and each time the reporter has suggested these promotions aren’t that good. Then my good friend Joe Brancatelli joined the chorus, claiming that the United offer was phony, and that these promotions were an attempt to lure travelers into paying too much to earn the free flight.

To these people, I simply say, “Time for your next dose of Ritalin.” Sure, there is absolutely no way to fully justify flying these three flights simply to earn one free. In fact, when promotions similar to these were introduced in the early 90s, members could earn international free tickets with normal award redemption restrictions. But they are far from a “bad” deal. If you are already earning bonus miles for your flights, these promotions simply act as a tie-breaker.

Here’s the best and only way to look at these promotions for positive use: Fly your normal number of trips during the promotional period and enjoy whatever bonus miles you are earning. If you are lucky enough to earn this extra gift, thank the program(s) and enjoy.

To call these promotions rip-offs and phonies is unfair. Sure, the execution could have been better (too many special rules), but the concept is right.

Two airlines deserve special recognition — Alaska and Southwest. Rapid Rewards’ ongoing double credit for online booking promotion is still better than any of these, and Alaska Mileage Plan’s decision not to create a special class of award wins the day. If I was to go out of my way to fly the extra flight to qualify, it would be with Alaska.

I would warn programs that the borderline compulsive segregation of airfare-qualifying categories might backfire on them, and will very likely drive me and others to simpler programs. Promotions like the current “Fly Three, Fly Free,” but with few or no restrictions, are what powered programs in the early 90s. In fact, it might be said that those promotions contributed to the financial success enjoyed in the late 90s.

Item Three: Fly Three, Get One
In this interpretation, it’s about flying three airlines (Continental, Delta and Northwest) and getting one program. While I admit I did not think the current alliance among the three airlines would be approved by the Department of Transportation, and even lost a bet to the Marketing Director at Continental OnePass (I’m just hoping he doesn’t crave caviar at lunch), I have to say that this alliance is very pro-frequent flyer.

I will say for the record, however, that I’m very disappointed that the OnePass and WorldPerks programs caved in to this notion that Delta SkyMiles has to limit elite re-qualification mileage on cheap seats to .5 miles per mile flown. I was surprised that WorldPerks went along. For many years I’ve always felt they marched to their own drummer and often saw things a little differently. Bad dog. Bad, bad dog (with apologies to colleague Tim Winship).

Finally, many readers over the years have had their frequent flyer accounts or transactions red-flagged. Some of it was innocent, and some of it not so innocent. So, with respect to the popular Worst-Case Scenario books, this month we’ve mapped out the step-by-step instructions you should follow to ward off trouble.

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