Five Easy Pieces…
1. When the October issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine landed in my mailbox, I stopped to take a look. After skimming through reports on places I could only wish to visit, I came across the magazine’s 2005 Business Travel Awards. I’m always interested in what other business travelers are saying, so I put my vacation dreaming on hold, and read through the list of honors. One thing caught my eye. The 10,000 readers of Traveler who were polled, and who had identified themselves as frequent business travelers, had voted the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan frequent flyer program as their highest rated choice. Uh, isn’t that the very same frequent flyer program that more than 300,000 voters in this year’s Freddie Awards also voted as their highest rated choice? It sure is, and I’d like to congratulate Mileage Plan for this quite extraordinary “double dip” of honors. I am simply flattered that both Freddie Awards and Conde Nast Traveler participants both came to the same conclusion. Traveler is a very upscale magazine, and I’m sure those that tallied the votes were left scratching their heads. Alaska Airlines? Hardly in the heady arena of first class on Singapore Airlines and in Peninsula Hotels. It certainly points out just how much of a barometer the Freddies are in indentifying the best of frequent flyer programs. Again — nice honors to you Mileage Plan.
2. As many of you know, there is likely no one who has followed more closely the Dividend Miles program, and as we continue to report on its eventual acquisition of the miles and members of America West FlightFund there’s plenty to be thankful for: First and foremost, actually having a frequent flyer program to be a member of. When we look back at its period of instability, we note the many US Airways marketing executives bailed out to other jobs in the industry. While I can’t confirm it, I’m in the camp that says many of these individuals had given up the ghost for US Airways. So when we look at the coming integration of these two airlines there are a few things that I hate to see change from the current program of each. But when I read back through my own comments about even having miles with Dividend Miles, I’m a pretty lucky guy. Sure, we are losing the 20,000-mile off-peak award from US Airways, but then again, so did members of the Continental OnePass and Northwest WorldPerks programs a few years ago, and those members still seem to be living and flying. But US Airways also got rid of that awful Saturday-night stayover requirement. I have never liked those types of stipulations anyway. But I do like the new mid-level Platinum elite level slated for March of 2006. It gives additional benefits for those between that 50- and 100,000 EQM range, which formerly was a long stretch. From what I gather from chatting with a few of our readers, they are unhappy with the reduction of select bonuses from these elite tiers. Bonuses are cool but for those of us that fly too many miles for more miles to be more than just a statistic, the enhancement of the upgrade program is a welcome respite. The point is that just like in any business there are trade-offs, and they seem to have put as many of their “resources” into maximizing the upgrade portion of the program, and have funded that by reducing a few things like the elite bonus. I’d gladly change a few bonus miles for an upgrade any day. And while not trying to sound like an airline spokesperson, the simple fact that I can earn Dividend Miles when I am flying United or America West makes up for that. In other times, flights on those airlines would have gained me miles in yet another frequent flyer program. The network is the key here. Now having drank my own kool aid, I am not dumb enough to overlook the fact that while America West and US Airways may have one of the richest upgrade programs for a low cost or other frequent flyer program, I’m worried that the headlines aren’t the whole story. I haven’t been on a plane with America West that even has a front cabin in a very long time, and I suspect for those that rise and shine along the East Coast, that the RJ is more familiar to them than the “RL” of their Ralph Loren sportswear. Will be all be happy? Nope, that’s a guarantee. But when we measure and balance this new program against the odds — it’s the richest program in the world.
3. As I was looking over this month’s issue, I came across an ad for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards on page 27 (go read for yourself). It’s a call for members to earn rewards faster via the partners in the program. I get that part. But I had to read the fine print and got a chuckle out of the ad copy: “In a world without miles.” Yikes, that sounds like the end of the world to me! Very typical and clever advertising from Southwest. It reminds me of some ads that Rapid Rewards ran a number of years ago when they pleaded “Other Airlines Should Give Their Frequent Flyer Programs More Accurate Names. Frequent Liar, Patience Plus Gazillion Mile Club, Blue Moon Plan, Promises Promises and Don’t Hold Your Breath.” Glad to see they haven’t lost their sense of humor.
4. Award Redemption results. I was looking over the research from this month’s Award Search (p. 31) and noticed just how far that these programs have to go to make it easy for members to redeem their miles. In the city pair of Kansas City to Boise (Not everyone lives Chicago — San Francisco), four programs did not offer online booking capabilities. Also, look at the disparity of award availability among partners. Look closely at the comparison of the three partners: Continental, Delta and Northwest. It looks like partners don’t always like to share, which means if you learn anything from this issue — shop around.
5. Don’t forget the Nov. 16 FlyerTalk Live! online chat when we welcome Jeff Robertson, Managing Director, Delta SkyMiles and ask “How will the Delta Air Lines bankrupcty affect Delta SkyMiles members?”