A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim from the early 1960s. My version is A Not-So-Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the [FlyerTalk] Forum. As you now know, I am concerned that US Airways made a colossal mistake on Aug. 6 when they implemented their plan to reduce the competitive nature of their frequent flyer program by eliminating the only elite benefit they can easily deliver to all of their most frequent flyers. While US Airways still seems to remain feet planted on this topic, I have not reduced my pledge to try and make them a better airline and to protect the rights of those elite members who now are just an early boarding away from any other passenger.
As for the title of this column, with SaveDividendMiles.com I am trying to appeal to members of all programs to support this campaign. Along the lines of their seeing US Airways as no longer a potential airline for them to turn to should a change in frequent flyer programs become necessary. In the time I’ve spent as a frequent flyer, and it does seem to be much longer than the average traveler these days, calls to action like this usually elicit a common bond among us travelers. We support your cause because you never know when we may need you to help us. But truly for the first time I’m seeing a resentment toward US Airways, and more importantly, a resentment toward other travelers — in this case, of their miles and their benefits. While not a huge number, likely in the single digits, there were certainly enough members of other programs who displayed a similar position of “Let them go out of business, who cares, and I’m not signing any petition for them” and “US Airways is the weak link, why should we help them?” Frankly, I was stunned by these types of comments from fellow frequent flyers. I guess I had always thought that regardless of your thoughts about an airline, none of us would truly wish the worst for someone else. Certainly if US Airways should falter as some seem to suggest, there will be every bit of a chance that all the members of Dividend Miles will lose everything they have earned over time. Regardless of your position on what US Airways is today, truly we can’t wish this on another mileage junkie? But then, maybe some can.
But short-sighted frequent flyers who adopt this position are truly that — short sighted. The reality is that without US Airways, the Star Alliance will have a substantial domestic hole, one that won’t be filled by another airline anytime soon. And it would likely be filled by upstarts like the ones we’ve recently seen exposed to the realities of the airline industry. Both ExpressJet and Independence Air come to mind. But even that would take far too long to be of any use to a frequent flyer today. None, by the way, would link into the Star Alliance, which means that members would revert to having no more than one or two frequent flyer programs to stash their miles in. Just what we need, to dust off the old mileage card wallet we used to carry around in the days when there were no alliances. And without US Airways as a somewhat complicated version of a low-cost carrier, can we guess what airfares will look like? Sure, the value of our miles will rise (isn’t that what the pundits claim, that the value of a mile is related to the base airfare?) but frankly, I don’t see that as a great trade-off. Isn’t it better to help the frequent flyers of US Airways retain their miles and benefits and possibly forestall an even worse situation — that of losing US Airways? So, I’ll ask again, can we help our fellow frequent flyer? If so, visit SaveDividendMiles.com.
Now, on to a few other topics that are just now streaming into my consciousness. I’ve got a strong suspicion that the continuing tightening of consumer credit by banks is and will be a story for those of you collecting miles by credit card. I have chatted with a growing number of credit card holders who have seen cards canceled unexpectedly and spending limits reduced. A recent report by the Federal Reserve noted that over the past three months about 65 percent of banks have set tougher standards for credit cards, easily passing the statistics from a report earlier in the year in which only 30 percent of banks had set tougher standards. These types of market changes could mean an even tougher time for frequent flyer programs because credit cards are often seen as a huge plus for the airlines. As this trend continues, I see plenty of new opportunities offered by credit card partners to convince the frequent flyer to increase the spend with what plastic they still have (since in theory there may be fewer “cards in force”). Can you say “bonus miles” anyone?
And if you haven’t done so, you may want to surf on over to BoardingArea.com to look over our coverage of the man who played a game of poker and won 21 million frequent flyer miles.