PART 3: The past two months we evaluated a number of frequent traveler 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 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).
America West FlightFund
Rating: 12.6 out of 15 (Better Than Most)
Sections reviewed: My FlightFund, Contact FlightFund, Redeem Miles, Earn Miles, FlightFund News, Membership Guide, Enroll In FlightFund, Request Missing Miles.
Commentary: On first glance, this is a nicely laid-out Web page. It features double navigation, with the details about FlightFund clearly labeled for left-hand navigation, and the personalized “My FlightFund Account” on the right hand. The front page has clearly labeled News and Promotions, and recent promotions labeled as “new.” While we don’t know how long “new” is to FlightFund, we hope that this information changes regularly.
Another pleasant surprise on the front page is the clearly identified help section. FlightFund is testing “Live Help!” and it works. The only down side to this is the limited hours the service is available so far (though they do promise to extend the hours as it gets more use) and the fact that they do not have a general FAQ section. If you are looking for an answer to something in the evening hours, you’re likely to go bonkers or default to calling their service center — not at all the purpose of the Internet.
Also, from the front page, search is clearly defined. However, the tool is not a “smart search” feature, and will bring up results from the entire America West Web site. For instance, searching for “missing credit” brought up a page with a form highlighted for the word “Miss” as in Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr., Dr. Not exactly what we were looking for. A search for former partner Continental let us know all about the cargo business.
Moving on to other pages, we discovered one of the coolest features yet on any Web site. Called “View How Far Your Miles Will Take You,” this travel map uses Flash animation to allow you to select the city you might be flying from, and it will color code on a real map the cities to which you can redeem awards for 15,000 miles, 25,000 miles, 30,000 miles and 35,000 miles. Clearly, this is an easy way for FlightFund to show off its 15,000-mile award feature. Members can redeem America West flights online, but international flights on partners require a tedious form to be filled out, and members must then await the verdict. Other flights on domestic partners can be redeemed via a phone call.
The award chart is clearly labeled and even includes “details” when select partners like Royal Jordanian require certain fare classes for mileage eligibility.
Another thing we liked from the front page is the clearly defined “Web Check-in,” since that has become a popular way for members to check-in for their flights online. Some other programs have not defined that, and require a search for the link; FlightFund has made it quite easy to find.
The partners are all listed in easy-to-find charts, and most of the information is up-to-date. We did find that the information on the relationship with Diners Club Club Rewards was dated. Club Rewards recently changed to a 1:1 conversion of points to miles (this is currently listed on the dinersclubus.com Web site) but FlightFund still has the older two-points-per-one-mile conversion listing. This may be a miscommunication, but nonetheless, it needs updating.
On to My FlightFund, which is the members-only section. It’s easy to find and easy to log in to, but we did get confused by the choice of identity terms from FlightFund. When logging in, they require your “Profile Name.” With the attention (not all of it favorable) that the term “profile” gets these days, one would think that a friendlier term might be used. But once logged in, we see the basic choices that one would expect — the ability to view your account balance, redeem awards, etc. We did not see any way in which FlightFund personalizes news and information in our log-in session, so we assume the program has not gotten that far yet. For instance, the account we logged in with last had activity more than a year ago, and yet there was no greeting of “Welcome Back” or indication that they missed the account holder. We did, however like several things about the way in which account activity is presented. First of all, it is entirely customized to your own choices, with almost unlimited ways to view your details. Account activity can be viewed over the past two years in any way you choose. You can choose any dates you wish, or use the simple “pull last statement” feature. When choosing information, you can sort by activity date, bonus, post date, description or miles total. Also, you can filter for air, car, credit card, hotel, telecom or other activity. All in all, we found the information easy to use, whether to audit ourselves or to look for missing credit. For missing credit, you can easily post your request for missing flights online, while partners and other types of missing credit require a fax or mail request.
One more positive feature of this Web site, and one additional minus feature: The positive is in the top navigation bar. It contains a “Discount Deals” link which currently offers members eleven different enhancements to their membership. For instance, members are eligible for a 20-percent discount on Ballet Arizona tickets as well as a 20-percent discount on subscriptions to Arizona Highways magazine, a nice couple of gems for members. On the downside, we were disappointed that no newsletter is visible on the Web site. Using search, we found a copy of “Vision” from August 2004, but nothing since then, and no evidence that they have any sort of member communication that can be read online. This is one of the very rare program Web sites we’ve researched to date with no member communication posted at all.
The members guide and all related information is available only by PDF. We actually prefer to see programs provide both easy-to-read HTML pages in addition to a PDF. What we really don’t need are a series of old PDFs on our computers to refer to. Because FlightFund does not have an FAQ, this is more of a concern.
Overall, we have to say we like this Web site, especially with the addition of Live Help! and the interactive award chart. It needs smart search as well as an FAQ and member communication archive, but today, it can easily pass muster with most of its members.
Rating: 12.7 out of 15 (Better Than Most)
Sections reviewed: Joining HHonors, Member Benefits, Earning Points & Miles, HHonors Rewards, HHonors Partners and Senior HHonors, Sign-In, FAQ, Search.
Commentary: We can tell that HHonors has updated their Web site because we no longer are pulling out our hair looking for information. A fresh and compact front page with current news and easy-to-find navigation links make this a pleasant experience. Initial navigation is via a top bar, while navigation inside information areas is with left-hand navigation. Top or left-hand side, it’s easy, and works without the need for drop-down or other types of fancy navigation.
From the front page we did notice the search and FAQ sections. FAQ is located at the bottom of the page along side “site usage agreement” and “site map,” hardly where we might expect it to be. However, regardless of the location, the FAQ was solely for HHonors and contained a number of popular questions and answers.
Alongside the FAQ link is the search feature. Early on, though, we dubbed this the “dumb search” feature. Our first search was for the term “Diamond,” since it is the name of the top elite level within the HHonors program. We received this response: “You searched for ‘Diamond,’ there are 0 matches for your search.” Uh….
We moved on to searching for “missing credit” and “missing points” with the same results, and even tried searching for “American,” since we know they remain a partner in the HHonors Reward Exchange program, and still no matches. This has to be the dumbest search feature of any program in the world, in that is does not know its own program or partners. We even changed browser types to see if that might be a problem, with no success. But there’s still good experiences elsewhere on this Web site.
What we noticed upon refreshing the front page several times is that HHonors has opted to add a dynamic news and information listing. With every visit, the order of the information changes around the page, thus making for interesting and valuable finds along the way. Certain links we did not notice at first suddenly seemed new and interesting to us — nice decision, HHonors.
Also important was a prominent link to the HHonors members newsletter, “Traveller.” It was easy to find and necessary for all programs. While we read the latest news, we were thrown off by the April date of the newsletter, even though it was May 13. Either it is a monthly newsletter that was late in getting posted, or a bi-monthly, which should have been identified as “April/May” for the best interests of the members.
The navigation includes links for Joining HHonors, Member Benefits, Earning Points & Miles, HHonors Rewards, HHonors Partners and Senior HHonors. Additionally, partner offers such as the HHonors Platinum Card from American Express are displayed on the front page. Members can access award planning tools from the front page as well as sign-in, once they get used to the log-in location. Customer Support for worldwide locations was easily found and we did find that HHonors has done a nice job of integrating the offers from Hilton Hotels, such as their rate guarantee, into the front page without being too busy.
“Enroll in HHonors” is a very nice experience, with the program asking just enough questions up front that members can personalize their experience from the start. Among the options are a choice of eight languages, and whether the member wants email or regular mail correspondence. While we can understand the reason why, the only minus of this clean interface is that members must remember to opt out of receiving third-party mail from marketing companies rather than having the option to opt in. While HHonors has certainly been a very responsible program for these types of mailings, we have all gotten sensitive because of the proliferation of spam.
Moving on to the members-only area, the sign-in section was easy, and upon sign-in, the member is shown a clean interface with personalized news and information pertinent only to that member in a scrolling window embedded into the screen. We learned that our credit card on file was expired, and they provided an easy link to update that expiration date. While some of the information is standard among all types of loyalty programs, we did appreciate the “Did You Know” feature, which adds small amounts of news applicable to your membership level. It was highly educational, and a great way to extend promotional and other types of information to the member who normally does not scan down long lists of links.
Members can easily check their account information in any number of basic ways, including “last paper statement” or last “e-statement,” which is something we thought was nice as a single-click option. The only minus we saw in this area is that activity is restricted to your prior 12 months. For long-time members, the idea of an entire member history is appealing, though most will certainly never need anything more than a month or two to review themselves. Among the choices we thought were important to members was “Reward Redemption History.” Some members prefer to carry around several reward certificates for emergency hotel stays, and this is a nice way to survey our inventory, though some like us will look into that option and become sad that we have yet redeemed any points for a much-needed vacation. Other activity options include non-hotel, promotion bonus points and miles, which are great for tracking the various HHonors promotions you might have enrolled in.
The tool of which we think HHonors can be very proud is its “Rolling VIP Tier Upgrade” benefit, which shows a member where they are on track for requalifying for elite, and for upgrading their current elite status. Members can choose which elite status they are hoping to earn and how it should be calculated, since HHonors offers stays, nights or base points. A graphic interface makes this a great benefit as does listing any Fast Track ways you can also qualify for higher elite status.
All in all, a wonderful, easy-to-navigate Web site with just enough interactivity to make the experience fresh each time you log-in. But they need to fix that “search” function.