Well, it’s opening night at the annual Freddie Awards and you’ve got in front of you — the guide to the best travel loyalty programs in the world. With more than 315,000 members participating this year, a huge thank you is due to those that took the time to talk to the world about this topic. I’m always happy to mention the fact that the Freddies are all about members’ opinions — not some travel or loyalty expert that thinks his/her 78,456 miles in assorted programs makes him a know-it-all. And while I have a few more miles than that, I am willing to concede that I alone do not know who amongst all these programs is the best. The “best” comes from an average of tens of thousands of members’ experiences — not one or a few dozen members. Granted, there’s a few choices from the public that differ from my own, but I liked Hotel Rwanda better than Million Dollar Baby as well.
In the airline categories, what’s with Alaska Mileage Plan? In winning for three consecutive years the lofty Program of the Year honors, this single airline keeps upping the value of their frequent flyer program. Who could have guessed that in 2004 they’d add Delta SkyMiles to an existing relationship with American AAdvantage? Not me.
But look very closely at where the other major airlines frequent flyer programs are ranked. Looking back at the past four or five years, I’d say that the scene is set for a return of the giants to their past Freddie Award-winning ways. It looks like past winner Continental OnePass is back in the hunt after a few years getting over changes that did not sit well with its constituents.
Moving on to the little card that could — Diners Club Rewards is setting a new Freddie Award record for most consecutive years winning a single award — eight years running. And for Starwood Preferred Guest, it certainly looks as if this was their best year ever — so impressive that they garnered a Frequent Flyer Funny of their own. Yes, they needed a U-Haul truck to leave the Grand Hyatt New York this year.
But before you skip over what else I have to say to flip to page 28 and start reading about the Freddies, let me reserve a few minutes to introduce you to this year’s special Freddie Award winners. The “special” awards are often referred to as the “Randys,” if for not other reason than I get the honor and pleasure of selecting the recipients. There’s no other vote that counts for these other than my own. Introduced many years ago, they allow the Freddies to reflect on topics and people that many in the voting public are not familiar with. For instance, several years ago Bruce Chemel, then president of the American AAdvantage program, was awarded a distinguished service Freddie. If you earn almost any miles or points from partners such as dining, mortgages and anything other than flying or credit cards, thank him. This is the guy who had the vision to take these programs from frequent flyer to frequent buyer. It’s an important contribution, since most airlines these days have relied heavily on partnerships such as this to get them through the last troubling years in this industry. Without these partners, things would likely to be completely different.
This year, I am presenting three winners of the Randys. First is a distinguished achievement award to Michelle Cohen and Stuart Paskow and their Mitch-Stuart, Inc. company. They pioneered the “frequent funder” concept, which has resulted in the donation of more than $350 million and the awarding of more than 500 million miles to organizations such as the American Cancer Society, The United Way, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and hundreds more. The program has profoundly impacted thousands of individuals, as well as the American Airlines AAdvantage program and the philanthropic industry. This amazing impact on this industry has long gone unnoticed.
The next Randy award (Industry Impact) goes to Northwest WorldPerks for their promotional marketing. I’m recognizing their creative and strategic prowess in today’s highly competitive marketplace by moving beyond the boundaries of 1:1 marketing with imaginative promotions such as Mile-Zilla, Mileage Accelerator, Amazing Race. Fly Free Faster, Mileage Connection, and Mileage Maximizer.
The strategy and creative execution of these promotions have changed member behavior, generated partner awareness and reinforced the program’s image.
And the final Randy for Industry Impact is a frequent flyer program from India. This last year, Jet Airways Jet Privilege introduced what they call the Dynamic Tier Review. This new program utilizes a system of daily reviews of member activity to determine elite status, overcoming the traditional restrictions of calendar year-based elite qualifications. The 12-month qualifying period for elite status is based on a moving 12 month period, meaning that you might qualify if you have enough travel between Oct. 15, 2005 and Oct. 14, 2006. Maybe your travel is heavy in the fall and spring and you miss the calendar year qualifying because of that … Jet Privilege understands.
The final note belongs with a word of thanks to Hyatt Gold Passport and, in particular, the Grand Hyatt New York who were both wonderful hosts to this year’s Freddie Awards. We could not have done it without you.