Last month we evaluated a number of frequent flyer program Web sites for:
Content: How extensive are the program materials? Does the Web site contain only the most current version of the newsletter, or are past issues included? Does it have a simple table showing recent or historical changes in terms of membership? Are the terms of membership included? Does the Web site contain spelling and/or grammatical errors? Is self-select information such as newsletters flexible for text and HTML purposes? If content is in a PDF format, does it provide links to third-party software necessary for viewing? Does the Web site explain the importance of certain types of information, such as promotion ending dates, pre-registration and the expiration of miles/points? What is the timeliness of its information?
Organization: How is the Web site organized? Does the Web site provide several ways for members to locate specific information, such as award charts, blackout dates and how to file for missing credit? How flexible and powerful is the search engine? Does the search engine allow keyword searching for members seeking out bonus promotional information on a particular partner? Does the Web site include a description of how to search the Web site with examples? Does it have a site map?
Navigation and Usability: Assesses the Web site’s use of effective and clear navigation tools, and accessibility of information. Is important information (like award charts) one-click hyperlinked and able to be bookmarked? Is there an easy-to-understand table of contents? Is there a Help/FAQ link? Is the navigation consistent and intuitive? Is the Web site viewable and functional with as many browsers as feasible? Does the Web site provide an email link to the program itself? Does the Web site contain meaningful subject titles?
Continuing the series this month, the following Web sites are given an overall score based on a 15-point scale that is the sum of content, organization and usability scores (five points in each category).
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Rating: 12.7 out of 15 (Better Than Most)
Sections reviewed: Earn Offers, Redeem Offers, Asia Miles News, Partners, Flight Award Calculator, Service Desk, FAQ, Contact Us.
Commentary: If you start off looking for Cathay Pacific’s frequent flyer program from cathaypacific.com, you’ll be disappointed, because the information there (before following a link to asiamiles.com) is rather indistinct and drab … compared to what you’ll see when you finally arrive at the dedicated Asia Miles Web site. Newly relaunched, it’s a pleasant feast for your eyes with just the correct amount of graphics and information laid out in a wonderful format. The Asia Miles News section is right up front where it belongs as is the Earn Offers and Redeem Offers. But the Web site does have additional work to do before becoming world class.
One of the first things to catch our eye was the Airline Earn Calculator. Good idea, but it could use version 2.0 in a hurry. Members select an airline partner, then city pairs and class of service, and the “Calculator” returns a listing of the mileage that can be earned from that flight. We found that it did not always allow us to enter airport codes, instead requiring an additional click to a chart listing of cities served. We think we understand the logic, because it does put forth only the selected airlines’ city pairs. However, for those members who love to play around — you’re going to have to use someone else’s mileage calculator. What’s missing is the ability to allow members to add in elite status and perhaps bonus promo info such as double miles to really know what miles lie ahead of them. Maybe in the next release.
We especially liked the right-hand service bar that allows members easy access to a partner listing, award calculator and lifestyle award redemption. Warning: the Flight Award Calculator is rather tricky. For instance, you just assume you can redeem your Asia Miles online. But try and book Singapore/Los Angeles or New York/Hong Kong, and you’ll wear yourself out before realizing that you can’t redeem all partner awards online. You can redeem Singapore/London with BA, but not Singapore/Los Angeles, despite Cathay actually serving that route. Very strange indeed.
There is no “search” function from the front page. You need to know enough to enter the FAQ section from the service desk to figure that one out. In the FAQ, we like the “Top 10 FAQ’s,” as well as having categories, such as earning miles or redeeming miles. The good news is that search is actually “smart” search, and only searches within the Asia Miles sections, rather than the Cathay Pacific Web site. You can also focus your search on certain sections as well as all categories.
Search is rather funky, though. We entered the term “double miles,” and the top answer was “What is the difference between The Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles?.” We then entered the term “enroll,” and the top answer was “What is the difference between The Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles?” Finally we entered the term “missing credit,” and the top answer was, yes, “What is the difference between The Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles?” The worst news was when we searched for “elite level,” and it returned this message: “Didn’t find any FAQ’s matching your searching criteria.” The answer, of course, is that Asia Miles does not directly have elite levels; Cathay Pacific Airways does with their Marco Polo Club, but there is no direct information, unless you return back to the Cathay Pacific Web site.
Also, there is no obvious link or connection for the electronic member newsletter, which is different from “latest news.” Turns out the newsletter is within the “latest news” area under the title “downloads,” and only features the latest newsletter. We did not find any newsletter archives. The newsletter is in PDF file and while glorious, requires use of a magnifying glass. We found almost all the same information in the “latest news” and that required less to look for what you might need to know.
In the “Earn Offers” section, it clearly notes promotions in which registration is required — we especially like that.
As for online help, to contact Asia Miles, you must be a registered member and know your membership number and PIN to log in.
Overall, a nice second version Web site for this popular Asian program but somehow we feel it does need a small bug fix … already.
Rating: 11.2 out of 15 (Average)
Sections reviewed: My Account, Use Points, Earn Points or Miles, Member Specials, Customer Support, Learn More.
Commentary: There’s no fooling around with the Marriott Rewards Web site. Nothing fancy, but it clearly reflects the Marriott mission for getting things done.
Our immediate impression is that Marriott made a mistake in designing a Web site that is vertically challenged. Most Web sites these days are being designed to fit within a standard-size browser screen so that visitors do not have to scroll sideways or up and down. Granted, most of the stuff down below is linked elsewhere on the front page, but we only know that because we spent a lot of time clicking on everything.
Marriott Rewards has also opted for double navigation, using both left and right bars. The left side navigation includes those nifty “+” drop-down menus, while the right side is strictly for log in and link to.
The Program News on the right hand side seems lackluster and dated. There was this notice: “Stay Anytime rewards ordered on or after January 17, 2005,” still being featured in mid-April. We believe that any news needs to be clearly date-stamped and kept fresh. We know there’s a lot more to this program that is not being featured in “Program News.”
Maybe it’s just us, but after 15 minutes, we could still not find the search function.
This Web site excels in helping you use your points by offering a clear and well-arranged award chart, with options to find specific hotel properties, and it allows you to book directly on line. We loved the “search awards by point level,” which is good for those of us that don’t have 3,000,000 points. It allowed us to see what we could afford, not what we wished for. And we especially like the well-presented “reward details” with each award offer. Also, we really liked the “Featured Rewards,” which gave us ideas we might not have thought about. Redeeming online is fairly easy, allowing you to order certificates by using an award code, or to pay for an existing hotel reservation with points if you know your reservation confirmation number. You can even look up your reservation if you don’t know the confirmation offhand, and that makes it very easy.
A nice touch is the special phone number for elite members when logged in, and it’s nice that there are prominent links to Elite Offers and Rewards as a reminder of your special benefits. Account activity is up to 13 full months, but there is no obvious way to sort the information by type.
While it’s not for most members, there is a fairly important feature for members logged in: a record of all unused awards. For some of you that like to keep several certificates on hand, you’ll find this a timely and important feature.
The Web site does allow for a missing stay request, but you’ll be disappointed. It’s not electronic. It requires you to print out a form, attach paperwork and mail it in. You can, however, order a new membership card online, and Marriott Rewards has one of the most unique features we’ve ever seen offered from any program — it allows you to deactivate online account access. We’re not sure why this feature is necessary but if you are in the middle of a bad relationship, at least someone can’t check you out online, though you can continue to earn points.
Disappointments included not finding a search engine, no natural navigation for where the FAQ section was (actually we finally did find it as we were logging out — it was linked from the bottom of the page that you had to scroll down to find), and if Marriott Rewards has a formal newsletter online, we could not find it.
All in all, the Web site reflects the Marriott Rewards program in general — a well-built program without much fanfare, and nothing that will really grab you in features. But it does do what Marriott Rewards does; it delivers the product.
Virgin Atlantic flying club
Rating: 11.9 out of 15 (Average)
Sections reviewed: Flights for Miles, What’s in it for You?, Flying Club Partners, Spend Miles, Earn Miles, Terms and Conditions, News and Features.
Commentary: We’re seeing a lot of purple and red … this must be the place. The Virgin flying club Web site is easy to find off the front page of virgin-atlantic.com by clicking from “frequent flyer.”
Visible link for FAQ is about the airline, not specifically flying club
Written is a casual and upbeat manner. For instance, the section that explains what flying club is is titled “what’s in it for You?” Easy links on left hand side navigation direct you to flights for miles, elite benefits, the member guidebook, earning and spending miles and the milesplusmoney feature as well as terms and conditions
Search is on the front page. Unfortunately it is not advance/smart search and a search for “missing credit” brings this message up “Please refine your search. No results were found. Unfortunately further searches were just as frustrating. A search for “double miles” brought up only one find, “Argyll Business Centres” That’s not what we were looking for and for our final search attempt it was for “newsletter” and we got this again, “Please refine your search. No results were found.
“News and features” was totally up-to-date and in fact there was already news for the TSA lighter ban for members to know about. When clicking on the left hand navigation for news and features it lists all the news that is online, making it easy to actually see beyond the front page. Of course the down side of this is that is now makes the page longer and requires using your scroll bars. The news is a mixture of flying club and Virgin Atlantic Airways news.
The award charts are easy to navigate and understand, and in a table format with no interactive features. Awards are only listed roundtrip to/from London. Should you wish to go from Miami to Mumbai, you’re going to have to figure it out yourself. And flying club makes a mistake by not linking the award chart to their online redemption process.
A frustrating thing about their navigation is that you are never really in flying club; you are instead always surrounded by the rest of what Virgin Atlantic is all about. It is solely up to each member if it works for them that way.
The Web site does a good job in keeping you entertained without logging in, with easy access to the Guidebook and other static information. But to really get the most from this Web site, you need to be logged in, and from there you’ll be able to claim missing miles online in an instant, check your tier points, check how close you are to moving up to the next membership level of flying club, and find out all about the benefits higher-tier levels bring. Also, you may view your account balance, membership details and recent transactions, though we were unable to figure out how to sort the information by type and date.
We did not find a specific member newsletter online, or any evidence of an archive of past issues. In the FAQ section, there was no interaction. You have to hope that your question is among the 14 that are listed, or you’ll have to hope someone you meet flying on Virgin knows the answer. Tip: when using the FAQ from the bottom of the page, you’ll only find 14 Q/As. If you access FAQ from the “Contact Us” link on the left-hand side navigation, you’ll find 33 flying club Q/As.