Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – October, 19 2012

Randy Petersen's Opening Remarks – October, 19 2012


Just because Halloween was just upon us doesn’t mean that this column is about creepy crawly things, but rather it’s about the creep of changes certainly to come from your frequent flyer program.

Years back, there was some creep from Delta in how they awarded flight miles from a variety of fares. If you don’t know the background of those changes, take a look at SaveSkyMiles.com and you can read the history. In that instance, members of the SkyMiles program were able to defend the fortresses and repeal the possibility of a new advertising campaign–“Great Flight … Less Miles” (with apologies to Miller Lite beer).

So, what is the creep now? Well, it’s from my nemesis Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns. As previously warned in my April column, I was a bit worried that when Bryan Bedford, CEO of Republic Airlines (parent company of Frontier Airlines) announced that Republic was forging ahead to make Frontier a “more pure low-cost carrier” it would mean the start of changes very closely related to that statement. Now my concerns are fully realized. According to my recent statement from EarlyReturns, duly signed by Mr. Bedford himself (he IS a man of his word), general members of the EarlyReturns program will now only earn 50 percent of miles flown when purchasing a ticket through travel agencies other than flyfrontier.com. Like Expedia … fewer miles. Like Orbitz … fewer miles. Like Travelocity … fewer miles. Heck, like American Express Travel … fewer miles.

Funny thing about this is that I was fully ready to unload on EarlyReturns for this change but I actually think it is a fine idea to try and force (excuse me–“suggest”) members book first and foremost on flyfrontier.com. Here’s why. First of all, I never railed on Southwest for not being able to book through these other travel agencies so it would be unfair for me to single out Frontier at this point. The policy is actually even better than Southwest Rapid Rewards’ policy because as we all know, you can’t earn any miles when booking Southwest from third-party online travel agencies because they don’t offer that option. So Mr. Bedford, I am at least fair in my continued coverage on what I hope is not the total demise of EarlyReturns. This tough love thing really makes for difficult moments.

HOWEVER, I’m not done yet. Back to the word “creep”. There are two items related to this change that raise my “miledar” detector. First of all, in addition to general members not earning full miles for booking on third-party travel websites, general members no longer have the opportunity to enjoy an advance seat assignment when booking outside of Frontier’s website.

It can be easily said that any changes in this industry start somewhere. Again, no big deal if comparing EarlyReturns to Southwest Rapid Returns, but that now makes two of them. Who will be number three and then number four? And before we know it, general members will have lost all enticement to actually even belong to any program. I find this a very dangerous precedent and unfortunately can see creep in this industry. But before moving on, let me acknowledge that Ascent and Summit members will continue to earn 100 percent of miles flown when purchasing this same Basic Fare through other travel agencies.

But let’s not contain creep to just Frontier EarlyReturns. Not long ago Delta SkyMiles made a small change to their own earning ability which seems to have escaped a great deal of attention, and that was to reduce mileage earning for unpublished fares such as those purchased through a group or specialized agent. While this is likely a small number of fares, it does make me wonder as to whether it shows that Delta will indeed move to a revenue-based mileage program because just the fact that these are steeply discounted fares means that in a revenue-based program they naturally would earn far fewer miles than standard airfares. Taking this small change by Delta SkyMiles at face value, it just seems to be another sign of creep in these programs. And of course what is even more confusing is that there are three earning levels of miles within this group of “unpublished” fares.

All I know this month is that Halloween did not give me a creepy feeling, it’s these darn loyalty programs.

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