Business travelers all across America have reacted with shock and dismay to news that all airline frequent flyer programs in North America will be terminated within the next two weeks.
All North American airlines abruptly scuttled their programs in a frenzied one-hour period late yesterday afternoon after You Is Airways touched off the wave of cancellations at 4pm with a terse statement that its frequent flyer program would bite the dust on April 31, 2009. Within minutes, the other airlines announced they too were getting off the frequent flyer merry-go-a=round.
As a result of the demise of the programs, members of frequent flyer programs must book any outstanding award trips by midnight April 15, 2009. All award trips claimed must then be completed by April 31, 2009.
The airlines, expecting a last-minute rush of award requests, will keep their Web sites open around the clock. Most of the carriers are even installing additional award redemption kiosks at the airport and automated recordings on their pay phone service centers, in an attempt to offset the anticipated onslaught of phone calls.
“Like most other airlines with mounting frequent flyer liabilities,” says Ricardo Sanderson, president of Deter Air Lines, “We have been looking for quite some time for a way to get off the hook. Everyone wanted out, but nobody wanted to be first. But once one carrier tested the water, we all tore off our clothes and plunged in.”
Lend Til-Then, president of Untied Airlines, said his airline has devised a way to soften the blow for its members. Each member redeeming an award will be given 80,000 bonus miles, he said, “Those miles, like all others currently in members’ accounts, must be used by the April 15 deadline.”
Ironically, a spokesman for You Is Airways now says that carrier cancelled its frequent flyer program in error. He explained the Airline’s Super Strategic Planning Objectives Committee, more commonly referred to as ASSPOC, held a secret meeting early yesterday morning to look at the ramifications of a series of scenarios. A number of options were considered ranging from entirely scrapping the program to awarding quintuple mileage in all months containing the letter “R”. The committee recommended the latter choice, but notes from the earlier discussions were handed erroneously to the company’s public relations department who were similarly distracted because of the pending ground crew merger with Air Apparent Airlines of Dallas.
For airlines, there could not be a better time than late April for travelers to claim free trips. Most people have run their credit cards to the max to pay for March spring break vacations and are now forced to make a minimum payment on their credit cards before they can charge their summer vacation. Most planes over the next two weeks would be flying almost empty. By filling the seats with flyers traveling on free awards, the airlines can pay off their debts to members without cutting into revenue payloads.
There is, however, the possibility that not all members will be able to get space by the April 15 deadline. Barry Sellme, president of SOS Airways, says capacity controls should not be a problem. “Even if you can’t get on a flight,” he says, “keep in mind that the e-ticket emails are suitable for framing and can make lively conversation, especially with someone who may have lost their miles when Pan Am discontinued their program back in 1987 or Aloha Airlines more recently.
A spokesperson for FlyerTalk said, “The Web site has burnt out the search tool looking for answers as distraught travelers who are afraid that since both the IRS and airline award redemption deadlines are on the same date, either the IRS or the awards will have to wait.” At least the IRS will give you an extension.
The stock of hotel companies has rocketed as it is assumed that travelers will use the hotel guest programs as a substitute to earning free travel with the airlines. In fact, Dam Perks, vice president of Hil-A-Ton Hotels noted that new memberships were coming in at 500,000 a minute with no end in sight as travelers are aware that they can still earn free airline tickets by staying at a hotel. Stock trading for StarWouldNot Hotels has been halted because the share-price trading has paralyzed the system.
Meanwhile, economists are divided on how the demise of frequent flyer programs will affect the economy given the current financial situation. The most pessimistic forecast comes from Harvard University economist John Kenneth Goldbrick. “Without bonus miles, no business person in his or her right mind is going to go through the hassles and frustrations of taking your shoes off for the TSA,” he says. “And without business travel there will be no business conducted. The world could be facing a depression equal to that of the 1930s … uh, today.”
However, newly elected president Arocka Bama foresees little long—term effect from the curtailment of business travel, “Entrepreneurs will simply find new ways of carrying out international commerce, possibly by way of using their Blackberry phones.” He did however leave open the possibility that his government would consider a bailout of this situation with T-MARP (Troubled Mileage Asset Relief Plan).
For up-to-date information on the cancellation of frequent flyer programs, please contact the airline of your choice. Someone will likely remind you that it is April Fool’s Day.