Confessions of a Frequent-Flier Program Skeptic
Call me a frequent-flier program skeptic.
I take a dim view of any scheme that promises you the world in exchange for all your business. Not that I don't like sitting in first class, staying in a suite or being treated like a movie star. I mean, who doesn't?
Having covered the travel industry for most of my career, I just don't believe in "win-win" propositions. I think there's a steep and often hidden price to be paid when you collect miles. The game can easily turn into an obsession that disables your common sense, compelling you to make completely irrational purchasing decisions.
Fact is, offers of "free" products, perks and preferred status in exchange for racking up points through travel or credit card purchases aren't for everyone. They probably aren't for you.
I won't suggest that loyalty programs are morally wrong and that they divide travelers into haves (the ones who get to board anytime on the red carpet) and have-nots (the unlucky schlubs wedged into the middle seats), even though I could probably write an entire column on that topic.
When I say I don't believe in "win-wins" I'm not even referring to the recent precipitous devaluations in mileage programs. For example, at the beginning of this year, Hilton "updated" its award levels for free stays, increasing the number of points you need. An exasperated reader in
Nor am I talking about the onerous "co-pays" that some airlines recently added for mileage redemption, like the one
I don't even have a problem with the maddening terms and conditions that stipulate that the points and miles don't belong to you and that companies reserve the right to change the rules anytime without notice. I'm not making this up. Here's an excerpt from
No, in my view, the winners obviously are the travel companies that have seduced their best customers with creature comforts that they probably ought to be giving everyone, and the losers are the elite-level lemmings, who have become blindly brand-loyal.
Don't bother sending me hate mail. When word got around that I -- a loyalty-program atheist -- was working on a story about the value of reward programs, it didn't take long for the true believers to offer me a piece of their mind.
"Of course they're worth it," snapped
And use them he has, to visit
Not right. There's more to loyalty programs than meets the eye, according to consumer advocate
Who should participate in a loyalty program?
If you're a managed frequent business traveler, you have my blessing. By "managed" I mean that your company works with preferred vendors, and you fly, drive and stay with a set of companies whether you want to or not.
Your loyalty isn't for sale. Your points are just a byproduct of your business trips, and you're far less likely to participate in irrational point-collecting or making silly mileage runs at the end of the year to qualify for coveted elite status, which entitles you to extra-special treatment when you're on the road. For instance, "Chairman's Preferred"-level frequent fliers on
If you're an unmanaged frequent business traveler, and you want to collect points, you're playing a dangerous game. Falling in with the wrong crowd on FlyerTalk, a popular hangout for frequent travelers, isn't the biggest risk to you. It is, instead, making purchasing decisions that are in the interests of your program, but not you.
What if you're traveling for pleasure? If your trips are infrequent, you should stay on the sidelines, says
If you're a frequent leisure traveler, then sure, go for it, but with the same caveat I offered the unmanaged business travelers: Don't get addicted and don't let it control you.
Look, I could spend a couple of paragraphs talking up loyalty programs in an effort to convince you that I can be balanced on this subject. And while it's true that these schemes aren't without benefit, I figure that they have enough apologists already. Besides, that's not my department; I handle the complaints.
Speaking of complaints, here's a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of offering their loyalty to a travel company. It comes to us by way of
Forman asked for a refund. "Service charges are necessary to help offset the costs associated with these transactions," an airline representative told her in an e-mail rejecting her request. "I'm sorry my response couldn't be more positive."
Yeah, me too.
Mileage addicts may argue that people like Forman should double down and focus their loyalty on a single company. After all, top-tier elites don't have to pay a lot of the fees that garden-variety frequent travelers do. But I see her story as a reason to reconsider loyalty programs entirely. Not to pick on
And that's the thing: The harder you look at so-called "rewards" programs in travel, the harder it is to believe in them. They successfully entice travelers to drive, fly and stay with a particular company, giving them a level of service the companies should offer every customer.
But more often than not, the loyalty goes only one way.
Recent Vacation Ideas & Travel Destinations
- Salzburg: An Austrian Symphony
- Taking the Kids To Cooking School
- Lessons Learned From Your Worst Travel Gaffes
- Help! My Refund is Missing in Action
- Confessions of a Frequent-Flier Program Skeptic
- Airlines Annoyances -- Can You Avoid Them?
- Frequent Flyer Payout -- Great to Lousy
- Taking the Kids to a Broadway Musical
- Tips for Traveling Solo
- How to Save on Summer Vacation Travel
- What You Can Learn From First-Time Air Travelers
- Sunscreen Facts You Need to Know
- Hotels Connect the Dots Between Guests and Online Reviews
- Putting on the Ritz in Orlando
- Airlines Unbundle then Repackage: What's the Deal?
- New Tarmac Rule: Fewer Airline Flight Delays
- Germany's Mix of Perfume Chocolate and God
- Giving Mom Best Mother's Day Present She's Ever Had
- Amtrak 2010: Sightseeing Ideas
- I Didn't Mean to Buy Travel Insurance
- Continental - United Airlines Merger: the Consumer View
- Will the United - Continental Merger Raise Airfares
- Krakow: Poland's Historic and Cultural Gem
- Europe this Summer: Mixed Bag of News
- 'Qualify' for a Fleecing?
- Forget Your Travel Agent: 4 Trips You Should Book Yourself
- I Had to Pay Twice For My Flights to Mexico
- What's Next For Airlines Paying by the Pound?
- What Parents Say About Family Vacations
- New-Style Vacation Trips Trip with the Grandparents
- Princess for a Day at Disney World
- Easter in Europe
- Where Are Cheap Round-the-World Airfares
- Premium Economy for Overseas Trips
- Healthy Hiking With Your Dog
- Taking the Kids to Bermuda
- Taking the Kids to Chile
- Too Sick to Fly? When to Put Yourself on the 'No Fly' List
- Lowest Airfare? You May Have to Connect
- Europe 2010: Pricey, But with Some Good Deals
- Totally Kidcentric and Affordable Ski Resorts
- Taking the Kids to Alaska and Meeting Some Bears
- Taking the Kids to Mohonk Mountain House
- Taking the Kids to Patagonia
- Taking the Kids - Skiing in Telluride
- Taking the Kids - Skiing this Winter without Busting the Budget
- Taking the Kids - How Snow Sports Can Transform a Child's Life
- Taking the Kids: Skiing in Austria
- Getting Up-close & Personal with Olympians
- Travel Apps for Your Smart Phone
- 6 Ways to Save: Family Vacations
(c) 2010 U.S. Christopher Elliott, The Travel Troubleshooter
World-renowned chefs with an extraordinary passion for food, share that passion. They make great cooking easier than you ever imagined. Each feature includes both an expert tip and an easy recipe - exactly what you need to transform your home cooking from acceptable to delectable.
Recipes Click Here
Movie Reviews, commentary and more. Plus Trailers from movies currently in theaters and available on DVD.
Movie Reviews Click Here