Letters – May, 26 2006

Letters – May, 26 2006

Flying Blue Woes
As a multimillion-mile Flying Blue balance holder, I have a great interest in the program being both customer-friendly and generous, yet also viable and sustainable. There has been a discernable improvement in the skill and conduct of the help desk (at least the Canada-based one!) as compared to the old Amsterdam-based Flying Dutchman help desk. That said, the help desk is hampered by operating from a different computer program than its Flying Blue customers online award booking engine. Hence, award availability that shows up on the customers’ booking engine is mysteriously not available on the help desk’s award software! Frankly, the online booking engine is not worth the frustration and aggravation, despite repeated contact with supervisors assuring me that “Paris IT is aware of the situation.”

Award availability for international flights (especially Business and First Class) within three days of travel has been uniformly excellent. But let’s face it, for most travelers, three-days notice is just too nerve-wracking to hold out for. Open miles (double miles for no capacity controls) are a new feature that the Flying Dutchman program lacked; it’s a nice option for those desperate or ignorant, but not a good value proposition for seasoned flyers. Overall, my experience has been that like with most programs, persistence and vigilance pays off. Call daily and hope for cancelled or lapsed award tickets to open up space; or maybe the inventory management folks will release award seats a little bit earlier than normal.

Another Flying Dutchman perk that was eliminated was upgrades on almost every fare. I don’t miss that perk, as it was not a sustainable perk, and there was no mechanism in place to reserve upgrade space for Platinums over other members. It was simply the early bird, with no respect to status. Unfortunately, Flying Blue swung too far in the other direction. Upgrades are only for two highest fare basis for all members. I think Platinums should have somewhat broader (cheaper) fare options to upgrade from, to better differentiate from Gold.

Flying Dutchman taxes were always expensive and hard to figure out … Flying Blue is no different. Their taxes/surcharges, etc. always seem to be about $100 more than comparable award taxes on other programs. Absolutely no transparency as to how taxes are figured out.

WebAwards, select awards at up to 50-percent off, remain as part of the new program. Of course, they must be booked online, and of course, the online booking engine typically can’t execute a WebAward. And of course, the help desk can’t (in theory) manually book a WebAward. So, a Supervisor ends up booking it as a regular award and manually re-credits 50 percent of the deduction. Sound convoluted? It is! But, for someone like me, I’m willing to jump through the hoops to get my elusive international J seats; other less hearty souls must be going totally bonkers!

Further, WebAwards used to allow travel to start from the U.S., but now can only start from Amsterdam or Paris, effectively limiting U.S. members to the occasional AMS/CDG-North American WebAwards.

Miles posting has been far better with the new program. Award changes for 40 Euros is about industry average. Again, it would be a nice perk to differentiate the Platinum members by waiving change fees, like United does for 1Ks.

Finally, Flying Dutchman seemed to have an unpublished benefit of making Platinum member awards available on a quasi-no-capacity-control basis. With the new program, there is supposedly more “preferential” award space for Platinums, but not an overriding of capacity controls. That of course, is missed!

A broad array of fares on SkyTeam and partner carriers count for mileage earning for award (redeemable) miles. However, only SkyTeam miles count toward status. Not having Malaysia as a status-earning partner is a big ouch and leaves a big hole in SkyTeam in covering Southeast Asia.

A very nice holdover perk from the KLM days are a five-day before flight time, automatic upgrades on Northwest domestic metal for Flying Blue Platinums. I have nailed that upgrade on close to 90 percent of my Northwest flights.

Overall, the frustrations with the IT department are really quite critical and they should be emphasized in print, as a must-fix … or just stop charging us the fee to make a phone booking, since the Web site is so worthless. The award availability is better than most; the upgrade policy is strict, but at least there is no upgrade cash outlay like American and Continental. The staff is only as good as the software capability that they have been saddled with.
Steve Belkin

Freddie Follow-Up
Thank you for your work on the Freddies. The results of the voting provide me with a lot of great information. And not only for myself, but also you’re giving others a lot of great information. And the more informed the flying public is, the more they will make informed choices when they fly. And that can only improve our airlines, by punishing the bad ones and rewarding the good ones.
Mark Terry

Getting the Name and Facts Correct
Steve Grosvald asked that I take a look at the article, “The Big 2-5 — Celebrating 25 Years of Frequent Flyer Programs” that appears on the current InsideFlyer Web site.

While I did interview with you some years ago for this article, this is the first time that I have seen it in print and thus the reason for this somewhat late response.

Much of what is attributed to me is true but there is also a bit of confusion in several areas (not the least of which is my name, which was and still is Don, not Dan).

The term Mileage Plus was developed by Steve Grosvald. How he got it, I don’t know, but it sure worked. SUBSEQUENT to its use with Mileage Plus we considered attaching the “Plus” suffix to a number of other programs, (similar to what American was doing with AAdvantage). We may or may not have actually done so, I don’t recall, but one thing I do recall is that Mileage Plus was the first usage of “Plus” for any of our marketing programs.

As for having the program on a shelf…that is not quite what transpired. We did develop the “Half Fare Coupon” in response to a strike recovery in 1979. At that time we looked at a number of different programs. I might add that the first time I even read of the “Air-Script” name was in reading your article. I think that may have come from Steve’s mention of it at some other point.

The one thing that we did learn with the “Half Fare Coupon”, and a year later again with our “Take-off” scratch and win game card promotion, was how to develop major programs quickly through internal team building, bringing suppliers in as partners, and maintaining secrecy to the point of paranoia.

Grosvald was at the helm in the development and launch of “Take-off” (the concept was jointly developed by Steve and two UA pricing officials) and used those acquired skills in our response to American’s AAdvantage program with Mileage Plus.

If we had anything “on the shelf,” it was Grosvald and his team of marketers and suppliers.
Don Moonjian

US Airways Runaround?
US Airways is losing one customer at a time! I tried to book tickets to Vegas on US Airways about 5:10 p.m. After four calls, at 5:50 p.m., I quit. Each time I called US Airways and got America West reservations. Because I had a ticket credit due to a hospitalization when I last had to fly, they tried to transfer me to the US Airways department I needed. The first three times I got in a loop that eventually tells you your call can’t be completed and hangs up. The fourth try I actually got a person. I started to explain that I wanted to book to Vegas and use a prior ticket credit, and she hung up! I wrote US Airways through their site to complain and ask how I could book. I was told I was complaining to the wrong place, they would try to forward, but I should write to the correct department. I still have not heard from anyone at US Airways! I also tried to use a companion coupon and was told could they not book it at reservations!

Friends I have talked to have had miles for years and can never get a awards reservation, to/from anywhere.

I then tried to book Las Vegas to Portland. I could book online for cash, but if I tried to use miles, I was told they don’t fly there. Same story with Tampa to Kalispell. Do they want loyal customers, or for that matter, any customers? I used to recommend them, but I as others sure don’t anymore.
Ed Ploughman

Let the Shipper Beware
I frequently ship meeting materials via UPS or FedEx to hotels. Checking the charges on the in-room TV, for the first time ever, I noticed two “package room” charges, one for $7 and one for $24 from the “Package Room.” Apparently since my last stay at the Hyatt Regency Chicago a few month ago, they now have incoming charges based on size. (One was a banker box with three loose leafs; the other was a replacement hard drive for my laptop. The assistant manager on duty removed the charges when I complained about this new and unannounced charge (a kudo that shows Hyatt does still rescind when pushed) and also told me that outbound packages with my own shipping label/account were still free (for now anyway).

Internet used to be free here, as were 800 calls. The former is now $13 a day with tax and the latter are free for 20 minutes, something I see everywhere, but incoming package charges is a first.
Daniel Mark Siegel

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