Why Bother?

As Longtime Readers may remember, I was involved for many years with the “customer loyalty” business — specifically in the supermarket arena, but tangentially in a couple other industries — so I kinda know what I’m talking about when it comes to this stuff.  (As an aside:  if you use a Kroger Rewards card when you shop there, I’m at least partially responsible;  sorry.)

Back when I lived in Chicago, I used to fly in and out of O’Hare Airport about 50-60 times a year, and was a member of both the American AAdvantage and United Mileage Plus programs.

Once I even spoke to the head of one of their programs, complaining that my friend used to fly internationally once a quarter and accrued thereby a massive number of miles, whereas I flew rather fewer  miles and couldn’t get to his level of “SuperDuperPlusGoodPlatinum” level in their program.  This, despite the fact that he was making four purchase decisions a year to fly with them, while I was making that many purchase decisions every month.  But my flights were Chicago-Kansas City, Chicago-Minneapolis, Chicago-Des Moines and so on, while my friend’s were Chicago-Singapore, and I felt that I was being short-changed for my loyalty.  Rather to my surprise, the program director agreed with my logic, and although this had probably been planned anyway, about six months later the policy was changed to factor in the number of flights (“segments”) as part of the loyalty determinant.  Only then — and far too late — did my “status” improve.

In the rather interesting George Clooney movie Up In The Air, much is made of his goal to reach ten million air miles (with American, as it turns out), and the status that this conferred on him.  There’s no doubt that this gave him something  desirable (as far as he was concerned, anyway), but it’s interesting to note that had the movie been made today, those ten million miles would have made him rather less valuable a customer.

A new era of airline loyalty programs has arrived. United Airlines announced this week that the criteria for elite qualification in its MileagePlus loyalty program would change dramatically next year. Starting in January of 2020, United’s loyalty members will earn elite status based on Premier Qualifying Flights and Premier Qualifying Segments only. Flight miles, the traditional metric by which frequent flyers used to earn status, are no longer going to be considered.
It wasn’t too long ago that frequent flyers on American, Delta, and United earned elite status based solely on how far they fly. If a passenger flew 100,000 miles or 100 segments on any of the carriers, for example, top-tier (published) status was awarded, yielding perks such as upgrades, free checked bags, and free seat assignments.
In 2013, however, that formula changed when Delta introduced qualifying dollars to its equation for calculating for elite status. From that point forward, frequent flyers needed to earn a baseline number of miles or segments and also spend a companion amount of cash — up to $15,000 for the top published tier — to earn the same status as before. American and United quickly followed suit.

I should point out that for Oz’s Qantas Airlines, this has always been their policy because all their flights are long-haul, so it made sense to reward spending rather than just miles.

That’s not true for our local Murkin companies, of course, but it’s unsurprising that United (motto:  “We’re the Friendly Skies, until we have to break your nose“) and American (motto:  “We cancel flights, just for spite”) would make this change, because they’re a bunch of bastards.  (I can’t speak for Delta as I’ve only flown with them a few times.)

As I’ve said many times before, I know that to the airlines I’m just self-propelled cargo, but I don’t want to be treated  that way.  So they’re making flying even less attractive for people — and screwing up their programs in the process.

Needless to say, the Usual Suspects (i.e Gummint) are horning in on the action:

Air miles reward schemes should be banned because they ‘stimulate demand’ for excessive flying, according to a report commissioned by the Government’s climate change advisers.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC*) commissioned report says that frequent flyers should also be hit by an ‘escalating air miles levy’ to put them off flying too much, but measures should not raise prices for people taking an annual holiday.
There [are] approximately 220 frequent flyer clubs with an estimated total membership of 200 million across the world, many of whom take additional flights to ‘maintain their privileged traveller status’.
The new suggestions are aimed at reducing air travel for the 15 per cent of the UK population estimated to be responsible for 70 per cent of all flights.

The latter would be people like Mr. Free Market, who don’t have any choice but to fly as their business is 90% international.  And gawd forbid people should actually be productive and, you know, earn salaries for themselves and profits for their companies — I think Marx had some ugly things to say about that — when they’re polluting the atmosphere and stuff.

I have an idea for improving our planet’s well-being, but as it involves rounding up all the the eco-loons and climate freaks and converting their bodies into fertilizer, no doubt someone’s going to have a problem with this.

I don’t know why they’re trying to kill off frequent flier programs, when the airlines are perfectly capable of doing it all by themselves.  But that’s Big Gummint for ya.

*Actually, that’s not what “CCC” stands for;  it’s “Climate Change Cunts”, i.e. all of them.



Of course, when something’s


  1. I don’t fly for business, but I do take several flights every year and I follow airline news closely. In light of the David Dao dragging incident it seems Munoz really did have a bit of a come-to-jeebus moment, and in fairness, UA has become a more pleasant carrier in recent months. Delta is still considered the best (I don’t fly them because I’m based near Newark, UA’s hub), but AA is steaming hot garbage and getting worse by the day under the current “leadership” of Doug “Fuck you and the miniature horse you flew in with” Parker.

    But along with the positive changes at United, soon came the slash-and-burn to the perqs. First was doing away with the mileage chart for award redemptions (this one hurts me badly), and now screwing over the road warriors. The problem is captive hubs like UA in Newark, AA in Philly, Dallas, and Miami, DL in Atlanta, Debt-rot, and Minneapolis, etc. For the most part if you live in those and similar cities you’re screwed and will fork over the dough and like it because you literally have no choice.

    We’re in a giant race to the bottom. Airlines worldwide are all in this myopic dystopia together. With consolidation they’ve basically achieved monopoly status in certain cities so there’s no incentive for them to treat customers any better. Sure you can fly on SW or Jet Blue (or easyJet or Ryan Air in Yurp) but there’s no international code-shares, global redemptions, interline agreements or protections in case of aircraft failures, etc. Meaning the road warriors are stuck with what the legacy carriers and their nonsense.

    But now the problem was these loyalty programs became a victim of their own success. Airlines biggest profit centres involve selling billions of miles to banks for credit card offers. Chase Unlimited Rewards, AMEX, and Citi are handing out rewards like candy, and folks like me who collect these for premium cabin awards are occupying more seats up front than ever before at little or no cost to the airlines, so the C-suites are in a panic and slashing everything now as a result. But they keep selling miles to the banks.

  2. *Was* “Lifetime Gold” with Continental, due to heavy business travel back in my corporate years.

    Of course, United vaporized that status within a year of their hostile takeover (merger, my ass), of Continental.

    Airline “Loyalty” programs. They fail to understand that “Loyalty” is a two way agreement of benefit to both parties.

    Kim, given that you’re a true professional in the field, let me as your prognostication. What comes “after” the Loyalty programs roll over and die?

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston ,TX

    1. The old criteria: convenience, schedule, value and customer service. If the airlines want to make loyalty either unworkable or irrelevant, welcome to cafeteria air travel.
      Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of assholes.

  3. Fortunately I no longer have to fly very often. While we have been able to afford flying first class the last couple of times. The time before that I experienced more pain and discomfort in a 1 hour steerage class flight than during an 18 hour flight to Korea in the back of an Air Force C-141 packed in with cargo pallets.

    At least the USAF didn’t try to pretend we were anything else than cargo.

    When I was traveling extensively it was government travel, and since all points were supposed to be surrendered to the travel office, I never bothered to try to get them to keep me on the same airline. Just whatever would get me there and back as close to my preferred schedule as possible.

  4. Since 9/11 and the implementation of the TSA, flying sucks for me. I hate having to get to the airport hours before my flight. Most of the time I would rather drive.

  5. Back in my corporate days, I did a huge amount of international travel. As I rose in rank with the company, that travel became business class. So I had a gold card on an airline in each of the major alliances, and before I retired my air miles were in the 7 figures. I’ve burned through those now, and since the advent of the TSA flying has become miserable even with all the perks. So I haven’t been to an airport in years. Don’t miss it either.

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