Six Months / Shimmy Style

Six Months / Shimmy Style

Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns has hit a new milestone and it is a demonstration of why there is no such thing as a “grandfather clause” any longer. In the timeline of frequent flyer programs, there once were several examples of imposed grandfather clauses, which according to Wikipedia is “a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases.” Those exempt from the new rule are said to have grandfathered rights or acquired rights.

While I have written about my on again/off again relationship with EarlyReturns, one of their recent changes certainly has renewed my fatal attraction to this program. In moving to a Ultra Low Cost Carrier model (and I continue to wish success for them), a number of recent changes could almost have been phoned in … except for one–a fee for any flight award booked within 180 days prior to departure. Award booking fees within a few weeks of flight departure are not unusual, but six months? In days gone by, the huddled masses of workers would have to let “corporate” know of their vacation days when the year started so that plans could be made to cover work duties. But over time that type of pre-planning went out the door. But here we are, in an episode of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (“Sherman, set the Wayback machine to …) in which members of EarlyReturns have to plan their vacations six months in advance – totally the dumbest idea of the year in loyalty programs (and the big worry here is that the year isn’t over yet). Of course, the dumbest part of the dumbest idea is that at the time they made the announcement they did not have any idea of what the fee would be if you were to “have” to book your vacation award within six months. This idea gives new meaning to Dumb and Dumber. As for the grandfather clause – current elite members will have this new unknown award redemption fee waived. Yes, I’m trying hard to find something positive to say about EarlyReturns.

According to Wikipedia, “The Dougie is a hip-hop dance generally performed by moving one’s body in a shimmy style and passing a hand through or near the hair on one’s own head. There is no defined way to perform the Dougie, and each individual performs with his or her own variation.”

Recently at the Global Business Travel Association annual conference in Los Angeles, Doug Parker, the new CEO of American Airlines was asked about that airline’s interest in the recent decisions by Delta Air Lines and United Airlines to move their frequent flyer programs to a more modern accrual system based on revenue spend rather than the current miles flown system. Mr. Parker answered that the topic was “… not even on the plate right now, we have to get the two frequent flyer programs merged first. If it makes sense to make that innovation, we may do that, but to try to change the program now would be foolish.”

While bloggers across the fruited plain sighed with relief, I’m not so sure that those in attendance at the GBTA conference didn’t see The Dougie in the way Mr. Parker shimmied his answer. Really? How could the topic not even be on the plate right now? Let’s see, the change in both the Southwest Rapid Rewards and Delta SkyMiles programs reportedly cost tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, in technology changes to convert to revenue-based programs–and both were delayed upwards of two years because of technical hurdles associated with the change–and the topic is not on the table at American? Both of the merging programs are mileage based, although US Airways may have the advantage here because their legacy includes America West and that airline had a revenue-based program, and the technical system that made it work. Surely Mr. Parker and the folks at Amon Carter Boulevard are thinking (but maybe not saying anything) about the topic, because while merging customers databases, I would think that regardless of where they might end up down the road, they would be building their new system with revenue-based loyalty in mind.

If anyone reading this were CEO for the day, would you not have the topic on your plate right now? Or would you rather in two years, when you decide to move to a revenue-based program because your major European partner, British Airways is doing so, spend a few hundred million dollars to redo the database and technologies? Shimmy style …

In closing, as this issue signifies the passing of our summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, here’s hope that it was your best season ever. Vacation time’s up, now back to full tilt travel.

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