Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 25 2012

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – September, 25 2012

Chocolate Bars and Sticky Situations

Usually I love getting right into the topic that really is the focus of InsideFlyer–frequent travel programs–but this month, I’ve been sidetracked. As many of you know, I tend to be very one-dimensional when it comes to travel. I don’t write about seat pitch, the cookies in the airport lounges or even Deltalina (Google her if you must!). But this month I’m throwing all of my normal subjects out the window to add comment to something that is just wrong. I repeat–just wrong. News is out that Pam Am, the global icon of the airline industry from 1927 to 1991, has licensed their name and blue globe logo to a chocolate bar. Excuse me? A chocolate bar? Frankly, I don’t give a damn if it is “all-natural” and comes in milk and dark, it is just wrong. What I dislike the most about this licensing deal is that the promoters of the product cite it as the perfect snack for aviation fans. Gag me in a middle seat without a barf bag. A perfect snack for aviation fans? Might this be the same group of advertising/marketing experts that recently decided that Avis doesn’t need to “Try Harder” and instead gave us “It’s Your Space”? Don’t get me started on how lamebrained that idea is. Space? It’s a rental car. Now, if they were referring to finding a parking space for the said rental car, then I’m all for it.

But I digress. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. From my early days of miles and points, for a few years I drank all the kool-aid I could from that fountain called Pan Am WorldPass–at times, very likely the world’s greatest frequent flyer program. And what I would not give to go back in time and ride one of Pan Am’s original flying boats. But alas, all that is wrapped up in the iconic brand that is Pan Am is soon to be what is known as a “licensing journey”. Pan Am has always reflected luxury and glamour and to this day still has a cache of chic. But unless they come out with an exalted salted caramel chocolate bar, Pan Am is simply just another brand that has been put through the wringer. Now, I feel better. On to other things.

Here we are again, back on the story that just doesn’t seem to go away. After my recent exchange here with Gary Leff on the tale of American AAdvantage denying access to third parties for member data (screen scrapers vs. the world) now Delta SkyMiles has issued their own version of cease and desist to the same group of companies seeking a business model helping frequent flyers.

However, unlike the legitimate concerns of both Southwest and American on where their membership data goes and what happens to it, Delta SkyMiles hired either a second-year law student or a pre-law intern to draft up their cease and desist letters. Not trying to be too cute, but stating the reason for the cease and desist as being, “This activity directly affects the stability and performance of Delta’s information technology systems,” is simply out-of-touch, unrealistic and a joke. Are they saying that if members should look up their account themselves it doesn’t do the same? What we are talking about is simple access to a member’s account, which the member has approved of as a limited power-of-attorney, for the member’s convenience. Frequent flyers are busy people. They share many loyalties in travel to Delta and their partners such as hotel and car rental companies. I can defend the thought that there are security concerns and similar concerns with the data, but sorry Delta SkyMiles, you are on your own with this one. And really, who could not have seen this move from Delta coming? In a Wall Street Journal article from last October, a Delta representative was quoted as saying, “We do not support these sites as they do not adequately protect the customer and tend to cause a great deal of confusion.” Confusion? I guess. We don’t know if Delta’s information technology systems can handle their members’ interests in their account balances. Delta, either refuse to pay the legal bill for the cease and desist letters you authorized or don’t invite them to your company Christmas party this year for making you look … not so good.

Here’s what I would do. There are some wild-eyed bloggers out there who seem to want to sow seeds of “it’s about the money.” But let’s step back. It really is about members’ data living in the right places. I’d suggest Delta ask, say, Points.com, who has a direct feed to many programs and have them vet new entrants who want to provide third party solutions to frequent flyers. This would be no different from facilitators like Expedia or Orbitz that funnel the data at a cost. And now, I’m sure there’s a blogger out there saying, “A cost? See it really is about the money.” Hold on wild-eyed one. Correct me if I am wrong, but these services already spend a significant amount of money on bandwidth scraping members’ accounts, or they pay others such as Yodlee, etc. for the same. Whether you are paying out the nose for bandwidth or paying a third party for the scraping, it is about the money. Points.com can vet these upstarts, the programs can feel better about the process and at least there’s some solace in knowing that the concerns of all are at least being addressed, especially that of the frequent flyer–the most important part in all of this. Free up the market, stay vigilant about member security, but do come up with a solution soon–I can’t continue writing editorials about this when there is still the possible AA/US merger to consider. And Delta, please get your story straight … and find new outside legal counsel.

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