Letters – January, 26 2004

Letters – January, 26 2004

Without a Back, There Can Be No Front
I have read many letters, like Mark Terry’s in your (January) edition. They all seem to center upon the fact that someone may be paying more for a seat, entitling them to more. But most of these missives overlook the following essential issues:

  1. Higher-fare passengers, generally, already do receive more. Most airlines provide bonuses for full-fare coach, business and first class, with Lufthansa probably the most generous, giving first-class fare paying passengers 300 percent (and 375 percent for elites,) in total status and award-mileage credit. Generally, the airlines are upgrading the higher-fare paying passengers at booking, with their YUPs and similar fares, or restricting upgrades to higher fares with SWUs etc. Some airlines have found it economically viable to provide the upgrade to a larger base of customers, based upon availability and planning ahead;

  2. There are fewer high-fare paying customers compared to lower-fare passengers. One example: I fly regularly in American Airlines 767’s to Zurich. That plane has 30 premium seats and about 165 coach seats. While I have met passengers in Premium class that have paid upward of $5,000 roundtrip, that is not typical, with even the high-end passenger finding and capturing deals on their fares. At full price, the premium cabin is generating a maximum of $75,000, while the coach cabin, assuming everyone pays the lowest fare (about $500 roundtrip), comes in at $41,000. Of course, yield management raises this considerably, as only so many of the seats are at the lowest fares. However, a synergistic relationship exists here, as without the coach passenger paying only $500, we would be flying 757’s, a la Icelandic, because even I, faced with the prospect of having to pay $1000 or more roundtrip in coach, would cut or curtail my traveling. Past experience shows that the all-premium class airlines fail and fail quicker in bad economic times. A check of seating charts and available seat-checking tools shows that few routes have more than 50 percent of their premium seats sold and most upgrades occur at the last minute, when it is clear that the demand for the high-fare seats is not materializing. Then, the airline assigns upgrades based upon status, which is obtained by actual miles (or segments) flown and passenger planning (time of request);
  3. I was flying right after 9/11, because the high-fare paying business passenger refused (or was unable) to maintain their previous volume of travel. As a result, I flew at lower fares (supply and demand strikes again,) and actually increased my volume (price elasticity in action); and
  4. While I can sympathize with the plight of the passenger that does not or cannot plan ahead or does not or cannot spend the time and effort finding and capturing the best possible deal for essentially a commodity item (air travel), I do not see the rationale for “punishing” the very passenger that makes your wide-body airplane flight in first or business an economic reality. If you’re flying in coach, maybe you should better educate yourself on the effective ways you can improve your lot, rather than suggest punishing someone, who has spent the time, effort and considerable money, on improving theirs.

Robert Ayres

You Prints It, You Takes Your Chances
Just returned from Ixtapa, Mexico and got my January issue of Inside Flyer.

Your “Letters to the Editor” section had a letter from a Richard O’Brien who, after boarding his United flight, was ejected by the gate agent.

My son Michael had a similar incident with Continental Airlines in Denver just a few months ago. He downloaded his boarding pass on his computer, but just to be sure, he stopped and showed it to the Continental gate agent before boarding. The agent said it was OK, and to go ahead and board the plane when they called his row. He did, and later another passenger said “you are in my seat.” The same gate agent then told my son that he had to get off the plane and she would put him on another flight if their were no empty seats on that plane.

When my son asked why, she lied to him by saying you should have checked in at the gate, and when he reminded her that he had done so and with her, she threatened to call security if he did not shut up and sit down. (She did get him another seat on the last row of the plane but he lost his connection in Houston and had to get a later flight.)

He wrote to Continental and so far has not received a reply, not even an acknowledgement of receiving his letter. He sent a carbon copy a month later and they ignored it also.

Great going, Continental.
Walter Greene

Northwest Changes
Are you aware that Northwest has changed their point program to 15,000 miles for upgrades to First for elite flyers for a guaranteed First seat reservation? Also, when Continental says a fare can be upgraded, Northwest refuses to upgrade even though the consumer is told that this cannot happen! If you want to upgrade a Continental flight you must book the flight through Northwest, but first you have to find out from Continental if they have available upgradeable seats. This happened this week on a trip from Minneapolis to Ontario. I would appreciate if several people would write Northwest that changes in WorldPerks should be publicized instead of finding more surprises from them.
Arthur Stone

Questionable Answer
I find one major problem with your answer to the fellow who was 1,500 miles short of Platinum on Northwest (WiseFlyer, January 2004).

Northwest has gone out of its way to make it easy for members who are well short of Platinum status to keep it.

For example, they regularly offer programs like fly three full-fare roundtrips in the next three months and we’ll extend your Platinum status. If you are on an “apparent” pace to keep your Platinum status — you don’t get this offer.

I’m not willing to accept your position that it was just a sign of the times. Northwest clearly is willing to let those who are falling far short keep their status. Letting a million-miler leave (probably because they arrogantly didn’t believe he would actually take his business elsewhere) was a bad move by Northwest. They don’t deserve a pass.
Steve Miller

Seats of Hope?
I am a Continental One Pass Gold member for many years. Last year, around July we (4 of us) wanted to make to go San Jose for vacation during Christmas time. To my surprise they did not have a single seat (standard reward) for San Jose or San Francisco. Fortunately I got seats in Delta to SFO through their alliance. A few days ago I was planning a vacation to Hawaii or Europe in July or August in standard. The same result. No seat to Hawaii until December 7. There are about 2 seats left for some dates in February & March. However what puzzles me is they have no seats in standard reward level to any european city for the rest of year. How is this possible? I doubt if people book that far in advance (11 months). I think Continental is taking people for a ride. I would consider this as deceptive advertising. If they do have any seats, why even advertise the standard reward program. They may as well scrap it, instead of giving people false hopes. What are your comments on this.
Chandra Sripadam

[Editor’s Note: Our guess is that OnePass sees a balance among their membership benenfits, citing that it may be more difficult to redeem awards but the availability of their upgrades (when earning miles, not when redeeming them) more than balance this out. I would say that their partnerships with both Delta and Northwest go a long way toward helping this situation, though it does take more work to find the available seats. As for total redemption, they are about in the middle of the pack for percentage of awards redeemed.]

Missing?
I never receieved my copy of The Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook, even though I telephoned twice. That is why I did not renew my subscription to InsideFlyer.
Robert Shaheen

[Editor’s Note: Back in July, I had to make a tough decision; Do I print the Official Frequent Flyer Guidebook “on schedule” (printing was originally slated for September), and risk near-term obsolescence, or do I postpone printing to include what I foresaw as significant changes soon to occur within the industry, and potentially upset expectant readers? I decided in favor of the latter.

As it turns out, the elite-level program benefits have changed for Delta and Continental, have been altered for Northwest, and have been enhanced for United and America West — and all these changes occurred after the original September press date.

Though the OFFG is not yet in print, you can always read the book online. As we gather data, we enter it online at http://www.flyerguide.com, which you can access 24/7 using “offg7” as a password.

It was a difficult decision to be sure, but I hope you’ll understand that it was made in the best interests of our readers.]

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