Let The Voting Begin?
February really isn’t like any other month of the year and it’s not because of its 28 days. No, the month of February both begins and ends the voting period for the 18th annual Freddie Awards. 18th? Yes, you may be no less surprised than I am to be announcing and then hosting yet another round of determining who has the best frequent traveler loyalty programs. I’ve speculated in the past on trends that emerge from the Freddies, and have found that it’s always easier to do when the voting is over and we can look back at what the public is saying. There is little doubt in my mind that the Freddies have proven their value to the industry in helping shape programs. Year after year we receive similar calls from a variety of these programs all seeking advice as to what might win a Freddie. The answer is always the same, program after program — you earn a Freddie by providing the highest value of benefits to your members. It is less about what the other programs are doing than it is what your program is doing. Over the past 17 years, there have been a wonderful series of triumphs for members of these programs. Last year was one of the more remarkable as Alaska Mileage Plan not only won Program of the Year honors, but went on to be acknowledged by Conde Nast Traveler magazine as the “Best” domestic frequent flyer program. And Emirates went on after winning several Freddies, including Programme of the Year in Asia/Pacific to capture, months later, the coveted Airline of the Year honor from CAPA (Center for Asian Pacific Aviation). Time and time again we’re reminded how the Freddies respect and honor the knowledge of frequent travelers around the world.
As in past years, I’ll be exercising my privilege to vote in this year’s Freddies, and I urge all the readers of InsideFlyer to do the same. But remember, each time you consider a vote for a particular program, you are measuring that program for its “value” to you. I’ll see you all at the voting booth: http://www.freddieawards.com
And while we’re on the topic of the Freddies, next month I’ll be able to inform our readers where this year’s Freddie Awards ceremony is to be held. They will be on Thursday, April 27, and while we have traditionally held the event in New York City, we are entertaining moving the event to the Los Angeles area for 2006. New York has gotten extremely expensive to host these types of events, and it may be nice to have a location closer to some of the Asian programs that have balked in the past at the trip to New York City. We’ll see.
My percent of success with the predictions of 2006 for these programs was near an all-time high, but it was close. I had predicted last January that there might be an American AAdvantage credit card that would earn miles as an American Express card, and I thought I had been wrong, until on December 20, American Express, Citibank and American AAdvantage announced the new card. That was close, but it did leave my prediction record at near perfect. While writing this right after the new year, I did hand out these predictions to a few who asked — several new robust online booking tools for award redemption, new airlines jumping in on the idea of offering short-haul rewards for only 15,000 miles, and at least one program that will “guarantee” some sort of award redemption procedure. And that might not be all when it comes to award redemption. I’ve already said I expected both Delta and United to relaunch their respective frequent flyer programs, so that’s not a new prediction. Among other ideas: maybe a shortening of mileage expiration periods from three years to two years and some tinkering at award redemption “costs.” And to continue what seems to be a trend, there may be an airline or two that will allow members to achieve 100 percent of elite status via credit card spending. As you know, most airlines now offer some sort of EQMs (elite qualifying miles) to be earned by credit card spending. My guess is that someone will go the rest of the way. And I really haven’t thought that much about whether it’s a good or bad thing for the industry, but I will.
I do know one thing, and it really does not take a “prediction” to state: With at least three major frequent flyer programs all celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary, this is sure to be a huge year for unique and special promotions. American AAdvantage can claim the honors, and they are matched during the year by both United Mileage Plus and Delta SkyMiles.
As special as twenty-five years of Mileage Plus will be to United Airlines, emerging from bankruptcy this month will likely eclipse the news about that airline. Congrats for proving the pundits wrong. Now, smile once for the camera and let’s get back to work — there’s still lots to be done with the airline.
As for us, well, later this year I’ll dust off an old calendar that will remind me that “It was twenty years ago today…” that InsideFlyer was born to bring advice, information and opinion about frequent flyer programs to hundreds of thousands of frequent flyers.