Opening Remarks – January, 03 2005

Opening Remarks – January, 03 2005

January can be a cruel month for those living in the far north and for members of a particular frequent flyer program. It’s either the start of something new for US Airways, or the very end. This ride has been a difficult one for all of us with miles in the Dividend Miles program. Burn or earn? The vast majority seem to have been burning their bridges to the future with this program, and there I sit — still holding out hope and advice for those reading this magazine and other points of contact with the outside world.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been less than pleased with the progress made between the groups representing labor and management regarding the cost savings that will dictate the future of the airline and thus, its frequent flyer program. The absolute worst thing that can happen is the divide between the productivity of the employees of this airline and its passengers. That has crippled many an airline in the past, and if a recent strike vote by flight attendants happens, then it just may be the final straw. Recent financial reorganization of debt by GE seems to be a positive sign that others are still interested in seeing this airline fly, but continuing media reports that the industry wants at least one airline to fail and level out any overcapacity don’t help matters any. What may help is if Southwest actually wins the bid to acquire some of the assets of ATA. That will require a divided effort by Southwest and perhaps provide a breather to US Airways in the expansion of the Philadelphia market by Southwest.

Who knows, opinions are a dime a dozen, and as reckless as some of you think I may be, I will continue this month to post a positive future for Dividend Miles and update my advice to hold or fold your miles through to February, which should be the turning point for this airline. Obviously I’m hoping to be right in my advice to readers, so let’s hear a round of applause for the 20th Anniversary of the Dividend Miles program. May it grow older and much wiser in the years ahead.
Inside this magazine you’ll read of the acquisition of AmeriSuites by the Hyatt Hotel Corporation. While some are calling this a sign that even the hotel industry needs to consolidate given the economic woes of travel, I actually don’t think that is the case at all. I think this acquisition, as was the case with the leveraging of their Gold Passport with Hawthorn Suites, is a masterful plan to grow the Hyatt footprint on the lodging industry. While this program has lead the way in recent times with promotional imagination, it has suffered occasionally from not having enough “beds” to make loyalty work for members who stay here, there and everywhere.

Speaking of Hyatt Gold Passport, what does this program have in common with Marriott Rewards? Neither is a partner in the American Express Membership Rewards program. Marriott Rewards left as of the end of 2004, and Hyatt Gold Passport has never been a partner. I think Membership Rewards needs to work very hard on Hyatt to join the fold. Already absent American and United as partners, the absence of Marriott leaves a big hole. Hyatt has become best buddies with MasterCard in a variety of promotions, but only time will tell if this pressure will continue to prevent Hyatt from joining a full-blown strategy of a major loyalty program. They are currently the only major and even “minor” program without some form of affiliated partners such as credit cards to help enhance the point accumulation of the members of their program. While they have done wonders on the promo side, they still trail far behind others in the earning side of the program. Given their acquisition of AmeriSuites, it seems the time to “grow big” is now.

Phone home? There are getting to be fewer telephone partners to phone home with about miles. Gone is AT&T; MCI is but a shell of its former prominent past; and the recent news of a merger between Sprint and Nextel may narrow the field even more. I doubt that the combined company will pull out of the miles game, but without being competitors, there’s every likelihood that the well of mileage and point offers will subside greatly.

And finally, in a matter of days — January 15, to be exact — I and the world of frequent traveler programs invite you to visit and cast your vote in the 17th Annual Freddie Awards to honor the best of these programs. Each year, hundreds of thousands of frequent travelers just like yourself take the few minutes required to rate these programs and the benefits they bring to your loyalty.

This year, I am more than pleased to welcome back as co-sponsors of this event Nextel, and Executive Travel SkyGuide. Are these guys the best, or what? Also joining as a first-time sponsor is Awards For Mortgage & Real Estate, which works directly with your choice of one of the nation’s four leading mortgage lenders (that would be Washington Mutual Home Loans, Chase Home Finance, CitiMortgage and Wachovia Corporate Mortgage Services) to offer you frequent flyer miles or hotel program points for your financing, real estate and even van line moving services. What an impressive array of services for miles. You’ll be able to link to them and read all about their services when you vote in this year’s Freddies.

And I hope you never get tired of me saying it: Thank you for your business, and Happy New Year.

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