Opening Remarks – March, 30 2006

Opening Remarks – March, 30 2006

The Kids First Fund
I’d like to start this month by bringing your attention to a program which InsideFlyer has decided to get actively involved with — The Kids First Fund. Started by a former marketing manager involved with the Midwest Airlines frequent flyer program, the mission of the Kids First Fund is to help kids needing the most help in countries where help is needed. The Kids First Fund is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the needs of kids that are sexually and physically abused, abandoned or neglected. The program is currently concentrating its support in countries where resources are limited; specifically the country of Latvia on the Baltic Sea adjacent to Russia, Estonia, and Lithuania, where it is developing programs to provide professional education to identify and treat abused children. They are creating Latvia’s first family shelter to care for abused women and their children. Partners include the Latvian government and local social service agencies.

That’s the background. Now, what you can do is to visit starting on April 7 to bid on any of over a hundred travel awards with the proceeds going to this effort. The Great On-Line Travel Auction for Kids sold more than 100 airline tickets last year, generating funds toward this effort. Airline tickets and hotel stays are listed with opening bids beginning at $1, and I think you’ll find plenty of airline choices to supplement your redemption of miles, or to add a nice hotel stay to go along with your mileage redemptions.

You rarely see me get behind anything unless it is about miles and points. Now you can see that I, just like you, see that the future of kids in this world as more important than any mile or point I’ll ever earn. I hope you will all join me in supporting this program.

It must be me, but I’m particularly excited that the Silver Anniversary of frequent flyer programs is closing in. Just one month from today, the world of miles and points as we know it will officially turn 25 years old. We’ll recapture some of the events that have shaped those years in our May issue, and feature new interviews with the faces that helped launch and shape this “rewarding” industry. Also, we have contacted some of our readers and other members who started collecting their miles in 1981 for some of those memories and will feature those interviews as well. I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon these programs in 1981, and will share my own memories of the years gone by, but in doing so will sadly talk about my unbelievable loyalty to the TWA program in those early days.

Before I get too deep into these remarks, I’d like to revisit my original advice on the fates of both Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks members and their miles. As with prior remarks, I continue with my recommendation and advice that the miles you have earned and may well be earning in the future at this point are still valuable and worthy of your continued loyalty. While it has been an unusually risky and unnerving experience so far for most members when reading the headlines about the potential strike and liquidation of Northwest Airlines, I live those moments as well and put my trust into my constant research and contact with the elements that will ultimately decide the outcome of the current scenario, which will likely not be over soon enough for most of us. I have a respectable number of WorldPerks miles and know there are some of our readers with even more, and my goal as the founder of this magazine is to continue to guide you with the advice you need to safeguard those miles and the rewards thereof.

Delta SkyMiles faces similar challenges, though so far not in the depth that members of WorldPerks members face. I have far more SkyMiles than WorldPerks miles, and trust me, I’m not interested in losing a single mile. I’m actually more aggressive in earning additional SkyMiles than in the past, as I think there might be some pleasant surprises with this program during 2006. While I am still not placated with the changes in Crown Room privileges that have been taken away from Platinum Medallion members in 2007 (and am really steamed to see that some of the recent credit card offers from SkyMiles include complimentary one-year membership to the Crown Room lounges…), I’ll continue to pout about this change and look forward to SkyMiles making good on the promise to simplify their program and deliver a solution for award redemption that members of all other programs will envy.

I was pleased to read in the past few weeks that SkyMiles has finally rolled out their miles-for-merchandise program (we’ll do a redemption report on that in the next issue) — something we wrote about six months ago.

Award Search. This has become one of my must reads in InsideFlyer on a monthly basis because it shines a light into the world of award redemption, allowing readers to compare the success rates of various programs. It also reinforces much of the advice we’ve given our readers over the years. Looking over this month’s results, you’ll see a perfect example of the difference not just among programs for award availability, but among the alliances, and more importantly, the channels in which members redeem their awards.

Here’s an example: In six of the nine programs offering awards from Seattle to Honolulu, award seats were available by calling the call center for each program when the online inventory showed that nothing was available. That is a startling 66-percent improvement in finding a seat for this particular city pair vs. online. In a more perfect world in the years ahead, there will be no differences in availability in the online channel, but today, that difference makes for a disappointed membership. The online “No” is not a final answer for your award requests.

Also, look at the alliances when in theory they all share same inventory: Online inventory from Northwest was apparently available to members of partner OnePass but not to members of partner SkyMiles. And this happens among other partnerships such as Air Canada and United. Aeroplan members could use United for awards three, six and 10 months in advance, whereas United members themselves only had award seats available six and ten months in advance when using the call centers.

One final note on award redemption this month. I am extremely happy to see an airline finally step forward and place a bottom floor on the number of “saver” type awards per flight. Read in this issue about the new Free Spirit program by Spirit Airlines in which they will make available a formal minimal number of “saver” awards per flight. That’s right, transparency without members guessing (perhaps incorrectly) that no free seats were available. As this airline grows, at least all members will know they do have a legitimate chance to redeem their miles for a free award. We have long proposed to the industry to set a bottom floor on the number of these types of seats per flight. Failing that only increases the misconception that no free seats are available at this “price.”

In closing, I am saddened to report that the namesake of the Freddie Awards — Sir Freddie Laker — passed away on February 9th at the age of 83. Those of you who attended last year’s Freddie Awards might remember he was not at full strength, but nonetheless was looking forward to attending this year’s Freddie Awards, as he truly was enjoying the purpose of the awards. I was lucky enough to have attended the services for Sir Freddie in the Bahamas where he lived, and even more fortunate to have been asked to speak of him during the services. His legacy was something that many, including myself, will never be able to fully appreciate. He truly was larger than life in his impact on the aviation industry, having been named a Legend at the Smithsonian Museum in 1998 and inducted into The Travel Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.

I’d like to share a single story I learned of when visiting with his family and business associates. In the 1970s when he was fighting to start service as a low-cost carrier, he discovered a loophole in the then-regulated airline industry. Apparently, an airline could charge low fares if they were flying “affinity club” members. So Sir Freddie created the world’s first frequent flyer programs: The Right Wheel Club and Left Wing Club. When passengers were boarding his flights, he met them all with a Bible and had each “member” affirm loyalty to one of these two “clubs.” He made a public display of this since competing airlines were spying on his flights, seeking a way to shut him down if passengers were not “club” members. That was Freddie, brilliant and a bit of a marketing wunderkind. God bless him. We at InsideFlyer are proud that his legacy will continue into the future in the form of the Freddie Awards.

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