When the Freddie Awards were introduced in January 1989, I was ecstatic that we had convinced over 1,000 travelers to take the time to tell us which programs were the “unabashed personal and entirely official best of 1988.” I still remember the day I wrote that a Freddie was given to Delta Frequent Flyer for being the first program to offer triple mileage. Marriott (then “Honored Guest Awards”) won the very first Freddie for Best Newsletter among all programs, airline and hotel. Continental/Eastern won the first Freddie for Best Frequent Flyer Program. And another winner that first year was Diners Club Club Rewards.
It seems so long ago as we celebrate the 17th year of the Freddies, and though many years have passed, and some frequent travelers, as well as various frequent traveler programs, have come and gone, one thing has remained constant: the public knows best. It’s not me, as editor of InsideFlyer who matters, it’s the consensus of over 315,000 travelers. The Freddies have found a home among the public, and with the most generous sponsorship of companies such as Nextel, Executive Traveler/SkyGuide, USAToday.com, SmarterTravel.com, Points.com and new sponsor Awards for Mortgages and Real Estate, I’m thrilled to have the honor of announcing this year’s winners.
Two years ago, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan made a name for itself as the Program of the Year and as you’ll read, Mileage Plan is the real thing. Its new partnership with Delta Air Lines, in addition to the existing relationship with American Airlines, makes the program even better. Southwest Rapid Rewards is just an upgrade away from owning everything there is in this years Freddies. A possible codeshare expansion to allow members to reward themselves in Hawaii just might be that tipping point again for them — just as double credits for online booking has been in the past. But notice that the larger programs like American, Continental and United are close to staging a comeback.
Among hotels, Starwood Preferred Guest continues to rack up the Freddies. No hotel program has won such a large share of the Freddies as consistently as SPG has in the past six years. While they made a huge statement at the launch of the program with “No Blackout Dates,” they have found ways to leverage that with other benefits to keep the members they have and appeal to the members they don’t have.
International frequent flyer programs seem to be experiencing a return to the past. While Skywards and Flying Dutchman continue to score among the top three in each category, it is the rise of Swiss TravelClub from the ashes of the former Freddie Award-winning Qualiflier program is sure to have folks in Zurich up all night. And here’s something strange. Former Program of the Year winner Flying Dutchman is being taken over by Frequence Plus this year, and it now appears that Miles & More will be taking over TravelClub. Are Program of the Year winners that valuable to airlines? Also, notice the power of Emirates in the Asian market and how American AAdvantage and Northwest WorldPerks score huge wins with their strengths.
But for every Freddie winner, there are other stories of programs on the rise. This year we have noticed that IHG Priority Club Rewards still makes Starwood nervous — or maybe not. Upstart growing airlines such as Gulf Air and Jet Airways are making news with their frequent flyer programs, and with TAP Air Portugal, the Star Alliance is getting one of the highest-rated European frequent flyer programs this year.
And the little program that could, Diners Club Club Rewards, claims its eighth Freddie in a row in the Best Affinity Credit Card category. This run of Freddies surpasses the record it held with two other record holders; both Continental OnePass and Marriott Rewards have won seven consecutive Freddie Awards in a category (Marriott with Customer Service and Continental with Elite Level).
I’m pleased to share the results. So please, go to http://www.freddieawards.com and click on the Winner’s Circle link to find out all the winners and to see how close some of the voting was. And look beyond the results to read selected comments from those who voted — perhaps you’ll even see one of your own comments.
– Randy Petersen