Letters – September, 22 2014

Letters – September, 22 2014

Bye-Bye AA
I am booking the last flight I ever intend to take with American Airlines. As of Oct. 14, 2014, Southwest will be able to fly anywhere and their airfares on average are 40 percent cheaper.
And I can get a direct flight to anywhere they fly for about 13,000 points compared to the best deal on American at 25,000 miles–and American offers no direct flights–only crap one-stop flights that turn a two-hour journey into a six hour one.

I have canceled my Citi credit card and I am in the process of getting a Southwest credit card. The American program is so bad that one option they gave me to fly from LAS to DFW was to fly from LAS to MIA and then MIA to DFW. With the layover, it was a 12+ hour trip. I live in DFW and have always flown AA up to now. I will choose what I do from this point forward on what I can do without American.
Michael Stevens

Just Wrong
I have written on this topic before, but your review of HHonors in the September issue, neglects one major negative of the program. Hilton allows properties to charge a resort fee to its elite members, charging them for benefits that are otherwise free: wireless, health clubs, newspapers. This is just WRONG and they won’t admit it. It’s an otherwise great program.
Michael Dannhauser

Awarding Customers
I own a packaging distribution company that was built exclusively online and from the referrals that have come from our many repeat, happy customers. It’s competitive. We generally have a pricing advantage over our competition because of the way our business model is structured with very low overhead, but being the travel geek that I am, I wanted us to be the first (still only!) to offer miles and points to those who opt in to our program.

Buying miles directly from the airlines is an expensive proposition if a company wants to offer a variety of programs. After doing much research, we came upon a division of points.com that gave small- to mid-size companies like ours a chance to offer a choice of award miles/points in 10 (at the time) programs. Perfect!

So we bought in, placed all the code on our site as contractually obligated and started spending all of our advertising money on this, the one thing (besides price) that most obviously separates us from the competition. It has been expensive and time consuming, but we have seen the participation slowly grow as a percentage of our total sales volume.

Long story short, out of the blue last week we received a “Dear John” email from points.com. No reason was given other than they have, “made the decision to reduce the number of businesses authorized to award loyalty currency through our platform.” Our requests for more information regarding the basis for their decision have been completely ignored.

We were not a “low maintenance” customer for them, we were a “NO maintenance” customer. We bought our points online, and we awarded the points to our customers online. Why they would no longer want our money just floors me. This is particularly true when you see their price per point.

Having gone from furious to determined, however, we have decided to design our own loyalty program into our new site and now we will simply build in an even easier means for customers to earn awards, including gift cards for countless retailers for those who have no interest in travel programs.

Thanks, points.com! You have liberated us to expand beyond the limits we were not even aware held us back. Now we can add even more airlines, hotel gift cards, etc. than those offered by points.com.

I’m writing this note for several reasons:

1. Alert others considering partnering with points.com to proceed with caution.

2. Hopefully learn how Randy and the Milepoint team managed to award 2,000 MileagePlus miles for the premium membership enrollment.

3. We are looking for feedback from travelers regarding what kind of awards would motivate your loyalty in a B2B vendor with all other things equal or better.

Because our new site is currently being built, now is the best time to design the program right. We are planning to have various award redemption categories, including Travel, Dining, Electronics, Entertainment, Shopping and Automotive. Each category will have a variety of sub-categories to make shopping with our points easier.

– In addition to the six categories listed, what other categories might you suggest?

– Do you see any potential problems with our plan of action?

– Aside from travel programs, what loyalty programs currently motivate you to return to specific merchants?

– If you are a business owner, are you currently awarded for loyalty by any of your vendors?

– Are hotel gift cards as valuable/more valuable to you than points in their program?

Thanks to all in advance for your feedback – please email info@discountplasticbags.com. We think this is the best place to get a sample of folks who are inclined to participate in earning awards, and we value your input.

HH Observations
My observations about Hilton HHonors … A big negative of the program is no lifetime benefits. I have been Hilton HHonors Diamond for 13 consecutive years–always making it on points (i.e., $$$) and sometimes stays as well. That should be worth lifetime status at some level as it would in other chains.

My main reason for staying with Hilton is that I travel frequently to Asia Pacific and stay at Conrads and sometimes Hiltons. Treatment of a Diamond at APAC properties is exceptional, far better than in the U.S. And the properties themselves are miles above the typical Hilton you find in the U.S. Without the Asia Pacific experience, I would not be an Hilton HHonors Diamond anymore.

Domestically, I find that Hilton has a hole in their offerings, as does Starwood, but in a different place. Hilton and DoubleTree hotels are simply no match for Westin. When I am confronted between choosing a Hilton or DoubleTree or a Westin (or a Sheraton for that matter), Westin wins every time. On the other hand, Starwood cannot compete with Hilton HHonors at the Embassy Suites and Hilton Garden Inn level. Four Points is not in the same league. For domestic quick trips outside of downtown areas, Embassy Suites and Hilton Garden Inn are unrivaled in my opinion (although Courtyard does give them a run for their money).

The only other area where I see a big deficiency for Hilton HHonors is lack of a guaranteed late checkout. Hilton loses several of my stays each year solely because of the 4pm checkout I get as an SPG Gold.
wjj [FlyerTalk]

True Reflection
I stopped flying EL AL on a commuter basis 12 years ago. I’ve been back a few times a year sporadically over this period–and I can say that this is a management culture thing rather than a staff thing and the Matmid Club is overly elitist to its ‘super commuters’ (Top Platinum) who literally fly every week or bi-weekly to the U.K./U.S. or Asia. Outside of that being Platinum or Gold has very little benefit apart from access to their lounges.

Lack of an alliance puts the airline/club at a huge disadvantage in regards to flight connections and earning potential, most notable if you miss or are delayed by a connection to EL AL–where EL AL will turn round to you and say, “it’s not our problem your connection was delayed or missed.” In addition, the points accrual system is wholly outdated and does not reflect the true worth of revenue spent flying.

On the contrary, at British Airways (which I fly instead) and their frequent flyer program, even with some of its problems, has multiple tiers that each offer relevant perks for members at different stages of their travel needs/requirements.

Unfortunately, I’m also going to have to rate Matmid an “F”–only to hope that with enough negative press they’ll take a long hard look at the program and change the way they reward all passengers “relevant” to their travel frequency.
jonnye [FlyerTalk]

A Solid B
I give the Hilton HHonors program a solid B. Hilton has decent to excellent hotels in most of the places I go–probably the best coverage of any of the chains.

The pros (as a Gold) are:

– Free internet.

– Free breakfast (at least non-U.S.).

– Upgrades (especially international).

– Good points accrual (especially with promotions).

– Good award availability.

– No resort fee on award stays (are you listening, Marriott?).

The biggest negative is the redemption rates are too high for most properties and it’s difficult to redeem for better than .5 cents per point. It’s definitely superior to Marriott Rewards, and I just don’t understand how that program gets rated so highly.
jonnye [FlyerTalk]

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