Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks

Randy Petersen's  Opening Remarks

Here we are in the merry month of November

Actually, with looming changes in several programs and an airline merger rife with potential and pratfalls, November is proving to be if anything, a conversation starter. And while I swore to myself that this month would not contain an editorial about United (they have been getting the lion’s share of attention from me over the past few months) … well, they started it. An email arrived alerting Mileage Plus members of a new upgrade policy: “NEW Unlimited Domestic Upgrades for all elite members.” The response from members was immediate and massive, with a topic on FlyerTalk devoted to the change garnering 1,200 comments and over 55,000 readers within the first day and a half–making it one of the fastest growing topics ever.

However, the buzz wasn’t just from Mileage Plus elite members. In the Delta SkyMiles forum where some elite members are grumpy from the loss of Continental as a partner, to the integration of WorldPerks (maybe it was the WorldPerks elite members who were grumpy–I can’t tell now that they all have SkyMiles numbers), a thread titled “UA Announces Complimentary Domestic Upgrades For Elites: DL Response” garnered 150 comments and 6,000 visitors in its first day and a half.

Similar topics were seen in both the American AAdvantage and Continental OnePass forums–although the news was met with a somewhat lukewarm response in the US Airways forum. It’s rare that a single change to a program like this meets with instant interest from members of much of the competition–and to this degree. My guess is that by the end of the second day of this news, over 100,000 members will have read about it and 2,500 members will have written a comment just on FlyerTalk. I haven’t yet had time to fully analyze the changes but if this interest is any indication, it’s either really, really good or really, really bad news. It’s interesting to observe that other active threads near this topic were related to “status matches.”

Now on to other topics. Kudos to the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program for its recent launch of a social circle strategy. In an email to their members just days ago, they directed members to spg.com/stayconnected, which displays all the various contact points for members to engage with SPG including Facebook, Twitter, their iPhone app and of course, thelobby.com. Their presence on Facebook features an app called TripShare that allows members to add their own photos or browse trips for travel. With Twitter, they have something called SPG Insider that offers tips on hot spots, must-see attractions and more from fellow travelers and local experts; plus, you can share your own insider secrets. This is still in its infancy and will need some time to catch on.

SPG has always been more advanced than other travel loyalty programs in this arena and can be seen as a leader. But it is a given that others will not be far behind in their own member social circles so get used to hearing more about them.

And in paying attention to the details, I also noticed that Marriott Rewards is sporting a new logo and a new color identity. No member of Marriott Rewards could possibly not know that red has always been the defining color for Marriott. But it seems that blue is the new red, at least for Marriott Rewards. The change no doubt better reflects the depth of Marriott brands and the fact that some brands, such as Renaissance Hotels doesn’t and never did have, red in their identity. Save those older (red) membership cards–they now will become collector items!

And toward this time of the year a common topic always emerges–mileage runs to renew elite status. This year will be more interesting than in years past since some programs such as AAdvantage and OnePass are offering members double EQMs until Dec. 15, which might have staved off some last-minute mileage runs. But given that other programs, such as Delta, are not offering double EQMs into December, there will certainly be some panic in our mileage world.

While not yet announced, I can see some of these programs offering special year-end opportunities for earning your remaining EQMs from some partner activity such as mileage malls. As well, look for the opportunity to purchase whatever EQMs you might need. And no, not by spending more with your present credit card of choice, but by actually buying your end-of-year elite earning mileage. Fact is, with most airlines getting pretty lean, they understand that they could sell that mileage-run seat twice: 1) by selling it to someone who is actually traveling somewhere and 2) by just selling you your elite miles so that you don’t actually have to fly. This saves the seat for the real passenger. And it gives a new meaning to overbooking … virtually.

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