Don’t Cut Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face With Frequent Travel Loyalty Programs

The general perception of frequent travel loyalty programs over the years has been one of devaluation and frustration — to the point of whether or not the word loyalty should even be used anymore — and as a result, some members have been vocal about their anger with threats of never patronizing the company to which the offensive frequent travel loyalty program belongs…

Don’t Cut Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face With Frequent Travel Loyalty Programs

…and if you are one of those people, you may want to reconsider that stance, as you may be “cutting your nose off to spite your face” — meaning that you may be engaging in a needlessly self-destructive overreaction to a problem in which you stand to lose more than the cause of the issue. Rather, you — actually, we all — need to be smarter and more informed about the current state of frequent travel loyalty programs.

Airplanes on taxiway in Atlanta

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

First, realize that each space in the travel industry is an oligopoly: the commercial aviation industry in the United States has consolidated significantly over the years — and when one airline implements a change, the others usually catch the lemming mentality and follow with something similar. Although arguably not as obvious or as rampant, the lodging and rental car industries are essentially similar — especially as greater than 170 brands of hotel and resort properties are currently operated by nine lodging companies; and at least 14 brands are operated by only three rental car companies.

In other words, you may not have as many choices as you might have thought; so running away is not always the answer.

Why Do You Really Patronize a Company?

I thought about all of the calls to boycott such companies as Hertz and Hilton due to what have been perceived as significant devaluations in their frequent travel loyalty programs: the number of points to redeem for Hertz Gold Plus Rewards vehicle rentals have increased by as much as 81.82 percent, a more restrictive Hertz Gold Plus Rewards point usage cancellation policy is suddenly in effect, and the redemption of Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points for discounts of vehicle rentals have quietly disappeared; and reports of the number of points to redeem for Hilton Honors rewards at an unknown number of hotel and resort properties have increased by what seems to be random — yet significant, in many cases — amounts…

…and as much as I am not happy with those developments, I did realize that I do not patronize Hertz and Hilton because of their frequent travel loyalty programs.

I had started renting more regularly from Hertz a few years ago because the company has “local edition” facilities which are located in fairly convenient areas near where I am based; and I have enjoyed great rates for vehicle rentals.

Nissan Versa car Hertz

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

For example, I rented a Nissan Versa sedan for an entire week last year at the total cost of $98.06, which in and of itself is a great deal — but to my surprise, the total cost lowered to $93.76…

…until I picked up the car, when the rate dropped further to $91.05 for the week. The service at the facility was nearly flawless, the car was fully loaded with every convenience that I could want and more, and the odometer had fewer than 600 miles in total clocked on it — meaning that it was practically a brand new car.

How can I complain about that?

Hilton corporate headquarters

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

As for Hilton, the company has treated me well over the years — and not because I write for The Gate. I rarely have issues whenever I have dealt with the corporate office and stays at hotel and resort properties with Hilton worldwide — and when I do have an issue, it has always been resolved at least to my satisfaction; and at times, beyond my expectations. I have always enjoyed the benefits conferred upon me whenever I have earned elite level status within the Hilton Honors frequent guest loyalty program. Room rates have consistently been reasonable for the most part — sometimes too rich for my blood; and sometimes ridiculously lower priced that I expected — but I have almost always received value in return for my patronage.

I cannot complain about that either.

My Thoughts and Experiences

Do I stop patronizing Hertz and Hilton because of the perceived significant negative changes which they have implemented to their respective frequent travel loyalty programs?

In my opinion, the answer is no.

The reason why is because we tend to look at a company as one entity — and thanks to marketing and branding efforts, rightfully so — so when a frequent travel loyalty program undergoes changes which are perceived as unfriendly to its members, the tendency is to automatically want to stop conducting business with the company as a whole altogether…

branded pillars boarding gate Delta Air Lines

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

…but even though the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program is now substantially less valuable and useful to me than it was years ago before radical changes were implemented to it, the service provided by the front line employees of Delta Air Lines is still top notch, in my opinion. While I will no longer go out of my way to inconvenience myself to be a passenger aboard an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines for the sake of the SkyMiles program, I will still patronize Delta Air Lines with no hesitation whenever the opportunity arises.

However, I draw the line when a company directly reneges on a deal on which all parties agreed — or is too inflexible with its policies which seem to defy common sense. One example is that I have avoided using Alamo Rent a Car for many years since the company inexplicably reneged on the terms of a deal on which I contracted with them; and they would not relent despite the proof I had of that deal…

…and another example is that I also no longer rent from Enterprise Rent A Car as a result of this policy pertaining to returning a car after hours, which cost me an extra day to rent a car which I only needed for one day, as management would not budge. On occasion, I still rent from National Car Rental as an Emerald Aisle member even though it is owned by the same corporation as both Alamo Rent a Car and Enterprise Rent A Car; but other than at airports, their locations are not nearly as convenient for me.

Wyndham

Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

I generally avoid Wyndham Hotels & Resorts not only because of its history with how implementations of policies have been egregiously handled with its Wyndham Rewards frequent guest loyalty program; but also because I have no interest in staying at most of the lodging brands within its portfolio. In other words, I do not see a value proposition for me in patronizing Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; and my last stay at a Wyndham hotel property was nothing special or memorable.

Summary

Decisions on whether to continue to patronize a company are based on personal preferences, actual experiences, circumstantial information, trust, and a plethora of other factors. My decision to no longer do business with a company is generally based on either whether a company which directly and significantly impacts me in a negative enough way; or if the overall value of doing business with a company has diminished in value to a point at which continuing to patronize a company is no longer worth my time, effort or money.

American Airlines airplanes old new livery Las Vegas airport

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

In my opinion, a frequent travel loyalty program is not the primary reason to patronize a company — not even when American Airlines launched the first frequent flier loyalty program back in 1981. Rather, it is designed to not only reward you for demonstrating your loyalty to the company in the past; but even more importantly: to encourage you to continue — and, perhaps, even strengthen — your loyalty into the future.

How important is your trust in a frequent flier loyalty program, anyway?

You ultimately have to do what is right for you; and only you can arrive at that final determination. Maintain perspective and adjust your expectations — and quit that loyalty program mindset once and for all. Perhaps launch your own frequent travel loyalty program. Be a free agent, if you must. Take all of the information you read from weblogs, frequent flier communities, and the corporate marketing departments of the companies with whom you do business; and carefully examine the value proposition for you…

…because sometimes ending a business relationship could wind up impacting you in a negative way more than it impacts the company.

In other words: do not cut your nose off to spite your face. Do what is best for you.

Graphic illustration ©2019 Brian Cohen. All photographs ©2014, ©2015, ©2017 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

27 thoughts on “Don’t Cut Your Nose Off to Spite Your Face With Frequent Travel Loyalty Programs”

  1. Barry Graham says:

    It particularly amazes me when people strive for a lifetime status especially one that’s no longer available like Bonvoy Titanium and then say they’re not going to use it any more.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I never particularly understood that myself, Barry Graham.

      Once I earn elite status, I like to enjoy it — although some people travel so often that elite status in multiple programs does make sense.

      As for lifetime status — well…that depends on what “lifetime” actually means…

  2. Rjb says:

    Obviously the author has never flown on United Airlines

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You would be obviously incorrect, Rjb.

      Furthermore, I have been a member of the MileagePlus frequent flier program for years.

  3. Azamaraal says:

    It would be interesting to see some numbers from Marriott about stays at their hotels since August 2018.

    It appears that people have voted with their feet significantly in some markets.

    I own a strata suite in a Marriott Hotel which is their ownership pattern. Up to Aug 18, 2018 I earned an acceptable rate of return. Since August I have NOT EARNED A PENNY! The Airport Marriott that I own part of has seen a huge drop in customers and there has not been any recovery. Soon I will be called on to support their losses.

    Unfortunately this does not seem to have translated into any significant improvements to the BonVoy program so perhaps it is only a local market problem or they are just riding out the storm which is approaching its first year.

    1. Barry Graham says:

      It could be this is because of what Brian is writing about. However you might want to take this up with them to make sure that you are still being paid correctly after the integration.

  4. Azamaraal says:

    The financial statements are clear and unequivocally show that patronage at the Marriott airport hotel collapsed Aug 18 last year (approximately).

    1. Barry Graham says:

      In other words, you are affirming the truth of what Brian is saying, that people are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

  5. Azamaraal says:

    Not necessarily.

    The new BonVoy program is so unrewarding that in my view it no longer has much value.

    I’ll be very happy to enjoy my free breakfast, suite upgrade and executive floor upgrades with other programs.

    Even the credit card changes are inferior after the BonVoy card replaced the SPG card.

    1. Barry Graham says:

      In what way has it changed (assuming you have Titanium)?

  6. RJ says:

    I remember the day i signed up for the AAdvantage loyalty program in January 1985. I thought it would likely be a short term marketing gimmick that I could use to get some ‘free’ airfare. Now I consider that I had a good run, a lot of upgrades and award tickets over the years. But as they say, ‘All Good Things Must Come to An End’! Airlines and other programs are not really interested in loyalty, just bottom line profits. If you don’t fill the seat (room, car, etc) there is someone behind you that will. I’ll take what I can get while it is still available, but I certainly do not have that fierce ‘loyalty’ that once existed.

    1. Barry Graham says:

      I thought that airlines were always primarily interested in making profits (and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s why all of us work), with loyalty programs being a way to boost profits. Nothing has changed. Repeat customer business is still a very important way to make money. In the past upgrades were more achievable because there were more upgrades available and less people competing for them. Also technology today has made it easier for airlines to sell upgrades. That technology has also made travel a lot easier than it was before (no paper tickets needed, changes can be made over the phone or online, mobile boarding passes, to name a few).

  7. Pam says:

    Wyndham decimated their program with increased/inflated point requirements, but that doesn’t mean they also don’t have some incredible properties – you just haven’t stayed at any of them, Brian! Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater…

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I like to keep an open mind, Pam; so I will keep what you wrote in mind.

      Thank you.

      1. Pam says:

        Thanks Brian – you should have favorable stays at their Dolce & Grand resort brands. Napa, Cheyenne Mountain, & Bonnet Creek readily spring to mind.

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          Thank you for the suggestions, Pam. I appreciate them and will keep them in mind.

    2. David C says:

      Great article Brian. I used to be blindly brand loyal. But companies devalued their Reward Programs. AA even called me asking why I stopped flying with them as an Excutive Platinum. Now I look at the Best Deal every week, sometimes that’s my preferred, many times it’s not anymore.

      1. Barry Graham says:

        I think that’s what Brian means about not cutting off your nose to see your face

      2. Brian Cohen says:

        Thank you, David C — but I must say that I am curious: how exactly did you respond to American Airlines pertaining to why you stopped flying with them as an Executive Platinum?

        1. David C says:

          I told AA they raised prices, changed Admiral Club policy of having to be on an AA flight even though I paid for club, Airbus 319 config is hard to upgrade with only 8 first class seats. While I get upgraded on United a lot, and Delta employees are nicer. I travel 50 weeks, 200 segments a year. The final straw was this year, AA upgraded my “United only” Chicago co-worker to AA EP free to try and get him to switch.

          1. Barry Graham says:

            I stopped using American when I was lifetime Platinum because they stopped serving special meals in first class on flights that I flew that had meals. I made my views known and they did restore the service after 12 years or so. While I can’t claim it was entirely because of me, I was in frequent contact with the decision makers until a new one came in that was more sympathetic. The trouble is that in the meantime, I decided to take a status match challenge with Delta, with no intention of switching, until I discovered (a) that they never stopped serving special meals when I was able to get one on an upgraded flight (even though American told me they were doing what all the other carriers did) and (b) that I liked Delta a lot!

  8. Annon1234 says:

    All true. I don’ t rent from Hertz because of points but because as a Presidents Club member I can go right to my choice of car and go. No lines. Although I have lifetime status at American, I am not going to keep them profitable just by my use. The free international biz travel a couple of times a year is a great benefit. Same with Marriott–I don expect to be treated like royalty, but having a weekday lounge access and upgraded rooms often with breakfast is really nice. I also occasionally avoid a long check-in line. I am not a true Road Warrior giving these brands tons of revenue, so happy to consolidate my usage to particular brands to get enough advantages so when I do travel, its easier and more comfortable. The real solution is to be a billionaire and have your own plane, private cars and exclusive accommodations. Since I am not in that category, it makes sense to stay with particular brands and get the advantages you can.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for that thoughtful comment, Annon1234.

  9. Richard says:

    Brian, you make excellent points regarding hotel, car, and airline programs. Perhaps we should all form a consumer’s union to fight back against the shoddy treatment we receive!

    I’m one of the Marriott Lifetime Titanium Elite people, but I’ve only seen a degradation of service since I became same! Even though Marriott made me a Lifetime Titanium with great fanfare! I’ve received much better service from Hyatt Hotels, and yet two or three of the Hyatt hotels that I frequent also own Marriott Hotels down the street! I deduce from this that it must be the influence of the company, either Hyatt or Marriott, on the way that people are treated.

    In any event, thanks for pointing out what appears to be the futility of trying to be loyal!

    1. Barry Graham says:

      I thought Brian was saying that despite all the issues, it still pays to be loyal to the brands we’ve earned status with.

    2. Brian Cohen says:

      You are absolutely welcome, Richard — and thank you.

  10. Lee says:

    In general, I almost think it depends on what type of traveler you are. I had almost always stayed at Marriott and achieved Lifetime Platinum before they dropped the requirements so I was a little pissed. What sent me packing though to try someone else was when they forced all Courtyards to have the same Bistro crap to attract millennials. Ok, while you feel they are a big part of your business, the other demographics are spending more money at the bar and restaurants. So I went to Hilton and loved it. I still stay at Marriott but have the Hilton a great alternative and sometimes my first choice.

    A little different with the airline since I have had high status on all of the majors except US Scare and Continental since where you live and where you go, can be a strain to fly on your preferred. Now in the ATL, Delta pretty much has the airport locked up but flying the Caribbean, American has that no matter where you live. So having status on both gets to be difficult unless you have long hauls and are out a couple of times a month.

    Unless the company and its employees have completely fallen down on their values, for me, I will take advantage of the status I earned.

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