Loyalty Program Devaluation and How to Spot It

loyalty program

Miles and Points Devaluations

Let’s get it straight. Brands get it wrong all the time. The travel industry is no different. Loyalty programs undergo changes. Miles and points get devalued. It’s not always due to perfidy or malice, but also the compulsions of running a business in the midst of tough competition. Loyalty programs have been changing left, right and center. Whenever a company thinks that their loyalty program is making them lose money or not making them enough money, they ring in the changes.

Reporting the Changes

Conveying bad news is always one of the toughest things to get across. You may be the most skilled spokesperson or PR person out there, but there’s always a fear of backlash. In the age of social media, that fear of backlash is only amplified further.

Loyalty Program Word Play

loyalty program
Tell us what the changes are in simple language (Image Credit: Unsplash)

Euphemisms are always used in order to communicate the bad news. When brands go even further, they try to spin a bad news as a good news. Let’s start with the basics with a look at the Oxford dictionary’s definition.

“A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.”

Actual Examples

loyalty program DEVALUATION

The purpose here is to highlight specific words or phrases that clearly show how bad news about an upcoming devaluation is communicated with customers. The goal here is to help you identify these words the next time a loyalty program announces ‘changes’. Let’s have a look at some of the commonly used words that point to potential devaluation. I’ve added reference links for each one of the programs so that you can view the actual document or press release.

United: The first sentence makes you feel good, the second one makes you sad.

We’re introducing a broader range of award prices. For flights on or after November 15, 2019, we’ll no longer publish an award chart listing the set amount of miles needed for each flight.

Hertz: They use the good ole tried and tested ‘enhancements’ word to mask a devaluation.

SPG/Bonvoy: The less said the better. Marriott touted how great things would be once you merge your SPG account with Marriott. We all know Bonvoy turned out.

Combining gives you one powerful account with the new Marriott Bonvoy – a single place for tracking your status, points and upcoming stays – plus booking, earning and redeeming at all hotels across our participating brands. And you just may achieve a new Elite status!

Lufthansa: This statement probably was the most open and direct in terms of communication style. This is the very first bullet point.

Going forward, the assignment of award miles will be based on the price of the flight

Starbucks: Ah, that word enhancement, right in the headline!

Starbucks to enhance industry-leading Starbucks Rewards loyalty program.

The Pundit’s Mantra

Do you think that brands should be more upfront instead of wanting us to sift through the details each time? How about a press release with this headline the next time an airline devalues its miles: “Economy award tickets are getting cheaper, but business/first is getting expensive.”

Enhancements, improvements, ‘dynamic’ pricing, additions, more options, more choices, or just changes. Which other words come to mind when you think about loyalty programs being sneaky about telling the truth about award chart devaluations? The next time you see one of these words, just beware that bad news may be on the way.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. Would better and upfront communication of these changes help these brands earn your trust?

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  1. DaninMCI says

    “To better serve our loyal customers”, “Primarily here for your safety”, “You could buy better but couldn’t pay more”. It’s all in the marketing and PR 🙂

  2. Chris says

    What I detest most is when they put out negative changes they claim it is becauae “you asked for it and we listened” – a pure lie…

  3. Cheryl says

    I actually ended up with higher status with Bonvoy. I still check the website on a daily basis to see when they figure out they made a mistake. Unfortunately, American did not make the same mistake.

  4. Mary Attick says

    Accurate article! It’s interesting how companies can try to make you think you are getting more when actually you are getting less. Points programs are not what they once were!

  5. flitcraft says

    I loved Jeff Smisek’s smirky face on the old United video intros to the safety info: “We’re going to be making some changes, and we think you’re going to like them.” Apparently he over-estimated the number of masochists among frequent flyers.

  6. Randy says

    Why not just describe the changes and let consumers decide if they are good or bad? Companies could focus announcements on the descriptive and not on the evaluative. There can be a big difference between corporate communications and corporate PR. Although the media likes to focus on how announcements that “enhance,” “improve,” or “expand” are misleading, sometimes different customers have different reactions to changes. For example, there was a lot of negative media (and social media) attention when Delta quit giving Diamond members Sky Club access unless Choice Benefits were used (often described by media and social media as being a negative change) for me that change was a huge positive because it might reduce the overcrowding in the SkyClubs for those of us who pay for access.

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