I read with interest a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Road to Redemption", which pointed out which airlines are the most generous with frequent-flyer award seats and which are the least. The article placed Southwest and Alaska among the best and Delta and US Airways as among the worst. My problem over the years was the inability to remain loyal to anyone airline. That was especially true quite a few years ago when I was flying out of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska. I bounced around between TWA, United and Northwest most of the time with an occasional flight on American depending on where I was traveling.
Pam Keidel-Adams with Wilbur Smith Associates, flies almost exclusively with Delta and has been very happy with their program. "I am at the highest elite level, so they are good about giving people in this level great frequent flyer rewards," said Keidel-Adams. "Instead of making it tougher to get a seat, they have just raised the miles required to get a different seat." Ms. Keidel-Adams said they now have high/medium/low reward levels so you can usually get a seat, it’s just a question of how many points it will cost you.
In contrast to Ms. Keidel-Adams, the airlines have created special programs for my status. I get letters each month strongly encouraging me to trade my mass amount of accumulated miles for People Magazine and Sports Illustrated!
Tom Middendorf, Transportation Planning Manager for DOWL Engineers in Anchorage, Alaska mostly flies Alaska Airlines. "I normally can get a Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan ticket but if I don’t plan ahead far enough I may have to use extra miles, " said Middendorf. "Occasionally, the lower mile flights have a long layover or are in the middle of the night," said Middendorf. "Overall I have been happy with the Alaska Airlines program and, it’s been helpful in getting our kids home from college or jobs in the "Lower 48 states," he concluded.
Maggie Covalt with Applied Pavement Technology has had good luck on American Airlines getting domestic free seats and hasn’t seen a big change in availability, although she did admit that it takes more miles than it did a few years ago. "I save up US Airways miles for international trips because they have some great partner airlines like Lufthansa," said Covalt. Ms. Covalt and her husband will be using US Airways miles soon to go to Ireland. "For 140,000 miles total we were able to get first class tickets on Lufthansa, which is a great deal," said Covalt. "However, I had to reserve them about 8 months in advance and even then didn’t get our first choice of dates," said Covalt. She said that they (reward seats) are certainly not something that is easy to use on the spur of the moment.
Lance R. Fera, of ITT Information Systems in Herndon, Virginia, doesn’t fly as much as he use to. "Back 10-15 years ago I was in all of the programs and my favorites were American Airlines and Southwest," he said. "Both were simple to understand and administer." Fera said at American when you want to redeem points their website is fantastic, easy to use and understand. "As an Executive Platinum (top level) they treated me very well," said Fera.
Mr. Fera said that across all programs he exceeded one million miles over 15 years of flying. "I don’t know if it’s tougher to get a free seat (today). "I would think so because there are less aircraft in the system and every time I fly now there are no empty seats," said Fera.
Thinking back, the only time I’ve ever enjoyed special status was when I was commuting from Nebraska to Hawaii. I would fly back and forth every two weeks mostly on either United or Northwest. After obtaining my Hawaii drivers license I not only became eligible for discounts on milk while living on the island but received regular upgrades to first class on Northwest just for being a citizen of the 50th state.
Come to think of it, there was another time I enjoyed special treatment. During my years as a body guard for three Nebraska governors, on flights out of Nebraska we would typically get bumped to first class. To this day I’m not sure if it was because of the status of the governor or because I was packing and they wanted to keep a closer eye on me.
Of course, all of that was pre 9-11. I don’t know if state troopers assigned to governor details can still travel armed or not! I’ll have to check into that.
Ed Beauvais, former Chairman and CEO of America West Airlines, told the SAJ that the frequent flyer programs have proven to be the most powerful customer loyalty programs in business today. However, he said it is a double edge situation for the airline provider. "Terrific repeat business from the most important element in the market, namely the frequent traveler," said Beauvais.
According to Beauvais, most are part of corporate policies that represent often a large employer. "These travelers are very cognizant of the effectiveness of the program that they are on, said, Beauvais. "If they become aware of a better program from a different airline, their loyalty can switch and the revenue impact can be very significant for the winning and the losing airline."
I may end up switching airlines myself! I’m feeling awfully loyal to American right now for the opportunity to get some great subscriptions! Without the opportunity to turn in my miles for magazines and newspapers, I probably would have missed the story in the Wall Street Journal which inspired this blog!