Opening Remarks – April, 27 2004

Opening Remarks – April, 27 2004

OK. So you don’t even want to read what I have to say. You just want to flip those pages to see who won this year’s Freddies. Fine. But in case you’re now finding your way back to this section, I have two things to comment on: Emerald Club and Moscow.

A few years ago you might remember I went off the deep end about the former invincible National Car Rental Emerald Club (circa 1987). For those of you who have been around, you know of where I speak. This program was one of the finest ever developed, but was totally messed up by management changes and incompetent marketing personnel who pulled a new and very rewarding reward chart after only six weeks in the marketplace. In the three years since this dastardly deed, I have still yet to rent from them.

Having said all that, Emerald Club is once again re-launching “under new management,” and while they haven’t received a car rental from me yet, I’m thinking of starting all over with them.

The Emerald Club will continue its counter bypass program (don’t you just love rushing off the bus to try to get the car you want in the color you want before some other same-minded frequent traveler gets the same idea?) and features an awards component that is worth a look. Essentially the new program has elite levels: for 25+ rentals or 85+ days a year, you’ll become Emerald Club Executive Elite; for 12-24 annual rentals or 40-84 days, you’ll become known as an Emerald Club Executive. You can bet I already fired off a letter to them grouching about the “Executive” titles. But in the same letter, I also praised their new program as clearly one that beats the competition.

Every level of membership offers rewards for rentals. The “Executive” members (both kind) get full-size vehicles at the intermediate rental rate as well as one-class upgrades on full-size to luxury rentals. For the ECEE member, you’ll earn one free rental day with five rental credits (one rental credit is earned per paid rental or per four consecutive paid rental days); the ECE member requires six rental credits for the same free rental day and a regular Emerald Club member requires seven rental credits. Besides the reduced rental requirements to receive a free rental day, it really pays to become an ECEE, as your free car rental days will have no capacity controls and no blackout dates. When’s the last time you heard those words?

You do have a choice to earn 50 frequent flyer miles per day instead of earning toward the free car rental days, but after going over the numbers, please take my advice and go for the free days. In the final determination, an ECEE member is making a choice between a free rental day and 250 miles. Given what it costs to rent a car these days, I’ll take the free day anytime. Best of all, the free days are combinable, something you can’t do with the free days earned from the Hertz #1 Awards program.

And I like the fact it seems I can reserve my own upgrade. If I take the upgrade, I’ll always be paying less than what I booked for.

Why the heck weren’t the folks who designed this new program around before? If they had been, I probably wouldn’t still be mad at National Emerald Club. But I can feel myself starting to waiver and once I go ‘Green’ I’ll never look back.

Here’s something interesting I recently discovered while visiting the Aeroflot bonus program in Moscow. Though the program turns five years old any day now, their membership numbers are surprisingly small. When I asked their marketing director why this was so, she replied that the Aeroflot program faces two very unusual challenges when it comes to growing the program. It seems Russians are hesitant to join because they are wary of giving up personal information. Apparently there is much suspicion about who and what may be done with their private travel patterns. While I’m aware that the government still owns 51 percent of the airline, I guess I’m naive in my understanding of the Big Brother fear that is still deeply embedded in some cultures. Apparently, Russians would rather give up free awards than their home address.

The second reason floored me as well. Many Russians, especially those who live in and around Moscow, evidently figure they are rich enough and really don’t need anything for free (Note: Moscow appeared very affluent as a country within a country. I saw more Mercedes and BMW’s there than anywhere else I’ve ever visited). In other words, why sign up for Aeroflot when you can afford to pay for your own travel.

Now I fully understand why this program hasn’t reached the membership numbers of other similar five-year-old programs, and I have to wonder if they ever will achieve comparable numbers. These are two things I have never heard before from any program in the world. And here I thought I’d heard it all.

Now back to the Freddies. My congratulations to all the winners-those programs winning the awards and the members who belong to them.

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