April has become one of my favorite months of the year, and for good reason. The reason is that it’s the official month in which you, me and the world learn what the public thinks are the best frequent traveler programs. Later this month – April 28, to be exact. I’ll MC the 17th Annual Freddie Awards from the beautiful confines of the newly renovated Grand Hyatt New York hotel. Over the years I’ve made a habit of not peeking in on the results as they grow from the hundreds of thousands of frequent flyers who contribute their thoughts as to which programs are excelling. Over time, I’ve found that the Freddies can portend trends in the minds of members. For instance, almost seven years ago, the likes of Southwest Rapid Rewards suddenly started popping up on the radar and winning Freddie Awards. A few years later, the media and the public declares that low-cost carriers such as Southwest are the new leaders of the industry. If only I knew what the public was signaling then in regard to the changes in the industry. And five years ago, Starwood Preferred Guest blazed upon the Freddie scene with a single value proposition – No Blackout Dates. Actually, the Starwood program has proved over time there is more than “no blackout dates” to the program, but given the attention to award redemption since that time, members, and in particular those voting in the Freddies, continue to tell us what is important to them and their businesses when choosing travel companies.
And while I wish I knew what the public was thinking, I’m content to wait until then. Speaking of waiting … my wait is over. I’m about to get married to a wonderful lady who seems to relish my ever-present attention to how she pays for things and travels. So far, she’s had to change banks, acquire several different credit cards and understand that location is not my mantra when we travel together. It’s the hotel offering the best bonus. What I’ve learned is that there are limits in how I’m going to have to deal with her desire (love) to shop. She must meet with her girlfriends, shop together and then pull out all their purchases over tea later on. When I told (uh… “suggested” to) her that she might have to change a little in order for us to maximize the mileage potential of her love for shoes and purses, I thought the wedding might be off. I mentioned that she could continue to meet with the girlfriends and shop, but just could not actually purchase anything at the store. What she would do was give me that list of things she was going to buy and I would log onto United Mileage Plus or Continental OnePass or other shopping Web sites and we’d purchase the very same items, only earning from 5-15 bonus miles for each dollar spent. We would not earn these types of bonuses by directly shopping in the store, just the mileage for using a preferred credit card. Well, the wedding is going on, and I think I’ve just lost my first strategy session with the bride-to-be. She would rather carry the items out of the store to discuss over tea with “the girls” than to fret over flying an award in coach vs. business class. Maybe it’s gender, maybe marriage has it’s own rules or maybe I’m still answering the eternal question, “Was it Love or Was it the Miles?” Feel free to visit julieandrandy.com for our story.
I was looking over the results of this month’s Award Search, and am glad we offer this to our readers as an indication of award redemption success rates. This month I spotted something unusual, and after checking, I have to say I am alarmed. It involved the redemption city pair of Austin to Chicago. In the case of America West FlightFund, members can fly between these two destinations, connecting in Phoenix or Las Vegas. But because of the way their system is set up, members would have to redeem two separate awards, the only program that would require such a requirement. Apparently the idea is the member is flying “backward” toward Phoenix and then “forward” toward Chicago. I had two staff members confirm calls to FlightFund regarding this. My question is: who in their right mind would redeem two awards for this request when in any other program it would only be considered a single award? The route system of the airline creates these unique situations, which is not something I feel members should be penalized for.
Other observations: Award Search is proof that using online award redemption is not the best course of action yet. Notice that Continental has award seats available on partner Delta for the route (which are not bookable online) when calling the call center for an award one week in advance, but their online tool shows no availability. How many members are “fooled” into thinking there actually are no free seats available when booking online? Again, the industry needs to synch these partnerships online and off.
If you want to read something funny, click on InsideFlyer.com on April 1 and we’ll repost our annual April Fool’s news joke about airlines ending their frequent flyer programs.