Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 29 2006

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 29 2006

If you are like most people, it is likely you own something, or several somethings, that were acquired based on someone else’s recommendation, or because of an ad or article you read in a magazine or newspaper. Who out there with an iPod hasn’t been influenced by Apple’s catchy and visual advertisements? And here’s betting there aren’t many Ford F-150 owners who are unaware that it is “America’s Best-Selling Truck.”

So I’ve been thinking; What influences frequent flyers?

Many regard this magazine as being quite influential. While we appreciate the vote of confidence, we are keenly aware that our subscription base falls somewhat short of 180 million — the estimated number of frequent flyers worldwide — and so realize there must be other influencing factors.

How do most members get their information about frequent flyer programs? Since there are no sneaker contracts in the mileage game, where is the juice coming from? One way to answer that question was to go out and poll a number of frequent flyers.

OK, granted, our method was a bit flawed, as we only polled an online audience, so it’s reasonable to expect the results would be skewed. Still, I must say, I was surprised by the results (which you can see for yourself on p. 12).

Twenty years ago, at the advent of this magazine, one could argue there were only three sources for frequent flyer information: the programs themselves, fellow travelers and InsideFlyer. Fast forward to today, and none of these sources even comes close to being considered the most turned to, or most influential. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents to our poll said they get information about their frequent flyer programs from the Internet. Only 11 percent say they get their information directly from the program itself!

Where else do they hear about new partners? Fellow travelers score big with 7.2 percent of the respondents. And next in line are online news sites and/or magazines like this one.

But nearly 80 percent get their information from Web sites. No wonder FlyerTalk.com is so popular.

We then turned the question around a little and asked the same crowd; Among these sources, which influences your frequent flyer choices the most?

Leading in influence was Internet Web sites at nearly 68 percent. Though frequent flyer newsletters were the second leading source for information, they dropped to third as an influencing factor at 7.6 percent. Not surprisingly, fellow travelers moved up a notch, as 22.3 percent of the respondents considered their peers to be most influential. And rounding out the list once again were online news sources and magazines.

Looking over the results, the thing that struck me most were the numbers related to fellow travelers. While only 7.2 percent of the respondents looked to their fellow travelers as a source of frequent flyer information, a full 22.3 percent claim to be influenced by this same group. That is a huge increase, and almost perfectly corresponds to the percentage decrease in relation to Web sites.

So it would seem that fellow travelers are the E.F. Huttons of the frequent flyer world — when they speak, we listen; although it would appear most of us prefer their advice when it is unsolicited.

Very interesting stuff.

Moving on, I expect you will find this month’s Award Search as interesting as I did. When I looked over the results I noticed something that is made clear time and time again in many different ways: partners are not created equal.

That, or some are just better at negotiating.

Take for example this month’s research, in which we checked award availability between Chicago and Cincinnati. With Cincinnati being a hub for Delta, we’d expect them to be a major participant in the results, and they were. To their credit, we were able to find 100-percent award availability using both their online and call center award reservation systems.

But let’s look at three of their partners. With Continental we couldn’t find an available award on one of the days we searched, and we checked both Continental metal and their partner Delta. When trying to book an award through Northwest, none were available for three of our search dates, either through the call center or online. But the remaining partner — Alaska Airlines — was perfect, just like Delta.

How can it be that Alaska Airlines gets the award seats and other partners like Continental and Northwest cannot?

Here’s my take. It looks like Alaska is paying more to secure seats on partner airlines, Continental is not paying as much as Alaska but still invests in its members, and Northwest doesn’t have the money to secure the seats other partner members are getting. This certainly makes Alaska Mileage Plan look good and could explain why they have won and/or finished high in the Freddie Awards these past few years.

And finally, a few months ago I wrote that Joe Brancatelli had predicted both United and US Airways were not going to make it, and that I thought he had advised members to cash in their miles. Well, it appears my memory is not as good as I’d like and I erred in attributing those remarks to Joe. My most humble and sincere apology to Joe — who has been a friend of mine since 1986.

Now I just have to figure out who it was I thought made those remarks.

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