October is typically known as a month of change. Summer is really gone and replaced with a change of weather we haven’t known for many months. So it is in the airline business. This month I hereby deliver you a US Airways Dividend Miles program that has a more positive and valuable future than at any time in the past 10 years. Remember the ups and downs of broken relationships with British Airways and American Airlines? As well as the meltdown of its future with a second bankruptcy filing since 9/11? I remember them as well. But today, their future with the addition of the America West network, the Star Alliance and an improved attitude among many employees has members of this program who read InsideFlyer feeling a lot better than others. We guided you through a very difficult period, and the miles you saved by not burning as others advised are now much more valuable in that you can redeem to places you couldn’t before. Most of all — your miles are safe. Also, we’ve guided members of United Mileage Plus through a similar though not as drastic scenario, and while we’re not ready to hand off the program just yet, recent news of exit financing from bankruptcy seems to be on track, and thus the worry about your miles is subsiding.
This all brings us to my latest responsibility. With the bankruptcy filings by both Delta and Northwest, I start this process all over again. Is it automatic that I emerge as the ultimate optimist? Well, it’s not that easy. Here in the early stages of these situations I am 100 percent in advising you that your SkyMiles and WorldPerks miles are in no danger — it’s fine to continue earning at a pace you feel comfortable with, and fine to use miles for redemption purposes as you normally might, including redemption on their SkyTeam partners. This advice is for the following 11 months, which is about as far in advance as you could possibly use your miles right now. I would urge you to read my comments in the WiseFlyer section of this issue as I answer questions from a variety of Delta SkyMiles members. If you pay attention, you might note something that intrigues me as well. In the past 30 days, every single letter and email to me regarding the safety of miles during bankruptcy has been from Delta SkyMilers members. These number in the thousands. Not a single inquiry has been from a Northwest WorldPerks member. I find that extremely unusual, given the strike and other talk and actions coming out of the Minneapolis area. That may change now with an official bankruptcy filing, but the advice remains the same for members of both programs.
Last month as we were going to press, Southwest Rapid Rewards introduced news of changes to that program this coming February. We were unable to analyze the changes in that tight time frame but now that we have, don’t feel as worried as it seems many members of the program are. Their changes come in two parts. They are extending the expiration period of their earned credits from 12 to 24 months. That’s a huge change for the program and absolutely a positive one. It serves two purposes for creating more value for members. It extends the period in which members will be able to use awards and creates a new set of members who will be able to actually earn an award for the first time. While the focus should be on this change, the focus seems to be on the other change — that Rapid Rewards will introduce capacity controlled awards, something members have not been subject to in the past. This is a concern, but not to the degree that many would think. Most members will compare the concept with other major frequent flyer programs, but that is not a true comparison. The reason why we think capacity controls on Southwest will be unlike others is that Southwest is a point-to-point airline, while others rely on the hub-and-spoke. The major problem with award availability on other airlines is a combination of this (whereby a particular award is not available because a single leg of the connection is not available) and the supply and demand to significant destinations that Southwest does not serve. The complaints are about Hawaii and business class to Europe, not award redemption to Bakersfield and Providence. I think comparing the two types of capacity controls is not a true measure, and think that when we are able to later balance the changes, this will have been a good move by Southwest — one that allows them to manage the future of Rapid Rewards. Let’s face it — can you name the last time they made any negative changes to this program? And for the critics, ending the double credits for online booking is not negative unless you don’t balance it against the positive of offering the bonus in the first place.
My final words go out to the guy I respect the most. Joe Brancatelli has graced this magazine for a few years now and while I have spent a few issues shaking my head at his relentless pursuit of the travel industry (such as his recent reporting on Northwest Airlines and their strike related on-time performance), I have to again bow my head in respect. When he called me recently to chat about how frequent travelers could again rise to an occasion and assist with a disaster with the generosity of their miles and points, it lead to a flowing stream of ideas — all of which are wonderfully captured in his column this month. While I had started something similar, I know all too well that Joe’s words are the actions with which we must all rally around. Please join me in reading Joe Brancatelli word for word. In my book, he is the man this month.