Very proud to be quoted in a Reuters story today about changes in frequent flier programs. Even prouder (more proud?) that I’m quoted using the word “stinks.” As in:
“Many middle-class Americans travel like crazy for work right now, taking red-eyes across the country – or the Atlantic – so they don’t miss a day or work, and their one reward for crazy travel schedules is a nice trip for their families,” Sullivan said.
Taking away rewards and making them harder to use is like docking those workers’ pay.
Here’s the entire comment I offered to Mitch. He asked me if this “reward money spent not miles flown” thing was a sea change for the industry. I said:
It’s probably not quite right to call it a sea change….airlines have been nudging and nudging and nudging miles values lower for years, using a technique that I call “inflation by degredation.” (I didn’t event the word, she did). You devalue things directly by making 25,000-mile rewards tickets into 50,000 mile tickets. You devalue them indirectly (you degrade them) by making fewer seats available, or by making only rotten seats available, etc.
I am pretty worried about tying actual spending to rewards points, as so many people have built their travel habits around the old rules that this will really screw them up. That issue I’d call a sea change. And, I promise, will be carefully calculated in favor of the airlines. It’s really not fair that they invent a game, and just as people figure out the game, they change the rules.
The real sea change is, of course, the newfound lack of competition thanks to consolidation, and that’s the real problem. Remember when airlines actually competed on loyalty programs? Remember ads making fun of competitors whose miles expired, or who had excessive blackout dates? You won’t see them any more. They’ve gone the way of ads bragging about decent meals at mealtime (which went to the grave with Continental Airlines).
This might be far beyond the scope of your piece, but just a word about the importance of this: Miles/rewards arguments have a little trouble getting traction because many people can’t help but see this as an argument between rich companies and rich people who want to go on exotic free trips — ie, it’s hard to work up sympathy for the victims. But I don’t think that’s right. Many middle-class Americans travel like crazy for work right now, taking red eyes across the country (or the Atlantic) so they don’t miss a day or work, and their one reward for crazy travel schedules is a nice trip for their families. I think if companies were honest about it, those free trips are built into the compensation. Taking away rewards, making them harder to use, is like docking many workers’ pay. And that stinks
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.