Miles Behaving Badly — The Top 10 Problems Members Have With Frequent Travel Programs And How To Solve Them

Miles Behaving Badly — The Top 10 Problems Members Have With Frequent Travel Programs And How To Solve Them

We’ve often been quoted in the media as saying that frequent flyer programs in many ways have become victims of their own success. And nothing more clearly points that out than the following 10 problems we’ve gathered from observation, gut-feeling and conversations with hundreds, if not thousands of members of these programs. While we’ve often lauded the fact that these programs are now 22 years old and no longer can be considered adolescents, there’s a sense that some of the same emotional attachment that contributed to their meteoric rise in popularity is beginning to turn its ugly head. There’s a sense that these programs have “devalued” themselves to the point that members we’ve polled could not identify anything of added value from their program in recent years, despite the fact that such value has actually been added in virtually every program. Granted, “added value” is usually in the eye of the beholder, but nonetheless, it does exist.

But let’s take a look at the problems that exist today and explain why some will get better, some will disappear and others will always be with us.

Given the extent of the damage the airlines, hotel industry and all associated partnerships have suffered in the past two years — most of it self-inflicted — the least we can do is take a collective breath and hope that pointing out the frustrations members have will fall on attentive ears.

But we’ll be realistic in all this. Considering the recent damage, there’s little hope the current trends of the industry (the focus on the revenue customers in the frequent flyer programs, for example) will not become the standard modus operandi. And as readers of Inside Flyer, you’ll be with us as we craft a new strategy for life in changing times.

The most obvious problem comes from inattentive program managers who seek to blame everything on the economy or try to tell us they are “staying competitive” (see Problem No. 7 — “Marketing Speak”) when moving the value proposition downward. The truth is, we’re all big boys and girls, and would love to be told what the situation is, not the edited version of why these problems exist.

With loyal passengers and elite frequent flyers harder to come by and competition increasing for the good ones, no program should let a little mistake — or even a big one — ruin an otherwise happy relationship. Everybody makes mistakes. What really matters is how they handle the aftermath and offer up solutions.

According to findings from most customer service research firms, an unhappy customer tells twice the number of people about his/her unsatisfactory service experience than he/she would about a satisfactory one. If the problem stems from a big transaction (for example, an elite problem), the unhappy customer tells an average of 16 people about his/her unsatisfactory experience. If the types of problems listed below continue to linger, we think that the industry is in for an extended ride of bad press and below-average member satisfaction.

But lest you think this trend is a reflection of the entire member base of these programs, we would caution you to consider that we still believe there is great value in these programs and have seen the addition of value for the mass of average members in the past few years — mostly in the form of airline alliances.

So, let’s take a look at the “State of the Union” and the problems that currently are hampering the success of frequent traveler programs. And, as you read what we have compiled below, please keep in mind that some of these problems do not have “fixes” … yet.

10 Elite Benefits Too Tough to Get
You’ve flown the miles, you’ve stayed the nights, and now you expect to reap the rewards. Not so fast. Turns out that, for many members, earning elite status is only half the battle.

The most sought after of all elite benefits is the complimentary upgrade, but this benefit also seems to cause the most headaches among frequent travelers. While a minority of airline programs allow members to confirm upgrades well in advance of their actual flight, too many leave the member in limbo, sometimes right up until departure, wondering if they’ll be long-hauling it in the back of the bus.

And the airline programs aren’t the only ones at fault. We received several comments from fed up hotel guest program members who are sick and tired of explaining to front-desk personnel that, as an elite member, they are, in fact, entitled to the best available room.

It’s likely that this whole elite-level benefit topic will resolve itself over the next two years as the industry makes no apologies (should they?) in adjusting their elite qualification with the goal of reducing the demand on these precious benefits of the true road warrior. With fewer members at the top levels, it’s a given that if you stay with the loyalty during times of change you’ll be rewarded just like the good old days.

What You Can Do
Truthfully, there’s not much you can do, especially when it comes to the frequent flyer programs. Unless you are a top-level elite member, most airlines are unwilling to negotiate the upgrade rules, period. Instead, they prefer to hold out in the hopes that several business travelers will pay last-minute, walk-up fares to fly in Business or First. In fact, of the Big Six North American airlines, only US Airways allows all of its elite members to confirm an upgrade at time of booking, not just the top-level elites, and even then only if they’ve purchased a full-fare coach ticket.

With the hotel programs you can arm yourself with a little bit of leverage in the form of a printed copy of the elite benefits. When the front-desk personnel deny you your benefits, simply pull out a copy of their own literature and show them in black and white exactly what they have promised you. Though this tactic doesn’t guarantee you’ll be placed in an ocean-view suite, it often does generate results.

9 Too Many Low-Level Elites
While the overwhelming majority of frequent travelers wouldn’t consider this a problem at all, the existence of voluminous numbers of first-tier elite members causes significant consternation among the numerically small, but very influential top elite-level members. Theoretically, at least, these first-tier elite members not only eat up many of the upgrades that might otherwise be available to top-tier members, but, more importantly, their complaining and petty gripes give all elites a bad name.

“These entry-level flyers spend so much time whining and acting like they own the airline, it is boring,” says Ray Thomas, a very frequent traveler. “As a 200,000+ mile per year flier, I get tired of being pushed around by these minimal level fliers, who whine and complain about food, lack of upgrades, etc.”

What You Can Do
If this is an issue that concerns you, you are either a top-level elite member, or hope to become one in the near future. Our advice — take solace in the fact that your elite status gains you benefits that would be envied by 98 percent of all travelers, and try not to get bogged down by thoughts of how great your traveling experiences could be if it weren’t for all those other part-time flyers.

This will never go away. Let’s remember we were all at the lower rung of frequent flyer heaven at one time and yes, we did feel we were at the top of the world and wanted to shout it out. The fact is that with the tiered availability of benefits (the higher the tier, the longer the length of time in advance the member can acquire their benefit) the benefits of the most senior frequent flyer will be protected and not diluted by the “masses.”

8 “Free” Tickets Cost Too Darn Much
Want to cash in 25,000 miles for a free trip to see Grandma and Grandpa in Florida? No problem. Of course, we here at airline XYZ will need to collect a $3 per segment passenger facility charge, an $11.50 airport security fee, an $8 paper-ticket processing fee (unless, of course, you don’t want a paper ticket, then we’ll have to collect a $10 paper-ticket-avoidance fee) and, oh yeah, a fee-processing fee.

Ok, we’re exaggerating a bit here, but the theme is genuine — with all the fees airlines and airports are tacking onto award reservations, a typical “free” ticket can end up costing upwards of $75. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fees added on by the programs, such as those associated with expediting a ticket, changing your itinerary or re-depositing miles in the event plans change.

“My miles were hard-earned,” says frequent flyer Mark Rosenzweig; “I shouldn’t have to pay to use them. (American AAdvantage) is a bad offender here, obscenely charging inside three weeks, even on a web-booked e-ticket.”

What You Can Do
Some fees, such as the passenger facility charges and airport security fees, are non-negotiable — if you’re flying, you’re paying them. But, because these fees are linked directly to the airports, you can minimize them by taking direct flights.

The frequent travel programs typically levy three types of fees: 1) Expedite fees when booking an award ticket close to departure, 2) Change fees when making modifications to your itinerary, and 3) Re-deposit fees when putting miles/points back into your account. Of these, the one that costs the average frequent flyer the most is the change fee.

Because many prefer to book their travel as far in advance as possible, and because life is unpredictable, changes are inevitable. What many don’t know, however, is that, with most programs, you can place an award reservation on hold for up to two weeks (the exact time period varies by program) and while it is on hold, you can make as many changes to your award itinerary as you like, free of charge.

So, the next time you call to book an award, take advantage of the hold period before finalizing your ticketing.

The fact is that these fees will likely increase rather than decrease for members with only elite members getting any break. Airlines, like many other industries (credit card companies come to mind?) have realized that there is a price associated with service and it’s become a pay-as-you-go society of user fees. Best advice — learn when fees apply and don’t become a statistic. Truth is that a large majority of members never pay and fees directly to a frequent flyer program as part of their award redemption except those requited by rules outside of the airline’s authority.

7 Marketing Speak Making Me Sick To My Stomach
Read “Dilbert” and you’ll get a sense of what the typical American thinks of marketers. Here’s a hint: Not much.

And really — can you blame us? Try this little morsel from the Coca-Cola brands Web site.

“Mr. Pibb appeals to 12-to-15 year olds who are just gaining independence from home and looking for things to call their own. Mr. Pibb enables them to have an uninhibited, fun and unconventional attitude because it has the sweet, refreshing bold taste they need to express their independence.”

Yet marketing, for all its creative thinking, is an integral part of contemporary business, and is the backbone — some might even say, the sole purpose — of frequent flyer programs.

In recent months, however, a startling new development has arisen. As many programs have either scaled back benefits or added onerous fees, members have been regaled not just with the bad news, but with bad news disguised as “enhancements” or “simplifications.”

For example, when Air Canada’s Aeroplan implemented fees on award redemption, members were told it was necessary to “secure (Aeroplan’s) ability to invest in program enhancements.”

Or, when British Airways consolidated its various global forms of Executive Club, effectively cutting earning ability on inexpensive fares to 25 percent, members were informed that the changes were “aimed to take the best parts from all the current regional programs, and try to provide more differentiation based on member value.”

Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Programs need to understand that their members are generally not stupid. Cloaking a reduction in benefits in spin will do little to instill confidence in the company.

Perhaps this perturbed FlyerTalker put it best: “When a frequent flyer program cuts its benefits and perks, why can’t they frankly admit that they are cutting benefits as part of an effort to cut costs and remain competitive? Why do they always have to announce those cuts with the headline, ‘Exciting New Changes Benefit Our Frequent Flyers?’ And then, only after you’ve slogged through the doublespeak in the last paragraph and exchanged confused messages with other FlyerTalkers, do you realize they’ve actually raised award levels across the board. I’m really tired of these clumsy con-games. Do they really think they’re fooling anyone?”

What You Can Do
Unfortunately, nothing.

Marketing-speak is a runaway train in this country, and there’s little chance it will stop any time soon.

Until then, there are a few key terms savvy travelers have learned to spot as red flags. Any “streamlining” or “simplification” probably means that someone, somewhere, is losing a benefit. “Enhancements” can mean additional fees or even higher elite-level thresholds. And any time you see the dreaded phrase “An important message to our members,” be prepared for a spanking.

And remember that not every program is peopled entirely by spin-masters. Keep an eye out. If one program is more straightforward, that generally means they have less to hide, and you might have more to gain.

6 Too Many Non-Air Miles Offered
How can the fact that airlines and hotels offer lots and lots … and lots of miles and points for everything from buying flowers to refinancing a home be a problem?

The argument goes something like this; Because airlines and hotels continue to profit from the sale of miles and points to various vendors, they are motivated to “create” more miles and points, thereby leading to a relative devaluation of the currency. And this devaluation is realized when all those members who built their accounts through non-air means try to redeem for flights/stays.

The crux of the matter seems to be that there is a limited number of award seats/rooms, and each year more and more program members, with ever increasing mileage balances are competing for them.

What You Can Do
To steal a lyric from 80s pop star Bobby McFerrin — don’t worry, be happy.

Though the mileage inflation argument appears sound in theory, in practice it is much less of a problem than some might imagine. While numerous miles and points are certainly being added to the overall circulation through non-travel means, this isn’t necessarily resulting in far greater numbers of people with high account balances.

How can that be so? Because the miles and points being offered by these various companies are attracting, who else, members of frequent travel programs. Rare is the floral purchaser who, upon buying his or her arrangement, learns for the first time that they could earn miles, and subsequently joins a frequent travel program and jumps into the mileage earning game full force.

Having said that, there is the exception that must be mentioned — credit cards. Credit cards represent by far the biggest means of earning miles and points other than through actual flying and hotel stays, and have certainly attracted people to the game who otherwise would have been absent. You would be hard-pressed, however, to find many frequent travelers in favor of ending these favorable financial relationships.

The best advice we can give comes in the form of another trite phrase — if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. As long as these partnerships are lucrative to the airlines, you can expect to see them continue, and even grow. Rail against them until you’re hoarse, but at the same time, utilize them to add to your mileage/point balances.

In recent meetings with marketing executives with various programs around the world we brought up this topic and were clearly told that this is the best news ever since, if programs were left to be self-funded, they would not be in business today. To a program they mentioned that the sales of miles actually helps to control more considered changes. As for devaluation, well, they seem to be a very good reason why paying full-price for an award is really already factored in.

5 Programs Too Complex
“Our life is frittered away by detail,” said Henry David Thoreau in a particularly profound moment. “Simplify, simplify!”

When American and United started this whole thing back in 1981, simplicity was the name of the game. Fly a lot, get a free ticket.

As the years went by, though, competitive pressures forced changes — alliances, partnerships, bonus promotions — and every enhancement carried with it a new level of complexity.

As you might expect, there are those who believe the complexity is a strategic ploy, designed to keep customers in the dark. Do all the rules and regulations have such an effect? Yes. Is it done on purpose? Highly unlikely.

Clearly, there’s a trend in the industry to go after the high-revenue customer — which is fine, if your purpose is to make money by rewarding big spenders — and this trend has contributed to the issue of over-complexity. Interestingly, this trend might also be read by some as a tacit admission that the programs have essentially failed as a means of affecting flying behavior.

Efficiency consultants IT-Cortex pull no punches in their assessment: “As far as influencing air travel behavior, these programs are a complete failure. They should therefore limit themselves to being not more than straightforward fidelity gifts. There is no reason whatsoever not to drastically simplify and freeze the Byzantine rules according to which bonus miles are granted.”

A complete failure? We would beg to differ. But the point is well-made: customers need to understand their program.

What You Can Do
The question here may not be so much what you can do, but which programs seem to be doing it right?

Southwest is certainly near the head of the class.

“Our Rapid Rewards program is really a good reflection of the kind of egalitarian brand that we are,” spokesperson Linda Rutherford said.

“The simplicity is really the beauty of the program. You don’t have to keep track of ‘This trip is worth 500 miles, that trip is worth 300 miles, I can earn miles by buying a coffin or getting my teeth cleaned.'”

“We think that’s what people like — it’s frustrating to keep up with so many things. There are so many offers out there with our competitors that sometimes, rather than being an incentive, it’s actually a demotivator.”

That emphasis on simplicity, of course, is not limited to credit-based programs like Rapid Rewards.

One of its major competitors, America West, has opted to go the traditional route, offering miles instead of credits, and implementing a full (and award-winning) elite program.

“When we design something, we want to make sure it’s simple,” said Amy Ceriani-Nelson, Manager of Marketing Programs at FlightFund. “We try to monitor things so we don’t flood you with so many options you can’t figure out what to participate in.”

In essence, FlightFund has taken a middle-ground approach between the raw egalitarian simplicity of Rapid Rewards and the labyrinthine rules of the big boys.

Is there any hope your favorite program will follow suit? Chances are the situation is not going to change anytime soon. The Rapid Rewards and FlightFund programs (along with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan) will continue to offer a streamlined approach, while the largest carriers will follow a more traditional (and complex) path.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. For every customer who wants simplicity, there’s another who wants a chance to earn miles from pudding cups.

4 Awards That Increase Too Much and Too Fast
Within the past year, British Airways Executive Club and Hilton HHonors made dramatic changes to their award charts, increasing some awards by 75 percent and more, and in so doing incurred the wrath of members.

“What British Airways did to North American members this year was criminal,” said frequent traveler Tom Farmer.

Needless to say, these are not the only two programs to have ever increased award redemption rates, just the latest. Though members expect, and even accept, some amount of increase over time, these types of sudden and dramatic increases tend to give the impression of a rug being pulled out from directly under foot.

“Whilst it is necessary for airlines to tweak their programs on a regular basis, some employ knee-jerk reactions and change their rules and benefits more often than I change my underwear,” says Frank Finnegan, a Sydney-based flyer and regular contributor on “I’d like to see some stability in the program and know that when I commit to fly 100,000 miles I can expect to enjoy the advertised rewards, not have them pulled from under me.”

What You Can Do
Review your award charts, looking specifically for low- and mid-cost redemption options that appeal to you. If you find your program’s award choices lacking, it might be time to consider another program, one more suited to your redemption needs. While there is certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to a high-end award, your program of choice should offer more than one worthwhile option.

To mitigate the damage of a sudden and dramatic award increase, you should also keep close tabs on your program. Study every flyer your program sends you, review and regularly and continue to read this magazine. Even the most sudden of changes are usually preceded by some kind of warning. The sooner you’re aware of the proposed change, the more time you will have to react.

And reaction time is critical, because often you can pull some levers here and there and get your balance to a level that will allow you to get that award before the increase is implemented.

The industry is mired in tough calls to make. For instance when Hilton introduced increases to some very popular Hawaii awards they were hailed with fire from some members — those same members who may not have noticed that the last time Hilton made any major changes to it’s award chart was eight years ago. During that time, Hilton opted not to nickel and dime members with smaller changes but to hold the line and eat the big change. In reflection, members were actually better served that these same awards were not incrementally changed over the years since they ended up at the same level after all.

3 Uninformed Representatives
You saw a great promotion advertised in your local paper, and want to sign up. But when you get on the phone, the program agent has no idea what you’re talking about. Three levels of supervisors later, you’re still no closer to getting the miles “offered.”

Regrettably, this is a problem that everyone seems to run into eventually. And it can lead to severe frustration (or even an angry email to the magazine that published the promotion!). There are too many reports of unknowledgeable representatives industry wide to think this is anything other than an all out epidemic.

Though there are certainly many understandable reasons for this -(As a general rule, you will not find a more micromanaged, Orwellian environment than a phone bank. These folks are generally not paid very well, and are being watched constantly — their calls are recorded, their time on and off the phone is measured to the second, and the minute a call is “escalated” — that is, bumped up a level to a supervisor — all hell breaks loose behind the scenes.), we’re more interested in solutions.

The fact may be that the promise and return on “one-to-one” marketing has more cost than just the individual offer. We rarely ever find a member of any program who has not been frustrated with trying to “prove” a bonus offer for proper credit — ourselves included. The truth is that “uninformed” representatives are not the blame — the marketing departments themselves often don’t communicate and document their actions.

What You Can Do
If you see the promotion in an advertisement or on the Web, try to save the text, either by clipping the ad or printing the Web page.

For online promotions, here’s a sneaky secret.

Even though programs have been known to prematurely pull promotions from their Web sites, you can still find some proof. If you can recall the major details of the promotion — say, free magazine subscriptions for members who fly by Dec. 1 — log onto and enter the key terms — magazine, subscription, free, the program name, December, members — and perform a search.

Scan your results. Google does what’s called “caching” — in essence, it takes a snapshot of every page it’s looked up before. It’s highly likely that an entry for that promotion will appear. Click on the “cached” link at the bottom of the entry. You should get a picture of the site, with all relevant terms. Copy it or print it out, and you have instant proof.

Another tip: Complain wisely. Honey has always caught more flies than vinegar. It’s perfectly possible to be both persistent and courteous. Remember that the agent on the other end of the phone is a human being, with a spouse, kids, and two cats — just like you. He or she will immediately put up barriers if an aggressive customer begins a tirade.

Call center managers will tell you that word gets around the office on both good and bad customers. Make your name a cause for smiles, not sneers, around the water cooler.

2 Miles Credit Too Slowly (Or Not At All)
We live in the age of technology. Information can be transferred around the globe electronically in the blink of an eye. Want up-to-the-minute scores for your favorite water badminton team, or need to know the latest exchange rates for your upcoming trip to Argentina? No problem. Just click a few links, and you’ll have the information you need.

So why, in the name of cyberspace, does it take six to eight weeks for miles earned from bonus promotions and/or partner transactions to post to your account — that is, if they post at all?

The delay, and oftentimes failure, of miles and points to post ranks as one of the top frustrations among frequent travelers — and rightfully so. There are few things more annoying than going out of your way to earn a bonus or do business with a partner, only to learn that your program “has no record of the transaction.”

What You Can Do
Though there is little you can do to expedite the posting of earned miles and points, you can take steps to protect your interests should the promised purse fail to show up on your statement.

The first, and most obvious, measure you should take when conducting a transaction that will earn miles is to print and save all applicable printed material related to the transaction, including receipts, terms and conditions, shipment order forms, Web pages, etc. If your miles/points don’t post, any or all of these may come in handy to prove that you did, in fact, complete the required transaction.

Of course, before you make the transaction, and this is particularly important in relation to bonus promotions, be sure to thoroughly read and understand the fine print. If any of the requirements are the least bit confusing, call the program’s service center and ask questions. And when you do so, don’t forget to log the names and extensions of the people to whom you talk, and the name of a person whom you should contact in the event your miles/points don’t post in the allotted period of time. This may seem like overkill, but it could be the difference between earning thousands of miles or nothing at all.

If you’re finding that miles earned through transactions with a given partner tend not to make it onto your statement, call the service center and make them aware of the situation. If after informing them of the partner’s failure to comply, you don’t see any improvement, vote with your wallet and discontinue using that partner, and at the same time call your program to let them know of the reason for your decision. While this probably won’t get you the miles you’ve earned, the accumulated effect of thousands of members doing this will go a long way to improving the system over the long haul.

1 Not Enough Award Availability
Even though, by all objective measures, the airlines are giving out more and more awards each year, there remains a perception that awards are increasingly difficult to attain.

And there’s some evidence that this might be true.

Recently, an innovative frequent flyer discovered a way to tweak a certain unnamed airline’s online availability search, thus allowing users to search the availability of award seats on a given route up to a full year in advance, easily and quickly. The results? A number of users reported they were unable to find any availability for lower-cost saver awards on major routes. None.

In their yearly 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the programs, however, report that they give away more and more awards every year.

Part of the blame for this seeming discrepancy can probably be attributed to the airline’s use of blackout dates — certain days during high-traffic seasons and holidays when travel is restricted or not available — and capacity controls — the practice of allocating a particular amount of space per flight to award seats.

Back in late December of 2001, most of the major airlines followed the lead of Northwest WorldPerks and eliminated blackout dates on all routes. The use of capacity controls, however, remained unaltered.

The programs are meticulously cautious about releasing the actual percentage of seats set aside for award travel, though the unspoken rule is usually eight percent — the amount of seats they figure will go unsold anyway. And yet, in the post 9/11 world, when airline travel has slumped, the “load factor” of most carriers — the overall percentage of seats occupied on an airline’s network — has remained well below that eight-percent unsold mark. In fact, in 2003, only 81.4 percent of seats are filled, on average, on any given flight (including award travelers), leaving 18.6 percent of seats unfilled.

Thus, even though frequent flyers are told that a given flight has no remaining award seat availability, chances are it’s leaving the gate with almost a fifth of its seats empty.

What You Can Do
For starters, though it probably need not be said, plan ahead. The further in advance you make your plans, the more likely a seat will be available.

Check new routes. New routes offer a unique opportunity to award travelers — since they’re new, there is very little chance that the allocated award seats have been used.

Understand the big picture — the 25,000-mile domestic award is not the norm. It is a sales gimmick, and it comes with restrictions. The standard award — generally 40,000 miles — is, and always has been, exactly that: standard. We rarely, if ever, have heard of anyone having difficulty getting one.

Consider alternate routes. Don’t fly to SFO. Fly to Oakland. Remember that Baltimore is just up the road from Washington. Especially on the Eastern Seaboard, your preferred destination may be just a short drive or train trip away (Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program is partnered with Continental, by the way).

And finally, if you’re fed up with lack of award availability and your trips are primarily within the U.S., you might consider turning your attention to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program.

While the other airlines have been cutting routes, Southwest has been increasing its own network. And, though Rapid Rewards is one of the few programs that still restricts award seats on certain blacked out dates, it does not have capacity control restrictions — if there is a seat available, it’s yours. As a result, in theory, a given Southwest flight might have nothing more than award travelers on board.

“We wouldn’t mind that — that shows us our loyalty program’s working,” said Southwest spokesperson Linda Rutherford.

Is the sky of these programs falling? Sometimes it seems so because these problems are seldom a priority.

Take missing credit, for instance. We’ve yet to see any program take a serious and fair approach to making a member-friendly resolution. Our favorite story is from an international program who years ago, after a study of missing credit, realized they were spending an inordinate amount of money researching these things, and, in fact, it was a major expense for them. So what did they do? They started auto-crediting all disputes. The reality was that the extra miles posted were far less expensive than the labor and expense of research. Duh!

As mentioned at the opening of this story, the most dangerous aspect of these problems is that members honestly believe these programs are purposely allowing the problems to exist and continue. That is worse than the problem itself. We would call on any and all programs to devote some serious consideration to these issues. Despite the times (hey, let’s remember that the best of these programs were around when the industry was posting record profits, so don’t lay your problems at the feet of your members), the industry is making a mistake in allowing these assumptions to fester, because all things being equal, it just may be easier to switch loyalty to a low-cost carrier.

When Southwest Rapid Rewards started winning Freddie Awards several years ago, some programs were scratching their heads. What they should have realized is that simplicity and award redemption are very important to members, and that members attached the highest value to these benefits.

It’s not too late.

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