Whine Wednesdays: Frequent Flyer Programs Under Threat: Airlines Cutting More And More Benefits, Environmentalists Want To Ban Programs

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Our Whine Wednesdays topic this week is the demise of frequent flyer programs with airlines making it harder and harder to extract value for the average customer to really find value in participating.

Programs have become increasingly revenue centric and less flying activity focused with the changes of United Mileage Plus (John wrote about those here) being the latest victim of these measures.

It’s easy to become nostalgic and think about “the good old days” when obtaining status and getting maximum value from frequent flyer programs for very little investment was the norm – as long as you flew enough and the tickets were cheap.

This is becoming more and more impossible nowadays as almost all programs at least in North America have switched to the revenue centric approach, be it American AAdvantage, Delta Skymiles or United Mileage Plus. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is the exception at the moment, still relying on the old “Fare Class plus flight distance” formula to obtain airline status.

Ticketing your flights through an airline partner can have a positive effect (not always) because the programs have no way of determine the ticket value as they do with their own ticket stock. Hence the earning opportunity for award miles is better as the system switches back to determine based on booking class. Another good opportunity are bulk fares sold mainly by consolidators, those don’t have any fare information stored.

The airlines aren’t the only ones making the frequent flyer life harder. Just this week a discussion ensued after environmentalists demanded that frequent flyer miles be banned and frequent travelers be heavily taxed.

CNCB reported on this today as airlines obviously aren’t happy with this push.

Airlines operating in the U.K. have dismissed a report that called for air miles programs to be banned and additional taxes applied to frequent flyers.

In a report published Thursday by Imperial College London for the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), academics proposed several measures that governments should implement to reduce the impact aviation was having on the environment.

The CCC is an independent body that advises the U.K. government on how to build a low carbon economy.

“Flying is a uniquely high-impact activity and is the quickest and cheapest way for a consumer to increase their carbon footprint,” the report’s authors said before adding, “Low-carbon aviation technology is expected to remain technically unfeasible and so it is vital to restrain rising demand.”

Among recommendations was a call for the U.K. government to “introduce a ban on air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivise excessive flying.”

The report also urged lawmakers to introduce a levy targeting frequent flyers, noting that an estimated 15% of the British population took 70% of the country’s flights. The level of tax would correspond to air miles traveled over a three-year period, as opposed to the number of flights taken. …

I’m not surprised this suggestion once again comes from Europe where people are being regulated and reglemented every step of the way even at the expense of the local economy and companies.

Being incentivized to fly more is a very narrow viewpoint. While going on a mileage run or adding extra segment might make sense in some cases, most people fly simply because they have to or because they like flying. I enjoy traveling, it’s my hobby and there is absolutely no way I’d be giving that up as long as health permits.

So frequent flyers are under threat from both sides of the aisle now. Programs who make it harder to achieve status and benefits unless you drop serious money and then these climate saviors who propagate that flying too much is evil.

Conclusion

One of the big questions one has to ask is if obtaining status with a respective loyalty program is still worth it. I’ve now had United Status for almost 15 years but won’t go along with them after these new changes. I much rather go for another Star Alliance program such as KrisFlyer or ANA Mileage Club and see how easy I can achieve Gold there.

Sometimes status isn’t even needed and instead of investing money and time in obtaining an elite level it’s a better choice to just invest into a well priced Business Class ticket of whatever airline is available and following the “Best Price” principle. Many companies have already done so for years and cancelled their old contracts with individual airlines.

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