Australian carrier Qantas ended the year by stuffing coal in the stockings of its Frequent Flyer program members.
The 4.1 million members of the airline’s loyalty program were notified late in 2004 of program changes that have been described as a “spit in the face” by the Australian Consumers Association.
The changes, most of which are due to be implemented on May 25, include some reductions on points required for short-haul flights, but also include increases on long-haul award travel, as well as restrictions on upgrades.
Qantas attempted to take some of the sting out of the changes by announcing immediate positive changes to the program. For example, members may now transfer a minimum of 5,000 and a maximum of 100,000 points to an eligible family member once every 12 months. Members may also “top-off” their accounts by purchasing a minimum of 500 and a maximum of 20,000 points in order to achieve desired award levels. And beginning in May, one-way awards will be available.
But what has the kangaroo community hopping mad are the other changes slated to kick in in May.
Qantas has designed a new award table based on 10 zones, which ostensibly matches more closely the points required with the distance traveled. For some shorter flights, that means a nice reduction in points. For example, under the new system, a roundtrip flight between Melbourne and Sydney would cost 16,000 points, down from the current 20,000.
However, other intra-Australian award levels have increased. Perth travelers, for instance, will see a roundtrip economy ticket to Sydney increasing 6,000 points to 36,000 points, and business-class redemptions rising from 45,000 points to 72,000 points.
And long-haul flights seem to have increased the most. A roundtrip economy-class redemption from Melbourne to London increases from 110,000 points to 128,000, while a business-class ticket rises from 220,000 points to 256,000.
Upgrade restrictions will be implemented as well. Perhaps not surprisingly (as many other programs have seen fit to do this), upgrades will no longer be available from discounted fares.
Confirmed upgrades on international flights will no longer be available. If you hold a paid and confirmed ticket, you can register for an international upgrade from 90 days to 24 hours before departure, and will be notified of your success or failure at check-in.
In addition, the program will stop awarding upgrade credits for every 450 status credits earned. Instead, members will earn a “loyalty bonus” of 5,000 points.
Finally, Qantas will charge a 2,500-point “Assisted Award” fee for all award bookings made with the help of a customer service representative.
Not surprisingly, many members are fuming.
Norm Crothers, deputy chief executive with Australian Consumers Association, said it was unacceptable to devalue points accumulated.
“Frequent flyers would be justified in being disappointed,” he told the Australian press. “The whole thing is supposed to attract customer loyalty, and what they do is spit in your face. I’m sure it will deter people (from using the program).”
A Qantas spokesman said the decision “rebalances” the system to reflect present pricing.
“It hasn’t been updated for over three years, and some of the aspects of the program didn’t correctly reflect the pricing and the changes in competition,” the spokesman said.