Disloyalty Programs

SquashedPassG_468x455I really don’t know why they are called Loyalty Programs.

Airlines, car rental companies, hotels, supermarkets and a few other usual suspects coddle together complex rewards schemes aimed at securing our loyalty but usually end up making us hate the company we didn’t mind supporting in the first place.

Take the airlines as a prime example. Even if you fly every week on the one airline, spending days on end away from your family, it takes about two years to generate enough points for anything more than a half hour flight to some place you do not want to go at a time that is completely inconvenient. It is so thoughtful of the airlines to only offer reward seats on the 6am and 1130pm flights. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess why the worst times are the only options on option. One airline offers reward seats on most of its flights but it would take a lifetime of flying every day of the week to accumulate enough points to ever afford those flights. How does 590,000 points from Sydney to Los Angeles sound to you? I assumed it must have been in their new space ship but no, just their regular flights that are now mostly half full at best. There is nothing more upsetting to a loyal frequent flier who tries to book ahead and is told their are no FF seats on a flight, only to find the plane is empty.

The only reason that a few of us can ever afford a FF flight is that our credit card points can be transferred to a selection of frequent accounts. Maybe that is why the number of points to fly anywhere has doubled over the past few years. It is really the credit card providers that benefit now, not the airlines.

Instead of treating us like valued and loyal customers, the airline reward programs like to charge us as many points as they can, on the the most inconvenient flights and often with partner airlines desperate for customers rather the airline we are allegedly loyal to. How often have you searched for a FF seat six months ahead of time only to find absolutely nothing available or at best a flight via Fiji on one of the world’s oldest aircraft.

If by some miracle you do have enough points to purchase a FF ticket don’t forget to budget for the hundreds of dollars of additional taxes that are not included.

What ever you do don’t try and make a change. This week I had to make a simple date change and was slugged $200 plus a $50 service fee (not specified anywhere in the terms) – $250 for one minute’s worth of button pushing at a cramped call centre in Malaysia. The change fee was almost a quarter of the original airfare and the terms of change are nowhere to be found on the airline’s outsourced rewards program website. Great move – outsource the job of looking after your best customers to another company in another country. That will work. Clearly the airlines only care about cost and not the very customers that fund the airlines ongoing success, or more likely failure. Loyal customers are treated like lepers as airlines clearly don’t want to make it convenient or cheap for their frequent fliers to redeem points.

Rewards programs are such a joke, my best advice it to keep your points on your credit card account until you are ready to fly, then pick the airline that offers the best deal at a the time your want to travel. Surely this defeats the purpose of a loyalty program. One airline got it right in the nineties – buy ten flights and get one free. Simple and motivating. Unfortunately the big guys temporarily dropped their prices to quickly put this well-meaning new comer out of business in a matter of months, then jacked their prices back up soon after.

What a surprise to read that airlines are the number one source of consumer complaints – canceled flights, misleading terms, lost luggage, running late, surly service, bad food and the list goes on. The people running airlines should take a good hard look at themselves and start behaving like a business that actually cares for the people they are trying to attract in the first place. Am I missing something in this business model?

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