When I say that I have been having more fun than ever lately, some people may think the entertainment value of the distressed airline industry is cracking me up. But actually the joy on the job is learning almost monthly of great ideas still being brought forth. For instance, this month you’ll read of the Jameson Inns Stock Awards program, in which membership becomes ownership. This month for instance, you’ll read in InsideEdition of a new program offered by Choice Hotels which is becoming a favorite of mine. A new program by them is called “Award Seasonality.” Starting in September, their award structure will change to reflect the seasonality of destinations. It is a very interesting concept, and I’ll be watching closely for its success. The interesting point of this program is that it will certainly show a bias toward the mainstream vs. offbeat members’ use of awards. For instance, here in Colorado, members might find that a hotel award will cost 16,000 points during ski season, but only 6,000 points in the summer. Why this is a good example of perception is that most people see Colorado for its skiing and thus the higher threshold in the winter for award redemption. But for others, Colorado in the summer for mountain biking or gold medal stream fly fishing might be more valuable to them than the snow of winter. While I think Choice Hotels looks at this in terms of the traditional peak vs. non-peak award redemption, it could certainly lead members such as myself to seek the perfect balance in managing my point balance. Does anyone know where Choice has hotels near a glacier for some great summertime (non-peak) snow skiing?
While this may be old news by the time you read this, I was highly amused learning something recently about the two biggest airlines in Mexico — AeroMexico and Mexicana. My amusement was in learning that Cintra SA, the Mexican government initiative to manage both airlines, had started to advertise in local newspapers seeking bidders for the airlines. While each airline is planned to be sold separately, I suppose that one could bid on both at the same time. Now, I’m trying hard not to chuckle when thinking, “Where in a local newspaper might one find an ad to buy an airline?” Given that the Mexican government had to bail these two airlines out in the mid-1990s, I’m thinking something like “Free to good home,” “Make Offer,” “Buy One, Get One Free.” And of course do you advertise an airline for sale in the classifieds? This positively has to be the bottom of the airline industry to think that you sell an airline by running a display ad in a local newspaper. Gee, I bet Glen Tilton hadn’t thought of this for United.
Last month we wrote of the launch of the More Store member benefit by the Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns frequent flyer program, which is certainly a world-class example of how programs can and will in the future leverage their program partners to add other value. I logged on to the Web site to post a few bids as I was thinking in the early going that I would be able to steal a deal here and there. For the first week I scouted out two offers that had “winner” written all over them. One was a mountain bike that I had researched and was valued at nearly $4,000. When I first checked, the leading bid was 6,500 miles. Within 4 days of that particular auction ending, the bike had been bid up to 13,500 miles, still within my reach and (you do the math) a heck of a deal since I had already talked the wife into the idea of her enjoying my old mountain bike. So I don’t post my bid yet, as I did not want to send any signals, and hoped to swoop in at the last second and claim my prize. It must be the eBay mentality, though I have to admit I’m not a regular there. Anyway, the hours ticked by and the last bid was holding steady … I hoped. Then, a very late night log-on to post my “winning” bid for the auction ending in just hours is dashed away, as other members apparently privy to my strategy come out of the mountains near Denver and up the ante well past 35,000 miles. What happened? It’s a long stretch from 13,500 to 33,500 miles in one click. I only had 17,500 miles in my account at the time, and while I could have padded the 13,500-mile bid just a little, I ran out of time and miles to keep up with the big boys and girls. So, while I wrote glowing reviews of the extreme value to members of EarlyReturns, let me warn you that there’s a few savvy members of that program that know this bidding game all too well. I’ve got a new plan in my next auction foray. I’m going “all in” on the Mercedes Benz that is open for bidding in just a few days. In fact, my opening bid of all 17,500 miles will certainly scare many a member away. I’ll let you know how it goes.
And speaking of miles for merchandise, I noticed comments related to that coming from Jeff Robertson of Delta SkyMiles, whom we interviewed this month. In a most refreshing conversation with him about what he and Delta are doing to make sure that SkyMiles delivers value to their members, he does mention that they are also on to the awards for things other than free tickets idea. Could they be the first major airline to put forth such a venture and make it work? We’ll see.
And finally, even if you don’t know a thing about the infamous LatinPass/GlobalPass program and its history of making mileage millionaires out of a small select group of our readers and FlyerTalk members, I think it still worth your time to read the interview with Guy Booth. There’s not many in the industry who have given their soul to make something work like he and a few others have. Challenged with a changing stable of partners who have continued dropping out of participation, he’s got something of an angle that many aren’t giving him credit for. Read his comments about comparison to American Express Membership Rewards-I read them twice.