He’s making a list, checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…
-“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots.
One flight a year hardly qualifies Jolly Old St. Nick for Platinum Elite status, but we suspect he’s still keeping tabs on those who run the frequent flyer industry.
The past year has seen some interesting developments in travel loyalty — some good, some not so good. We thought we’d take a look, and help Santa figure out who deserves what this Christmas.
Fly Three, Get One Free
(3 candy canes)
Remember this one? In classic monkey-see-monkey-do style, all of the major North American airlines (and Alaska) followed United’s lead by offering one free ticket for three mid-week flights. It was a bonanza for the business traveler, and a shot in the arm for the airlines, which generally see business travel taper off in the summer months.
Sure, there were the usual cynics in the media who pointed to the various restrictions as evidence that the promotion was a sham. And, yes, there were plenty of restrictions (with the exception of Alaska, which offered miles, not a ticket). To which we said, as we always say, complain if you must. But enjoy that free ticket while you’re at it.
Hotel Rewards by iDine
(3 candy canes)
Though we’ve spent plenty of precious ink reminding our readers that hotel points are a sound way to balance a frequent traveling portfolio, there remain a strong minority that use hotel programs solely for the purpose of garnering airline miles.
Fair enough. If you’re that type, look no further than Hotel Rewards by iDine — easily the most generous way to earn miles through hotel stays.
The program was launched in May of this year with surprisingly little fanfare — even today, it exists in relative obscurity. But at an earning rate of five miles per dollar (10, in some promotional instances), it ought to be the buzz of the year.
What’s more, we’re told the program will soon ally itself with some of the major chains, offering a big, fat double dip. Wow.
(1 candy cane)
There are those who will argue that this one belongs in the “naughty” category. And until March, the U.S. government would have been one.
The long-awaited union of three of the nation’s largest airlines was not met with regulatory blessing at first. In fact, though the alliance was proposed in August of 2002, the Department of Transportation held it up until March 2003, when the three carriers grudgingly made a few concessions.
Today, the alliance offers across-the-board earning and burning opportunities and elite-status recognition for members of OnePass, SkyMiles and WorldPerks.
Not everyone’s pleased, however. When Continental announced sweeping changes to its elite-qualification program (effectively telling low-fare flyers to kiss their tailfin), many saw the hand of Delta behind the move.
To which we say: So what? OnePass has every right to run its business the way it sees fit.
Why the nonchalance? One word — WorldPerks. Northwest was brave enough not to meddle with its elite program (which, by the way, offers some of the lowest qualification thresholds in the industry). And so long as you can earn and burn your miles with all three carriers … well, you get the hint.
US Airways/United Alliance
(1 candy cane)
It has been described as two staggering drunks leaning on each other for support, but in reality, this union has been beneficial to both the airlines and their customers. Originally approved in October of 2002, the real effects weren’t felt until this year.
For starters, the alliance unquestionably helped US Airways out of bankruptcy in record time. And while United still languishes in Chapter 11, the combined strength of the two airlines is sure to ease that pain, keeping predatory rivals from muscling in on market share.
Frequent flyers reaped the benefits as well, enjoying bonus mile promotions, earn-and-burn reciprocity, and shared lounge access.
(1 candy cane)
In the January 2003 edition of Inside Flyer, we reported that the Cendant brand of hotels was planning to launch a cross-brand loyalty program sometime in the spring.
Then we waited, and we waited … and we waited.
Well, it’s almost winter now, but better late than never. Welcome, Trip Rewards.
Will it revolutionize the industry? Perhaps not. But it does, quite suddenly, offer travelers another large option. By the end of the year, Trip Rewards will include Wingate Inns, Howard Johnson, AmeriHost Inns, Days Inns, Knights Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Travelodge and Villager hotels.
If you’re traveling on a budget, you can’t do much better.
Waiving Mileage Redeposit Fees
(5 candy canes)
Back in 2002, a number of programs introduced rather draconian change fees on award travel — if something came up, you were going to need to shell out some bucks to change your plans.
But in 2003, when tensions in the Middle East were reaching fever pitch, the airlines were suddenly faced with hoards of good customers who were edgy about flying.
And guess what? The airlines responded. Beginning in April, all the major airlines waived that onerous fee, allowing members to make changes without being punished.
Radisson Gold Rewards Elite Program
(1 candy cane)
Mileage junkies seem to have a love-hate relationship with Radisson Gold Rewards, largely due to a 50-percent devaluation of points back in 2001. In the time since, however, Gold Rewards has steadily improved and impressed, culminating with the introduction this year of the most generous elite program in the hotel industry.
In March, Carlson Hotels (owners of Radisson) unveiled its new single-tier elite program, offering a dedicated call center, automatic upgrades, and, of course, extra points — a full 1,000 per night, as a matter of fact. By offering what is in effect a 100-percent point bonus, Radisson took the industry lead overnight.
(1 piece of coal)
Executive Club underwent some big changes back in May, largely due to the consolidation of what had been some very different regional programs. In most cases, the changes were an improvement.
Not so here in the good old U.S. of A.
And since we’re talking about Santa Claus, not Father Christmas, let’s get ready to shovel some coal: How about only earning 25 percent of miles flown when traveling in discount economy? Or a tripling of the cost of award travel from the U.S. to Asia in First Class?
Bad show, old chaps.
Delta SkyMiles Elite Changes
(2 pieces of coal)
We’ve always said that these programs have every right to run their business the way they see fit. So when Delta became the first major carrier to alter its elite qualification standards, effectively trouncing budget-conscious flyers, we could do little other than join the largely ineffective throng of critics.
Here’s what we don’t understand, though: Providing elite-level privileges can be expensive, but only in terms of “soft” money. Outside of bulking up on extra services, which are provided regardless of how many elites there are, there’s no real capital outlay. And yet, as we found out in November, Delta is willing to shell out plenty of “hard” money to improve its customer service with things like newspapers and gourmet coffee.
Continental OnePass Elite Changes
(3 pieces of coal)
If complaint letters were nickels, we’d own a chain of Caribbean islands by now.
OnePass members echoed the timeless statement of Queen Victoria when they were notified that qualifying for elite status would become more difficult: “We are not amused.”
Following Delta’s lead, Continental decided there were just too darn many elite members, and reset the bar. Pay less, earn fewer elite miles. Of course, this was announced just hours after OnePass had repackaged its elite benefits as
“EliteAccess,” complete with press conferences and fanfare.
Not exactly the kind of straightforward communication that earns respect.
Aeroplan Service Fees
(3 pieces of coal)
In July, Air Canada’s loyalty program decided gas was getting a little pricy, so it applied a $15-25 fuel surcharge on all award travel within Canada.
Needless to say, this went over like a lead balloon.
But that wasn’t all: At the same time, Aeroplan instituted a $25 service fee on all reward tickets booked through the Aeroplan call center.
The move, not surprisingly, caused some hair pulling up north, largely because it gave Aeroplan the dubious distinction of being the first program in history to apply an across-the-board fee for award travel.
(1 piece of coal)
Lest there be any doubt as to why this racy restaurant spin-off has achieved remarkable success: Let’s just say it ain’t the chicken wings. The Atlanta-based carrier has taken sex appeal to the skies, with promising results. No word on a frequent flyer program yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Oh, and another thing: The minute Hooters Air begins serving Salt Lake City, we’ll know the apocalypse is at hand.
It is fitting that this is the last story of the “news” from Inside Flyer for the year. Expiring miles continue to get the best of many frequent flyers who have yet to master the art of manging their miles. Management programs like MileageManager.com and MaxMiles.com can help with this, but for those of you that need “last-minute” help, we’re here to help.
In our research, and after engaging in countless conversations with programs, we found that, in order to ensure your miles don’t expire, qualifying activity simply needs to happen before year’s end — not the posting of the transaction. This should prevent needless heartache for some of you.
Read over the options you have and make those calls to all the programs you haven’t heard from lately. You can thank us later.