Measuring the year from a frequent flyer perspective.
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?” If frequent flyers re-wrote the lyrics to the theme song of the musical Rent, they would likely measure a year in terms of award chart devaluations, fee changes, benefits given and taken away, new partnerships and break-ups. And 2013 was full of all of these things. New partnerships between airlines and hotels to warm your heart and heartbreaking award chart changes that could bring you to tears. We take a look at the highlights and low points of the past year.
In January, oneworld added benefits for its top tier members. Frequent flyers with oneworld Emerald status receive an extra checked bag, above the standard limit for the cabin class in which they are traveling—either one additional item where the piece concept applies, or an extra 20kg. Members can now also use fast track lanes through security when flying from select oneworld airports on some oneworld member airlines.
On Jan. 18, Priority Club Rewards (now called IHG Rewards Club) modified the program’s hotel stay award charts to include nine categories instead of being grouped by hotel brand. Although the redemption amounts remained between 10,000 to 50,000 points, many hotels saw a rise in the points required for a free night.
On Jan. 1, Amtrak Guest Rewards introduced a new status tier, Select Executive, for those members who earn 20,000 or more tier qualifying points in a calendar year. The new elite tier replaced Select Plus at 10,000 tier qualifying points as the highest tier. New benefits for Select Executive members include 100 percent tier point bonus, one upgrade for every 3,000 tier qualifying points earned and other perks.
On Jan. 1, Hyatt eliminated its Platinum Extras Awards offered to elite members after every third eligible Hyatt stay. After earning an award, Platinum members received an email with a link to a page where they could choose from different benefits, such as an in-hotel amenity, room upgrade or bonus points. Jeff Zidell, VP of Hyatt, explained that they discontinued the program because the majority of members didn’t redeem their Platinum Extras Awards.
Delta announced on Jan. 17 that it would be requiring a minimum spend for members to qualify for Medallion elite-level status in addition to the required Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) currently used to determine status. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, SkyMiles members need to meet Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) thresholds to qualify for elite status in 2015 at the following levels: $2,500 for Silver, $5,000 for Gold, $7,500 for Platinum and $10,000 for Diamond. Delta American Express co-branded cardholders who spend $25,000 or more per year are exempt from the MQD requirement.
US Airways quietly removed off-peak business class award tickets to Europe for 60,000 miles at the beginning of February. For US Airways MasterCard cardholders who receive a 5,000-mile discount, the price was 55,000 miles, which is cheaper than the 60,000 miles normally required for a coach class ticket to Europe with most airlines. Dividend Miles members can no longer fly off-peak (between Jan. 15 and Feb. 28) to Europe at coach class award prices.
In February, American Airlines increased the window for $75 per passenger same-day confirmed flight changes on domestic flights in the main cabin from 12 hours to 24 hours, giving passengers more time to make changes.
Hilton HHonors changed its terms and conditions on Feb. 11 to say that elite benefits such as Internet access, fitness center access, in-room movie and bottled water amenity may not be complimentary at properties that charge a resort fee. Hilton HHonors made no formal announcement and simply changed the terms and conditions without notifying members. Milepoint member Dovster commented, “the problem with this is that the main thing which the resort fees give is the Internet access, which Golds and Diamonds get for free anyhow. Not surprisingly, after this change a number of properties suddenly started charging these fees.”
Delta SkyMiles and Starwood Preferred Guest introduced a Crossover Rewards program on March 1 that offers exclusive benefits to elite-status members of both programs. All Delta Medallion members earn one mile per $1 spent on room rates at Starwood Hotels and Resorts stays, in addition to the Starpoints usually earned for a stay. Diamond and Platinum members receive additional benefits when staying at Starwood, including priority check-in, 4pm late checkout and free in-room Internet access.
All SPG elite members earn one Starpoint per $1 spent on Delta tickets (excluding taxes and fees) and SPG Platinum members receive additional benefits including one free checked bag, priority check-in and boarding when flying Delta. The program was expanded in September to include unlimited complimentary upgrades for SPG Platinum members on domestic Delta flights.
Starwood Preferred Guest raised the redemption for a free night at 20 percent of their properties starting March 5, which is really not so bad, but they increased the price of cash and points awards on that same date. To lessen the blow, the program introduced the ability of redeeming cash and points awards for upgraded rooms, including suites.
The amounts per awards category before / after:
Category 1 – 1,200 points + $25 / 1,500 points + $30
Category 2 – 1,600 points + $30 / 2,000 points + $35
Category 3 – 2,800 points + $45 / 3,500 points + $55
Category 4 – 4,000 points + $60 / 5,000 points + $75
Category 5 – 4,800 points + $90 / 6,000 points + $110
Category 6 – 8,000 points + $150 / 10,000 points + $180
Category 7 – N/A / 15,000 points + $275
Wyndham Rewards launched a new elite Gold status level in March for members who stay 20 nights in a calendar year. Gold members earn bonus points based on the average spend of 20 nights. Members who spend an average of $100 per night or less receive 6,000 points. Spend an average of $100.01 to $150 and earn 10,000 bonus points and $150 or more to earn 20,000 points. Members can earn up to three bonuses per year for a maximum of 60,000 Gold Status Points. Gold Status Points can only be used for free nights and expire within four months (the expiration in four months is the not so good part).
Alaska Airlines slowly rolled out one-way awards for Alaska Airlines and partner flights. As of March 19, Mileage Plan members redeeming miles for flights on partner airlines could book awards one-way with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The ability to book one-way awards with all of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partners was introduced later in the year. One-way partner awards require half as many miles as roundtrip awards. Alaska Airlines does not allow members to combine partners on a roundtrip award ticket but now, members can book two one-way awards and create an itinerary that includes two partner airlines.
Southwest Rapid Rewards members introduced a new elite benefit that guarantees a window or aisle seat for A-List and A-List Preferred elite members, regardless of their boarding pass. Elite members normally receive an A boarding pass, but there are situations where they may check-in within 24 hours of travel and end up with a B or C boarding pass. As of March, gate agents invite A-List members to board the plane after the A31 – A60 boarding group has boarded.
American Airlines introduced a generous 2013 elite rewards program in April where members could qualify for milestones with miles, points or segments instead of just points, which was the only criteria used in previous versions. Members who hit thresholds could earn rewards throughout the year, including perks such as bonus miles, upgrades, Admirals Club membership and discounts.
Flight change fees went up on United, US Airways, Delta and American. All of the legacy carriers increased their change fee on domestic tickets from $150 to $200, in addition to the difference in the fare cost. United Airlines was the first to announce the increase in change fees at the end of April and the other carriers quickly followed. The good news for frequent flyers was that the increased change fees applied to paid fares and not award tickets, with change fees between $25 and $150.
Aeroplan matched all miles donated by members to each of its Beyond Miles charitable partners on a one-to-one basis, up to 500,000 Aeroplan miles for each organization. Matching days ran for one day for each of the 10 organizations.
Hilton expanded award Categories from 7 to 10 on March 28 and added a “high season” at select properties resulting in some awards going up as much as 90 percent. The redemption amount at the former top Category 7 hotel maxed out at 50,000 points. With the change, some of the Category 7 hotels became Category 10 hotels and the maximum amount for a high season Category 10 hotel is 95,000 points. And with the introduction of seasonal awards, members no longer know if a Category 8 hotel is 40,000 or 70,000 points without consulting a separate monthly calendar. Milepoint member gconnery described the changes succinctly as, “Awful, just awful.”
At a roundtable discussion with credit card executives during Randy Petersen’s Executive Summit after the Freddie Awards in April, the consensus by those attending was that credit card signup bonuses of 30,000 to 50,000 miles/points or so will continue.
Marriott Rewards added Category 9 awards at 45,000 points per night effective May 16 and 36 percent of the total properties went up a category or more with only one percent dropping a category. The only good news about this change was the advance warning the program gave so members could redeem before the categories changed.
In mid-May, Avianca-TACA LifeMiles increased the number of miles needed to redeem for flight awards on many routes and then they raised the amount of miles needed when booking a money and miles award ticket with the “flexible payment” option. In both instances, they did not inform members in advance of the changes.
On May 17, JetBlue TrueBlue waived all change and cancellation fees for Mosaic members and traveling companions who are on the same itinerary. For non-elite members, the new fee structure introduced a new $75 fee for changes made more than 60 days out, which was less than the $100 fee charged previously for fares over $100. For changes made roughly two months prior to departure, the fee changed to between $75 and $150, depending on the fare.
Club Carlson removed the ability for regular members to transfer points to any other member. As of June 1, only elite members can transfer points freely to any member and regular members who have had a Club Carlson account for a year or longer can only transfer points into the accounts of members who share their same household address.
As of June 30, American Express Membership Rewards members are no longer able to redeem points for an award unless they have the full number of points in their account at the time of redemption. Most programs don’t allow this option, but Membership Rewards had a flexible option where members could borrow between 5,000 and 60,000 points (depending on their card) and have 12 months to pay off their point debt without any fees.
Frontier passengers who booked a Basic fare on a third-party website after July 1 only received 25 percent of the miles flown, down from the 50 percent introduced last year. And Frontier customers who do not book their flights through FlyFrontier.com have to pay for overhead bin space for a carry-on bag when purchasing a Basic fare—between $25 to $100. All tickets sold at FlyFrontier.com continue to include a free carry-on bag and elite members are exempt from the charge. Frontier also began charging customers who purchased economy or Basic fares $1.99 for onboard beverages.
Hilton HHonors changed the number of points required for four-night AXON awards for American Express cardholders on June 15. AXON awards became more expensive with the new rates and a four-night stay at the discounted AXON rate increased as much as 45,000 points for a Category 7 hotel. In some cases, AXON awards were even more expensive than a non-discounted stay booked at regular low season rates.
As of June 17, JetBlue TrueBlue points no longer expire. This was a customer-friendly move for the program, which previously had one of the most restrictive expiration policies with points expiring within 12 months without any account activity.
United announced on June 18 that MileagePlus members would need to meet spending thresholds to qualify for Premier status, starting in January 2014. The program is similar to the one Delta introduced earlier in the year except Delta’s top elite status members can receive a waiver for Premier qualification dollars through credit card spend, and United’s 1K top-tier members cannot. SkyMiles and MileagePlus members can say goodbye to mileage running as an inexpensive route to elite status. Now that United requires a minimum spend for elite tiers, Milepoint member Sweet Willie says, “I feel for those who had United Airlines Million Miler (or more) in their long term target plan (and are on their own travel dime).”
Hyatt and MGM launched a partnership on June 20 where Hyatt Gold Passport members who stay at any of the 12 MGM hotels in Las Vegas can earn Hyatt Gold Passport points and credit towards elite status. Members will also be able to redeem points for stays at MGM properties. Likewise, M life members will be able to earn Tier Credits when staying at Hyatt hotels. In August, Hyatt Gold Passport and MGM Resorts’ M life members could opt-in to receive reciprocal tier status.
On June 28, Aeroplan launched a new recognition program called Distinction that takes into account all miles earned by members, including airline, travel, retail and financial partners. The new program offers benefits to frequent buyers who may not be as frequent flyers. Aeroplan also removed the seven-year shelf life on miles and reduced the price of one-way awards to half the cost of a roundtrip, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
Aeroplan announced it is raising the prices on many ClassicFlight awards. Some awards will increase by 25,000 to 40,000 miles at the beginning of next year, including first and business class flights between the U.S. and Canada to Asia 1, Asia 2, Middle East/North Africa and Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific. All economy flights within these regions remain the same as well as business and first class flights to Europe.
IHG Rewards started offering free Internet access at their hotels worldwide to Gold and Platinum members in July, even if not a registered guest. This is a useful benefit as IHG approaches 5,000 hotels worldwide. Free Internet will be rolled out worldwide for all members in 2014.
On July 1, IHG Rewards joined Hilton, Starwood and Choice Hotels in allowing hotel award stays to be credited toward elite status. IHG Rewards combines your award nights with your qualifying nights toward elite status qualification.
Le Club Accorhotels offered instant top-tier elite status in the program. And once you had their Platinum status, you could match status to Best Western, Club Carlson and IHG Rewards Club.
In mid-July, Starwood Preferred Guest put seven luxury resorts on sale for 35 percent fewer points for stays booked by March 1, 2014. Properties available for fewer points included W Retreat Koh Samui, Thailand; Le Meridien Bora Bora and W Retreat and Spa Maldives, among others.
Preferred Hotels introduced points to the I Prefer program and since Aug. 15, members can earn points when staying at participating Preferred Hotel Group hotels and resorts. Points can be redeemed for free night award certificates or hotel services and amenities. I Prefer also introduced membership tiers with benefits such as free Internet, room upgrades and bonus points for frequent guests.
Delta SkyMiles members may earn fewer or even zero elite-qualifying miles when flying on partner airlines, effective Sept. 1. Only flights on partners Aeromexico, Air France, Alaska, Alitalia, GOL, KLM and Virgin Australia continue to earn full elite-qualifying miles, 100 percent base miles, elite tier bonus miles and a 50 percent bonus in business and first class.
Frontier EarlyReturns Summit elite members stopped receiving complimentary access to in-flight TV on Aug. 1. Instead, Ascent members are offered a complimentary premium beverage and Summit members receive an onboard snack.
SPG reduced the transfer ratio for LANPASS points from a 1:2 to a 1:1.5 ratio. For every one Starwood point transferred, members receive 1.5 instead of two LANPASS kilometers.
Similar to the Delta and Starwood link-up, United and Marriott teamed up on July 15 to offer benefits to elite members of both programs. Marriott Rewards Platinum members (including Platinum Premier and Ritz Carlton Rewards Platinum) who weren’t already elite members with United MileagePlus were offered complimentary MileagePlus Premier Silver status. United Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold members could be upgraded to Marriott Rewards Gold status. Status for members of both programs is effective until Jan. 31, 2014.
American Airlines announced on Aug. 6 that members could once again track their AAdvantage account information with the mileage tracking site AwardWallet.com. United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines continue to prohibit third-party mileage tracking sites from accessing member data.
IHG Rewards Club introduced a “Surprise and Delight” elite member amenity program for Gold and Platinum members. The program was rolled out in Europe in August of this year and members can expect to receive an elite welcome amenity in the U.S. in 2014. Members can choose from “extras” upon check in, such as bonus points or complimentary food or drink.
British Airways Executive Club launched a new lifetime elite program where members could earn Executive Club’s highest elite tier, Gold, after reaching 35,000 lifetime tier points and Gold Guest List after earning 100,000 lifetime tier points.
Delta SkyMiles increased the number of miles required for award tickets on international business class routes at the low level. The change was announced on Aug. 14 and applies to travel beginning June 1, 2014. Delta SkyMiles business class award tickets on international routes increased around 7 percent to 25 percent with the new award chart. The only positive move was giving members over nine months advance notice.
On Sept. 23, Southwest Rapid Rewards points became less valuable when the program announced that beginning March 31, 2014, the number of points required for Wanna Get Away fares will increase to 70 points per $1. With the new redemption rate, points will be worth around 15 percent less than before when redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares.
Accor improved its Le Club Accorhotels elite program by added new benefits for elite members, including free Internet access and a welcome drink for Silver, room upgrades for Gold and lounge access for Platinum members.
JetBlue Airways introduced a family pooling program on Oct. 10, allowing members to pool their points. A family pooling account can include up to two adults and five children and members can choose the percentage of points they wish to contribute to the family account on an ongoing basis.
United Airlines published new award charts on Oct. 31 that will go into effect Feb. 1. 2014. Award flights within the mainland U.S. and Canada remained unscathed but award prices to most destinations went up in business and first class. The increase on United Airlines flights was relatively modest with increases topping out at 15,000 miles one way. Increases on flights on partner airlines were higher with some flights requiring an additional 65,000 miles one way. With the new award charts, redeeming miles for a partner flight in premium classes will be significantly more expensive.
Hilton HHonors eliminated the option to earn Points and Fixed Miles for hotel stays, effective Jan. 6, 2014. Members who want to earn points and miles for hotel stays can only choose Points and Variable miles to earn one mile per $1 spent instead of being able to choose a fixed amount of 500 miles per stay.
American AAdvantage gave Gold elite members complimentary access to Main Cabin Extra seats beginning 24 hours prior to travel or discounted access to the extra legroom seats when making reservations as an ongoing elite benefit.
United Airlines changed its free checked baggage policy on Oct. 22 for Star Alliance Gold members who can now only bring one checked bag of 50 pounds or less for free on domestic flights, a reduction from the three checked bags up to 70 pounds each previously offered.
JetBlue TrueBlue offered quadruple points on tickets purchased by Nov. 13 for travel through the end of the year. That meant flyers earned 12 points per dollar spent and up to 15 points per dollar spent when booking through the JetBlue website.