Rant: FREQUENT Flier Programs

By | October 15, 2009
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Image by msmail via Flickr

The idea of a customer loyalty program is a good one. We want to be rewarded for our patronage of any given company, be it an airline, or be it the local supermarket. But there is a serious problem with these programs for their patrons. People forget one word. FREQUENT.

Like many people knowledgeable in travel, we act as unofficial travel agent for friends and relatives(We’re not trying to turn it into a business…at least not right now). so, when JetBlue had a sale, we called up to secure our elderly, non-computer-literate relatives a credit for future travel. JetBlue offers this service at no charge, by the way, a good thing to remember if you hate watching the price of your tickets go down after purchase. Some carriers deduct the reissue fee from the credit.

Our credit could be lodged in the reservation(which means to use it would cost us the over-the-phone booking fee), or transferred to a TrueBlue account. Now, the elderly relatives in question fly one roundtrip a year on average…they are snowbirds, and only recently have switched from Delta to JetBlue for their annual migration. Under the existing program, they would never get enough TrueBlue points, as they reset annually(this will be changing). They also don’t have a JetBlue Amex to extend them. So, why sign them up for an account?

Joining ten different frequent flier programs when you fly on an airline once in a blue moon creates pointless accounts. If you aren’t flying frequently, why do you need to have a frequent flier account? Ultimately, it creates paperwork you and the airline have to keep track of.

Secondly, frequent flier programs used to be worth something more than they are now. We’re not specifically speaking of JetBlue, but the industry in general. There are fewer award seats(this year, fewer seats period), and now that airlines have gotten in bed with the credit card companies, the points/miles are significantly devalued. It ultimately means more people get miles, even if they aren’t flying, and thus more are competing for the same dwindling number of award seats.

Then you factor in that some airlines charging service fees for the issuance of award tickets, and the value decreases again. So, for the consumer interested in getting free flights, it is in their best interests to choose a program that works for them.

For those of you interested in capitalizing on credit card earned miles, check out Gary Leff’s View from the Wing How to Choose the Best Rewards Credit Card, from June of this year. We will summarize some of the basic considerations below.

  • Is a Mileage Earning Card with an Annual Fee Worth it For You?
  • What Benefits are Most Important to You? Elite Status and its Perks or merely the Extra Miles?
  • What are your spending patterns? What sort of reward will they produce?

Now, all this said, why do you want to clutter your life up with account after account, password after password, when you will receive no benefit from it, as in the case of our elderly relatives? JetBlue has given us a reason to sign them up…to save money on booking a reservation. But how many accounts do you have that will never bear fruit? Why do people so aggressively sign up for these accounts when their analysis of their usage proves to them they will derive no benefit?

What is the solution in the long run? Personally, we’d like to see the whole industry wide model revamped, preferably simplified and rationalized. But that is not likely to happen. So, we will pick and choose, and join programs only when there is an incentive or good reason for us to do so, not merely because such an program exists.

As a side, and partially unrelated note, every website we go to wants us to sign up for an account, with, to avoid someone gaining access to one account and being able to gain access to ten identically login/passworded accounts elsewhere, different passwords. We need a computer program to keep track of the myriad of passwords we, quite frankly, could never remember on our own. There are programs to unify logins among websites, but security critics have issues with them as well. Someone, give us a solution.