Frequent Travel, Miles and Points: Time to Give Up?
W ith the advent of numerous frequent travel loyalty programs increasing miles and points redemption rates while offering reduced benefits as costs to the customer seem to steadily increase, is it time to give up on what some call — how I despise this term — “the game”?
After 25 years as a frequent flier, FlyerTalk member stonecrd somberly posted the following in this thoughtful discussion back on Friday, February 8. 2013:
“I made the decision this year after 25 years as a FF to stop chasing miles and status. It just isn’t worth the effort anymore, the benefits keep dropping and the costs both in $ and time keep going up.
“From now on it’s cheapest direct flight. Maybe that is what the majors want in any event it makes my decisions quite easy. I may never be in F again but lately getting in F is getting less and less likely anyway. If I don’t get an overhead they can check my bag, the 15-20m to wait for the bag is less than I’ve been waiting flying indirect routes to maintaine status.
“Bye guys enjoy your travels.”
Other FlyerTalk members had stepped forward and confessed that either they too had given up — or were at least seriously thinking about it; and as a follow-up, stonecrd posted the following in this discussion greater than a year later:
“I said it a year ago and I still feel the same way. The good old days are gone get use to the new good old days. Last year I quite playing the FF game, now I just pick the flights by shortest duration and cheapest price. I’ve gone from DL Platinum to nobody on all airlines. I dumped my AMEX platinum this year too.
At the end of the day I was spending way too much energy on this and as benefits become less and less there was just no value any more. I’m happier now and pay no attention to status or miles anymore. I rather pay for my vacations than stay on the FF treadmill”
I have to admit that I am one of those people — especially when chasing down the frequent travel loyalty program miles and points which I had already earned seems to be far more difficult, as the opportunity cost of just keeping track of ensuring that my accounts are properly credited is perceived to be to be too high lately and thereby rendering those miles and points to be less valuable. Why should the burden be on me to prove I earned them?
I intend to provide more details once the current issues with which I have been dealing are worked out and concluded — but I digress, as usual.
Reasons Why Miles and Points May Have Lost Value Over the Years
I enjoyed travel a lot more years ago that I do today. However, the “game” — or, as I prefer to call it, the passion — has changed considerably for many frequent travelers:
- Frequent travel loyalty programs have been steadily increasing redemption rates of points and miles for award travel — and they seem to keep getting increasingly complex to follow and understand
- Taxes and fees — such as fuel surcharges and resort fees — can increase the cost of travel significantly
- Elite status seems to be increasingly difficult to attain — unless you pay for an affinity credit card
- For credit card affinity programs, it seems almost as if you need to possess a doctorate in mathematics to figure out how you can benefit
- Having to go through the inconvenience and stress of being screened at airport security checkpoints
- Flying as a passenger on crowded airplanes with rude and inconsiderate passengers
- Having to deal with flight delays, sold-out hotel properties and environments which are less than sanitary, as only a few of many factors which can contribute to deteriorating the overall travel experience
The above is merely a partial list of reasons why it seems that more and more FlyerTalk members are giving up.
Is this what airlines and lodging companies want — for members of their frequent travel loyalty programs to give up?
Loyalty is Not Rewarded — Rewards are to Foster Future Loyalty
In a perfect world, companies would earn 100 percent profit from revenues and have absolutely no expenses. Since this is about as possible as a true perpetual motion machine, travel companies seem to be doing everything they can to squeeze every last dollar out of their customers — hoping, I suppose, that the “chaff” will drop out and leave the “cream of the crop”: the business and leisure travelers who think nothing of paying full price for their travels, not caring about how or if they earn frequent travel loyalty program miles and points. $15,000.00 for a ticket in first class on an international flight? Not a problem. $650.00 for a suite at a downtown hotel for a night? Chump change, my friend.
There was a reason at one time why frequent travel loyalty programs were launched in the first place: to increase loyalty to the brand. However, there seems to be a misunderstanding by many FlyerTalk members that frequent travel loyalty programs exist to reward loyalty. Sorry, but we currently live in a what-will-you-do-for-me-next world, where businesses usually do not particularly care about what you have already done. They are attempting to tweak that hyperbolic curve closer and closer to that elusive ideal of 100 percent profit…
…as they should. I am not naïve enough to believe that companies owe their customers anything other than the best of service or the best product at a reasonable price. Companies are in business to profit as much as possible for their stakeholders. Sure, they will donate to charity or contribute to their communities at large — but the number one motive of a company is a combination of profit and positive cash flow.
Are Miles and Points Liabilities?
There are those FlyerTalk members who repeat again and again that frequent travel loyalty program miles and points are a liability to the companies which issue them — and if that is indeed the case, that translates into a negative impact on the balance sheet, causing those companies to reduce that liability. Charge more miles or points for the same award. Repeat the next year. And the next. Throw in an occasional token reduction here and there to soften the blow. Ensure that miles and points expire within a certain period of time. Oh, you did not use your miles or points in time before they expired? Well, whose fault is that? Shame on you.
Profit can be intoxicating. For years, airlines lost billions of dollars. Now — thanks in great deal to ancillary fees — airlines have become profitable again for the most part. Profit is an elixir. Airlines want and need more profits. Drop a benefit here. Tighten a policy there. Tweak as necessary. Drop a significant bomb once in a while. No need to worry. Customers will complain — but they will keep coming back for more.
If what FlyerTalk members are posting in this discussion alone are any indication, it appears that the exodus is actually starting. This is not another one of those “Goodbye — I will never fly this airline again because the flight attendant did not mix my drink enough” discussions with self-absorbed “do you know who I am” people spouting off insignificant blather to which no one listens. The content is by defeated FlyerTalk members who seem to be speaking from the heart in a manner of resignation, tired of constantly going through hoops just to remain in the “game” — which appears to be more and more emulating “survival of the fittest.”
Has the Opposite Effect Happened?
In recent years, airlines based in the United States have posted record profits — regardless of whether or not frequent fliers have been abandoning their loyalty.
Has the threshold finally been reached where frequent travelers have had enough — or more than enough? Has the tipping point been achieved — or is this simply much ado about nothing? Can a compromise exist where the company can earn as close to maximum profits and positive cash flow as possible while the customer can take as much advantage of the benefits of frequent travel loyalty programs as possible? Perhaps…
…but with a limited number of airlines, if a frequent flier chooses to fly as a passenger with a different carrier, that airline benefits — especially if the frequent flier decides either not to kowtow to the rules and policies of the frequent flier loyalty program of that airline; or not be a member at all.
The only way the airlines will feel the pain is if people stopped flying as passengers — which is unrealistic and unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Going from one airline to another simply shifts revenue from one airline to another. With fewer choices for consumers and record profits, loyalty is not a priority for airlines these days.
There are still plenty of lodging chains which offer many options — but even then, consolidation in the hospitality industry is anticipated with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide rumored to be looking for a suitor to acquire it. Still, members of the loyalty programs of lodging companies — as well as rental car companies, for that matter — are not immune to increasingly complex rules, terms, conditions and policies; nor the higher opportunity costs involved to ensure that those points are properly credited. I would not be surprised if the current climate worsened even more.
What are your thoughts? Has the practice of earning and redeeming frequent travel loyalty program miles and points — and frequent travel in general — changed for you? If so, how? If not, why?
Sunset at Manila Bay. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.