How Important to You is Your Trust in a Frequent Travel Loyalty Program?

A “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something” is the definition of the word trust, according to the Oxford dictionary of American English. Does trust apply to you pertaining to frequent travel loyalty programs?
A poll was posted on FlyerTalk last week asking how important to you is your trust in a frequent travel loyalty program — the poll will close on Friday, March 7, 2014 — and the responses up to this point have been quite thoughtful.
Before reviewing some of those responses in greater detail, here are the poll results as of 7:00 in the evening Eastern Standard Time on Friday, February 14, 2014:

Referring to the comments posted in the discussion, FlyerTalk member sushanna1 observed that it is “Interesting how the comments do not reflect the poll results.
For example, FlyerTalk member Gamecock posted: “Trust? I don’t trust many people. If a program changes business practices without warning I’ll reevaluate my judgment of their business practices and probably move on.”
The first frequent travel loyalty program which came to my mind after reading that quote was Wyndham Rewards, where the number of Wyndham Rewards frequent guest loyalty program points needed to convert to airline frequent flier loyalty program miles had doubled and “upgraded” at least one hotel property to a new redemption level known as Tier 9. Both perceived devaluations were implemented immediately within four days of each other — and with no notice, announcement or advance warning of any sort whatsoever.
To my knowledge, there has also been no response by any representative of the Wyndham Rewards frequent guest loyalty program pertaining to the perceived devaluations or the fact that they were implemented with no warning or notice. As a result, I do not trust that frequent guest loyalty program and certainly do not want to be a member of it or any other frequent travel loyalty program which is similarly administered.
“My son and daughter in law have been saving miles for a family vacation in Hawaii for some time now”, posted FlyerTalk member JerryFF, who contends that trust is not a factor with regard to frequent travel loyalty programs — rather, it is simply like any business arrangement. “They were not quite there and figured to have enough by spring for a trip this summer. Then UA raised all the mileage requirements as of Feb 1. Now they will have to put it off for at least another year. Big disappointment, but there was no loyalty involved in their part with UA. They are collecting miles in UA because UA has the most convenient flights for their business trips and because UA also offers the best opportunities for non-flying mileage accumulation for them. It has been a business arrangement — nothing more. No personal feelings or friendships with UA.”
The difference between the above example and the recent policy changes implemented to the Wyndham Rewards frequent guest loyalty program is that advance notice was at least given by administrators of the United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program to its members. While the son and daughter-in-law of JerryFF may have been disappointed by the redemption increase — and rightfully so — there was not a reason to lose trust, in my opinion. There may be a reason to better “game” the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program — as FlyerTalk member TravelerMSY opines, “…loyalty programs exist for us to game them, not to actually give them unconditional loyalty” — but not a reason to lose trust.
However, those who have earned lifetime million miler elite status in the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program might disagree with me, as some of the terms and conditions were changed and became different than what was originally once promised. A lawsuit was filed as a result; and the plaintiff lost. This prompted FlyerTalk member UrbaneGent to post: “I can’t believe all this effort is for 2 RPUs. I believe anyone in the PMUAMP Program who was told year after year about the MM status, has been damaged. If it was up to me, every PMUA MP member should have the opportunity to decide if they want the PM UA MM or the NEW UA MM. It should also include the second-tier at 1MM/2MM. Initially someone said they would be happy with being grandfathered into Platinum. Out of goodwill, UA should have done it BEFORE all this. It’s too late now. I personally don’t trust UA. Now what is legal what isn’t etc. we shall see.”
Perhaps there are different levels of trust. I certainly would not do business with an entity I do not trust — but at the same time, I am also not naïve enough to believe that corporations are looking out for my best interests either…
…that is, unless my best interests are in their best interests, of course.
I personally believe that United Airlines will transport me from Point A to Point B safely. I have never questioned that; and I trust them with regards to basic airline transportation. However, if you asked me if I believed it would be worth the time, money and effort to strive to become a million miler in the MileagePlus frequent flier loyalty program, I would have to say no — and I say this as a million miler member of at least one frequent flier loyalty program. After all — although it can be done in as little as one year — most FlyerTalk members may find it difficult to fly one million miles as a passenger; and to have the rules, terms and conditions arbitrarily change after striving and adhering to all of them and expending that significant amount of time, money and effort can be disheartening at best.
Several FlyerTalk members contended that they do not place trust within business entities. I tend to disagree — at least based on my personal experiences and preferences. When I do business with a company, I trust that its employees will do what I need for them to do. It is one thing for the results of conducting business with a company to not be to my satisfaction due to extenuating circumstances or factors beyond the control of the employees of the company; it is significantly different if the reason was caused by deception, intentional fraud, or purposely being misled — which usually breeds mistrust. If I cannot trust a company or its employees, I do not patronize it. It is that simple.
There are no fewer than three rental car companies with whom I will no longer conduct business solely because I do not trust them. One of them refused to honor an advertised deal with no explanation despite my following and satisfying all of the terms and conditions of the contract, for example — and the result is the elimination of my trust in that company and its employees.
Trust is an implicit act on our part in everyday life. Many times in a single day, we automatically trust many things without even realizing it or stopping to think about it: that the bridge we drive over will not fall into the water below; that the cars we drive are not defective; that the commercial airplanes on which we fly as passengers are safe enough to transport us to our destination; and that the terminal of the airport will not collapse on us while we are waiting for our flights…
…and we trust that the frequent travel loyalty program miles and points which we earn will be valuable enough to redeem for an award which we will actually want. Otherwise, why would we even bother being members of them? Why would we go through the trouble of earning, tracking and redeeming frequent flier loyalty program miles and points; and what would be the point of earning elite level status if the benefits that were promised once that status was earned were suddenly eliminated without warning?
I do not believe any of us experienced frequent fliers who are members of frequent traveler loyalty programs are foolish enough to believe — and trust — that our miles and points will never devalue, as that is almost as certain as death and taxes. It is practically expected these days.
However, one problem is that there are FlyerTalk members who have been conditioned to believe that their loyalty is worth something to airlines, lodging companies, rental car companies and other travel companies. Is “Loyalty no longer worth it?”, asks FlyerTalk member JSFox about the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program, as one of numerous examples found throughout FlyerTalk.
Meanwhile, other FlyerTalk members contend that the term “loyalty program” is a misnomer. “Loyalty schemes are there to help airlines make money”, posted FlyerTalk member dparis.
It is important to note that loyalty — a form of allegiance or support — does not automatically equate to trust; but speaking for myself, I certainly cannot be “loyal” to anyone or anything I do not trust. It is one thing to earn loyalty, in my opinion — but earning trust is completely different altogether. You can have trust without loyalty — but you cannot have loyalty without trust.
I would advise that those who administer frequent travel loyalty programs — the term perhaps a misnomer in and of itself — clearly know and understand the differences between loyalty and trust with regard to their members. If this poll is any indication, it could mean the difference between retaining and losing a customer.

  1. This article misses the most important concept of loyalty to travel companies. Frequent travelers know that air travel is not a perfect science. Weather, especially in the northeast US in the past few months, often proves disastrous to our travel plans. Loyalty to one program and the elite status that comes with it make the difference when a flight gets significantly delayed or cancelled and you are the first to get re-booked. Lounge access during the extended layovers makes travelling bearable. Hotel loyalty makes a difference when you need a last second hotel room in a city you didn’t expect to be in. My SPG status also gives me an upgrade automatically every single time I check in somewhere without having to ask for it.
    The points you rack up during all these experiences is an ancillary benefit that, although important, pales in comparison to the other benefits.

    1. Although your point is well-taken, bcoco8, that “most important concept” is implied. How would you feel if the terms and conditions of the Starwood Preferred Guest frequent guest loyalty program suddenly no longer gives you an upgrade automatically every single time you check in somewhere without having to ask for it? What if that new policy was implemented without any notice or advance warning in the middle of the year?

  2. I don’t think Trust plays into these commercial incentive programs much anymore. More like Confidence that when you achieve the goal’s the rewards are consistence per the agreement….when a program breaks that confidence it should be abandoned or you are rewarding bad behavior. Like Delta Hotels clawing back Plat+ 2015 benefits “after” members earned them with 25+ stays in 2014….they lost my Confidence and therefore my business.
    Having Status is not always a guarantee at the Hotel level…..As an SPG Plat I checked into the Sheraton Erie PA once at 6pm and was told they were sold out so there were no Bay View rooms available for upgrades……funny the parking garage was almost empty so I checked online. Sure enough, still lots of inventory so I called down and the front desk sheepish said “we were told to say that in case someone came in late to buy one” so they hid all 12 rooms. So I was given my SPG Plat benefit but I lost my confidence in them so have not been back since but to a Homewood Suites that has been above board. The SPG program kept their end of the bargain but the Hotel didn’t.

  3. Just using my own experiences, I believe American and Delta are more forgiving and accommodating to me and my family. Both were rock solid reliable with me, whenever there were irrops or any other discretionary situations. But, in the last few years, I think Delta has become over-obsessed with profits. Delta is doing things that are very negative to low status or no status flyers that would have been considered unthinkable only a few years ago. Best example is the bumping from Business Elite of no status, award flyers. I used to fly a lot, but very little now. So, yes I have a bit of a stockpile of miles that I am using up. With Delta upping the miles needed and then bumping award flyers, makes my little amount of flying and credit card use go elsewhere….mostly to American.
    A lot of these things that Frequent Flyer programs are doing, have been done in the past. With negative results! CO made many cutbacks before Bethune took over in 1994. Obviously Richard Anderson thinks he is smarter than Bethune. Between the difficulty of using SkyMiles and the poor treatment of no-status flyers, I think of no reason for me to show loyalty to Delta. And that may be just what Delta wants, only the most frequent of flyers!

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