Opening Remarks – July, 29 2003

Opening Remarks – July, 29 2003

Ah, the dog days of summer. Most of you are engaged in some fine summer reading — poolside or at the beach. Well, as I have time for neither, and nothing dramatic is going on in the world of miles and points (except, as you might have guessed, no answer yet from our friend Mr. Dayton Lehman regarding the federal recognition of frequent flyer awards), I dragged out a few old copies of this magazine to see what I was writing about at this time in years past. Thumbing through the archives, I got a sense of deja vu — and it became ever so apparent that some things never change, and that most people are eternally wrong about these programs.

Let’s take a look. Fifteen years ago (August 1988) I was reporting on an Associated Press story that said, “… more vacationers are going abroad using plane tickets obtained through frequent flier programs. Some travel agents estimate that as many as 25 percent of their customers for foreign travel are cashing in frequent flier awards, and many of them might not have taken the trip without the free ticket.”

TWA was running an elite promotion where, if a member flew 10,000 actual miles between Aug. 15 and Sept. 30, they would earn a TWA Gold Privilege Card (it normally required 30,000 actual flight miles). Even back then, programs were enticing elite members.

And finally, our “What ever happened to?” question belongs to Paul Sonnabend, President of Sonesta International Hotels, whom we quoted as saying “It’s my belief that the government should tax frequent traveler benefits to dampen the enthusiasm for these insidious programs. I also view frequent traveler programs as symptomatic of a loss of morality in all walks of life.”

Uh, Paul? We’re still around.

And 10 years ago, I was commenting on a petition to the Department of Transportation from Donald Pevsner, a Miami attorney and self-described consumer advocate, to abolish all frequent flyer programs run by U. S. and foreign air carriers. In his petition, he argued, “The so-called mega-carriers in domestic air transportation, American, United and Delta, use their massive frequent-flyer programs in a manner oddly redolent of a drug pusher, proceeding to ‘hook’ their regular passengers with the lure of free travel and to obtain their future business through dependency on said lure — even when the price to be paid involves much higher airfares, otherwise irrational circuity and longer travel times and a concomitant decrease in employee efficiency that is usually paid for by employers.” His proposal was that “mileage presently accrued in accounts maintained by the carriers in its passengers’, or their employers’, name shall be permitted to be used for free or reduced-rate travel, or for other ancillary benefits currently set forth in carriers’ frequent-flyer plans, for a period of three years from the date of promulgation of this regulation.”

Donald now writes an occasional column on, and didn’t get anywhere with this proposed legislation. Ten years ago I challenged him on this petition, and that challenge still stands today.

And finally, five years ago I was writing about two surveys — Conde Nast Traveler and J.D. Power/Frequent Flyer magazine. Conde Nast reported that among their readers, 66 percent said frequent flyer plans were the most important reason for choosing an airline. In the Frequent Flyer magazine survey, frequent flyer programs factored in at a lonely four percent for choosing an airline (last place). Well, we can’t blame it on this survey alone, but Frequent Flyer magazine folded its doors shortly after that survey. While in and out of publication as an e-newsletter, the curse of the mile seems to have caused another one to bite the dust.

So, there we have years of comments from the month of August. And if you’re like me, you’ll see there really seems to be one common thread — never wag the dog (days of summer).

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