Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – June, 30 2006

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – June, 30 2006

I’m thinking that this month’s Award Search results are much too puzzling even for me to explain. First of all, they certainly point out the demand for award redemption to international destinations. Looking over the results of this month’s research, it is clear that it is really not smart to think you can redeem awards for summer vacation in the middle of summer. For the record, January is the busiest month for award redemption for summer travel plans, as accounted for the call volume and online demand from members. Which is why readers of InsideFlyer often have far fewer problems getting the award seats they wish — we advise you start making your plans for summer in December, before the onslaught of other members of these programs.

But getting back to my thinking, I’ve never in 20 years seen a forecast as bleak as the results for getting to Paris. Granted, I can understand the lack of seat availability for one week, one month and even three months, since it is highly likely that those flights are completely sold out at this point of summer travel. But the lack of seats at the six and 10-month mark should send an alarm to these programs. There are only two of the seven programs tracking this month with coach seats available if you are using the online tool at the 10-month mark. But as we often continue to alert readers — the online booking tool is far from perfect for all programs. If you are using the call center, all seven programs report seat availability at the 10-month mark. But the forecast for award availability at the six-month mark is frightening: only a single set of seats available either online or from the call center among all programs.

I will be chatting to executives of all these programs about this forecast to get their take on this particular bottleneck. Now, this may not be the same for all destinations, but Cincinnati can route through New York, Boston, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta and even backtrack to Chicago if necessary. Something is definitely wrong here.

Now, on to better news. This month Southwest Rapid Rewards should announce a formal plan for members to redeem their credits for free travel to Hawaii on ATA. Frankly, most would never have believed this day would come, but it has finally arrived. Hawaii will be available at a new award level: double that which a normal award within the U.S. requires. And while all the attention is on Hawaii, I’m looking for the news about when Mexico comes online as an award destination. For readers among the lucky early ones to say Aloha, enjoy that paradise, where you’ll bump into thousands of other members of frequent flyer programs who have slogged their way in and out of airports from Bakersfield to Bangor for just such an award.

I’m always clicking around the World Wide Web, and came across this the other day: On the Web site of Ethiad Airlines, the fine print of their privacy policy states: “To administer our frequent flyer policy when it is implemented….” Ethiad Airlines is one of the remaining airlines in the Middle East not to have a frequent flyer program. Its day may soon come. Recently Oman Air launched their Sindbad program and there is every sign that this is a very competitive market. Note: for Americans, you’ll confuse the spelling of the Oman Air Sindbad with Sinbad, Legend of the Seven Seas. In the Middle East, just note there is that extra “d” in the spelling.

Last month we wrote of the new United Mileage Plus Choices program which added a new level of flexibility and value for members who are holders of the Chase Mileage Plus credit card. For those who have read what we wrote, the input has been extremely positive. However, as I look around at what others have said, it simply amazes me that any member would complain at having a new benefit — one that does not in any way devalue or take anything away from their current use of the card to earn Mileage Plus miles. I did notice that those who do not seem to understand the benefits and how to use them are not readers of this magazine. Maybe it’s about time to require all members of these programs to have a subscription to InsideFlyer so that they can get things explained to them. I wish. The point is that this is a very good program addition, and I might be suffering a plight shared by other readers: I have a Chase Mileage Plus credit card and want to maximize my “Choices,” but also have a Delta SkyMiles American Express credit card which is now offering me triple miles on all purchases until the end of August. More miles or more choices? I’d love to hear from our readers as to what you’d do in this same situation.

And finally, an update on FlyerTalk. This month Continental OnePass has added an official “lurker” to FlyerTalk to extend customer service to members on FlyerTalk/OnePass, and members of FlyerTalk were extremely impressed to have been invited to a private meeting with Delta Airlines executives recently in Atlanta to eat, drink and listen as they outlined some of their plans for the future of that airline. Joanne Smith, the Vice President of Marketing, opened up the special event by noting that FlyerTalk was famous all over Delta’s headquarters. We’ll assume that is a “positive” famous.

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