Opening Remarks – September, 23 2003

Opening Remarks – September, 23 2003

Where do I start? Well, the obvious place is to comment on the elite changes recently announced by Continental (with, we assume, similar changes to be announced by WorldPerks). Oh, and a shameless plug for British Airways at the end of these remarks.

In all the years of covering these programs, I’ve never seen a situation where frequent flyer programs have announced changes to their elite level programs so early. Typically these changes would filter in quite late in the year or, more commonly, in the early months of the next year, before the annual early spring/late winter benefits make their annual changeover.

It seems to me that notice of these changes this early could work to a program’s disadvantage. For instance, with a few months of qualifying time left for next year’s elite status, some members might jump ship and pass along their remaining travel this year to a competitor to earn elite status in another program.

Well, perhaps that’s a story for yet another day.

No other program in history has offered up the upgrades that OnePass has — even their current partner WorldPerks. It’s my estimation that this history of the upgrade is at the root of the recently announced changes to OnePass that seem to further cement their alliance with Delta SkyMiles and portray a bleak future that ever so slowly creeps up on even the best of us sky warriors.

With pressure from the low-cost carriers, and more appropriately, the demise of high-yield business travelers as we knew them, airlines are having problems validating the expense of maintaining a first-class cabin with fewer high-yield passengers paying for the privilege. Throughout the era, they were able to make money from passengers and companies that did pay for the luxury of first-class travel despite the ease of turning miles into access to that sacred space.

But with a new strategy of “paying your own way,” Continental joins the growing ranks of airlines that are convinced (I don’t have a formal opinion yet) they need to make first class so exclusive only the real sky warrior need apply. This comes off an unprecedented period in the history of these programs when miles were easy to accumulate, and even the “average” member had access to the miles required for a first-class upgrade or award. Talk about competition. The vaunted Platinum and Gold members were no longer having just to worry about the Silver member sneaking in to upstage an upgrade from them, but the leisure traveler as well.

Toward this end, OnePass has adopted rules similar to those Delta SkyMiles introduced this past year. Did we not warn members that the SkyMiles changes weren’t just about Delta?

With different changes to elite levels for Alaska Mileage Plan members in 2004, I’m starting to wonder if each month I’m writing a new obituary for life as we used to know it as frequent flyers. But I think there has got to be some program who will get it right. Would they now please step forward?

I was carefully reading the recent British Airways advertisement in which the headlines proudly boast of earning triple miles when you fly business class to London and enjoy their new flat bed. Not flying business class you say? Here’s the unique twist. In the fine print, it indicates that you actually earn triple miles for even full-fare World Traveler and WT Plus, which don’t have flat beds and are certainly not business class. Here’s the actual fine print, and we advise you to go ahead and register yourself. Stranger things have happened than this, but we’re sure glad we read the fine print.

“Offer is open to new and existing members of British Airways Executive Club who reside in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda, Bahamas, Guam, or the Caribbean. Prior to traveling, individuals must enroll in Executive Club if not already a member, and all members must register for the promotion at Members must then complete at least one roundtrip transatlantic or two, one-way transatlantic sectors in full-fare World Traveler, World Traveler Plus, Club World or First (H, Y, B, T, W, I, D, C, J, A, or F class) between September 3, 2003 and December 15, 2003. Triple BA Miles will also be earned on all subsequent qualifying flights during the promotion period.”

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