There was the Super Bowl — the smaller Midwest city of Indianapolis vs. the much larger city of Chicago. Two sports teams and the world watching. The same scenario is being played out in our cover story this month. We look at low-fare airlines vs. legacy carriers; the battle for your dollar; and a comparison of the benefits of their frequent flyer programs. Why mention the Super Bowl? Well, for one thing, Indianapolis is the home of ATA and its growing-in-popularity Travel Awards program — no doubt in part to the recent support of partner Southwest Airlines. And then there is Chicago, home of the legacy United airlines, and its behemoth Mileage Plus program with its millions of fans, much like the Bears. There’s more of an international slant to this month’s cover story, but I’d just like to say that for those betting on this battle of frequent flyer programs, Mileage Plus owes Travel Awards. And I suggest: cheesecake from Eli’s, Vienna beef sausage, ribs from Robinson’s and popcorn from Garrett’s.
I’ve been humored by the ever changing and entertaining ad campaign employed by Citibank’s Citi Rewards program. You have probably seen the ads on TV and in print that feature Roman and his nonspeaking sidekick, Victor. Roman especially is eccentric as can be as the pair point out the many ways in which they earn Citi rewards points. I have to say, that at the beginning of the campaign (last October?) it was difficult for me to understand Roman with his heavy accent but the more familiar I became with the character, the better I was able to understand him. With his broken English and poor grammar, the ads seem to parody the popular movie Borat.
According to USA TODAY’s weekly Ad Track survey, more than half the other viewers say they disliked the ads vs. the Ad Track average of 13 percent. And just 7 percent say they like the ads “a lot” vs. the average of 20 percent. And while I can’t speak for the ad itself since I’m no ad wizard, I do know that the subtle message that the program is “Rewarding! Very, very rewarding!” resonates with me.
And while I did pummel AAdvantage in last month’s Opening Remarks regarding their new co-pays effective March 1 when claiming upgrade awards with most discounted fares; this month, I’m back to praising them for the release of their new award booking calendar. First popularized by Continental’s OnePass, these next generation online booking tools for frequent flyers are becoming the way to go despite their limitations. Most if not all of the current award booking tools are in their first generation and AAdvantage becomes the first of the next generation providing real tools to help manage the task of redeeming your miles and bringing the process very close to that of purchasing a revenue ticket.
This effort by AAdvantage during a come back period for airlines makes headlines for us. Who will be the next program to make this process more reliable and a much better experience for the members?
Later this month you’ll start hearing about the world’s newest frequent flyer scheme. Called JETSET, this new program by ExpressJet will be a simple fly-and-redeem program with possible cash-value awards and partner participation in the months ahead. Many of you know ExpressJet as a Continental Express regional carrier for Continental. OnePass members will still be earning miles when ExpressJet continues that relationship. However, in the shadows of Independence Air (their collectible frequent flyer program collateral is up on eBay), ExpressJet has become another of the regional airlines that feels much of its financial future is based on being their own brand and will begin flying as a regular scheduled airline coast to coast by this summer with service starting April 2. With service to mid-sized cities and airfare not much if at all below current markets, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. But I want to be the first to welcome ExpressJet into the world of frequent flyer programs.
And finally, a word about all the buzz around expiring miles. I’ve never seen any topic that has such a low impact on a majority of frequent flyers have such coverage. I say that because I am confident that the readers of InsideFlyer have learned how to keep their accounts current with our advice and news. The fact remains that we are much better off today, even with 18-24 months to keep our accounts active, than we were just seven years ago when several of the major airlines had an enforceable three years and out policy on their miles. I do not wish for us to ever return to those days.