What the &#** is wrong with loyalty programs?

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If you needed any more proof that loyalty programs are a cancer on the economy, sabotaging our collective moral compasses and compelling us to spend money we don’t have, you might want to check out the latest Colloquy survey.

The point of the research, of course, isn’t to show the complete futility of loyalty programs, but to tell companies how to run a better customer loyalty program.

As if such a thing were possible.

The study doesn’t just reveal the depths of consumer ignorance about loyalty programs, but also how we’ve abandoned our core values in the face of the promise of “free” awards. It is truly ridiculous on every level.

Put it all together, and the conclusion is inescapable: Loyalty programs must be more tightly regulated by law, and in some cases, banned outright. Fortunately, there’s some good news on that front — more on that in a minute.

Among the findings:

A “stunning” lack of awareness of basic tier status. Nearly one-third of U.S. and Canadian consumers can’t identify which tier they belong to in their favorite loyalty rewards programs, according to the study. Colloquy suggested program members show a lack of “basic comprehension” when it came to their program, further muddied by many of the recent rule changes in travel.

Now, it can’t be too difficult to find a travel hacker with a blog who is willing to “help” these poor, ignorant consumers with some advice, but the fact is, everyone benefits from our collective dumbness. The travel companies for sure. The mileage “experts”? Definitely. (Oh, and by the way, they can probably recommend a good credit card while you’re at it — watch for that scammy affiliate link!)

The willingness to abandon our core values. According to the Americans and Canadians surveyed, they “deeply believe all men and women are created equal.” Yet 75 percent of consumers said it’s acceptable for businesses to give special treatment to members of their loyalty programs. This is particularly troubling in light of the fact that many travel companies — chief among them, airlines — have actually stripped basic amenities, such as a humane amount of legroom, from economy class passengers in order to make room for the enormous lie-flat seats in business class, parceled out to their most elite passengers.

Excuse me, I have to vomit.

This is a basic betrayal of our core egalitarian values as Americans. We are not just endorsing a class society, we’re tacitly approving of the widening gap between “haves” and “have-nots” in travel. Indeed, the survey also reveals consumers with incomes below $50,000 a year are more than 50 percent less likely than those with incomes more than $100,000 to make it to the high-tier of a program. Just over two out of five consumers will never make it out of the low tier. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

We give more but we don’t always get more. Half of the survey respondents said they have increased their spending or changed other purchasing behavior in order to achieve a higher tier status in a rewards program. Have they lost their minds? They’re throwing good money at a company in exchange for a program that corrupts their morals, deprives the average consumer of basic benefits and, as I’ve said so many times in the past, is almost completely useless. Are we that stupid?

But help is on the way, my friends.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is considering a plan that would rein in these ridiculous loyalty programs. Its Priority Guidance Plan includes a project aimed at making changes to loyalty program accounting methods prescribed by the Treasury Regulations under Code Section 451.

In a letter to the IRS, several travel industry trade groups, including Airlines For America and the US Travel Association, warn the new IRS rules would “impose a significant new tax on existing and future loyalty points that travel customers enjoy and rely upon.”

They’re wrong. The cost of these so-called “loyalty” programs is already too high. We are better off starting a bonfire and burning our platinum cards in the street than giving these preposterous programs and the companies behind them another cent of our money.

You bring the gas, I’ll bring the lighter.

Should loyalty programs be banned?

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  • Adam Lake

    I am so thankful for the fact that everything you’re trying to make a case for here, is not the case. This altruistic, kumbaya, tree hugging view of equality among loyalty programs is preposterous. All things are not equal, perhaps if you traveled as I did you would feel similar.

    Further your solution to involve the IRS, even if that does happen, will only effect reward credit redemption and nothing to do with day-to-day upgrades and certainly not legroom availability.

    Perhaps we should run down the list of consequences if there were no loyalty programs sometime, and what that would mean to the businesses among those of us taking 150+ flights a year…By regulating loyalty programs you’re trying to further ‘commodotize’ the travel industry – air travel is air travel, it’s all the same in your book. Why end with loyalty programs? You want equality and fairness, sounds like you’d much rather the government themselves start an airline with all their regulations…we’ll call it Air Kumbaya.

  • Mike

    Should we also eliminate first-class seating. Those with more money or more likely to buy and sit there. No more hotel suites as we are all equal. Come on Chris. I agree there better disclosure is needed. But those spending thousands of dollars a year with airlines or hotels deserve special treatment.

    Early boarding, access to overhead bins and occasional upgrades are all appreciated. Using miles can be difficult but I am shortly headed to Russia in a business class seat on miles.

    The programs are obviously designed to benefit the airlines and hotels. All business promotions are that way.

    So let’s stop the throw out the baby with the bath water approach and work to improve disclosures.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I agree, we should eliminate first class and make all the seats reasonably comfortable.

  • Adam Lake

    *facepalm*

  • ORguest

    While I think loyalty programs are for the gullible, I voted “no” for a ban – we already have too many micro-managey laws. Instead, I direct my spending to companies who demonstrate they value my business and don’t try to fool me with gimmicks. If enough of us do that, companies will get the message about earning loyalty the sustainable, reliable way.

    As for the lie-flat seats, I share Chris’ disdain. What a waste of limited space. Aren’t these being installed by the some of the same airlines who are considering 11-across seating in the A380? I won’t be spending my travel dollars with these companies.

  • Zach Brown

    Chris, can you give some examples of terrible rewards programs when it comes to hotels? From what I have heard reward programs such as Marriott Rewards are highly liked by members. I can’t see how that program should be banned, especially for business travelers.

  • Alex McIntyre

    Chris – The idea that “men and women are created equal” and the notion that all consumers deserve equal treatment are vastly different concepts, and the latter doesn’t necessarily follow from the former. Someone who continually pours money into a company warrants better treatment than someone who flies once every few years because he/she is more valuable to the company. Now, the infrequent flier still merits humane treatment – which admittedly is sometimes lacking – but shouldn’t the regular traveler be rewarded for his/her loyalty? Loyalty programs aren’t the root of the problem here. Participating in one is a conscious choice, and if one doesn’t like the rewards that accompany doing so, well, then don’t make the decision. Uninformed consumers, who you are infatuated with victimizing, have only themselves to blame.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I’m only arguing for basic standards – for example, 34 inches of seat pitch in economy class instead of the 31 inches that seems to be becoming standard. I don’t think anyone minds if someone’s willing to spend a fortune on a ticket, and get one of those lie-flat seats. But enough with the “we’re subsidizing your ticket” (how a business makes its money is largely irrelevant to consumers) and “you get what you pay for.” I am truly tired of being made to feel guilty for wanting a cheap fare. Loyalty programs are perpetuating the growing divide between “haves” and “have-nots” in the sky, and it must end.

  • Alex McIntyre

    Chris – I, as one who always opts for the cheapest fare, am completely in favor of basic standards. But I also question the idea that the erosion of these results from loyalty programs, and that these programs are inherently degrading to the average consumer. Rewarding those who spend more is entirely fair, and this by itself need not conflict with providing humane treatment for those buying even the cheapest ticket. Ensuring just treatment of all passengers would be better accomplished through regulation – mandating minimums, perhaps, for things such as legroom – rather than by eliminating loyalty programs.

  • Margery Wilson

    I’m usually such a flaming lefty liberal that I am feeling disoriented being on the side of business on this issue. While I am outspokenly critical about the egregiously- greedy behavior of American Airlines management, I am a happily loyal member of their Aadvantage program. I have only once made it past the “lowly” Gold level, but I have always been treated well by the “elite” desk. By “well” I mean they have done a consistently stellar job assisting me with re-booking when weather or equipment delays/cancels flights; providing me with free hotel or discount vouchers on the few times I have been stranded, and in general have always exceeded my expectations.

    Of course customer service should always be good. However, I think frequent fliers and “road warriors” have different needs from the customer who takes one or two flights per year.

    What is important to me that keeps me loyal? I like being able to board early, ahead of group 1 (so I know I will have a place to stow my modest sized carry-on bag in the overhead bin). I like having the option to obtain and upgrade to business and first class service. And, I like having a choice of seats at the time of booking.

    I do not share disdain for first/business class. Most of the time I could care less about being seated in that cabin. However, for very long ( >6 hours) flights I enjoy having seats that adjust. Lie-flat I don’t care about, but the adjustable seats are a blessing on long hauls. Sure, I would vote for the adjustable seats to be standard on the entire plane — but how we gonna convince airlines? I also don’t care about being served meals or booze. The warm cookies are a nice touch, though.

    I’m not happy with the recent move by AA to start charging Gold level for their “Main Cabin Extra” seats, although I appreciate getting the 50% discount. I’m with you, actually, in wishing airlines would provide realistically-sized seats throughout the cabin, even if it meant charging more per ticket. However, I think that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

    I recently returned from a European trip and intentionally routed myself via Rome in order to get an AA operated transatlantic flight. It is a long flight and I wanted to make sure I could choose the seat I wanted. As it turned out I was even able to upgrade to business class — something I could not afford without being a member of the loyalty program.

    For me, the perks associated with the loyalty program are important. I have friends who don’t care what seat they are assigned, they always check luggage so they don’t care about finding a space for their carry-on, and upgrading to business or first is not something they want (or, they purchase that level of ticket because of flying for business with an expense account). I can understand why they go with the airline with the best price, or the best direct connection, or the best inflight entertainment options.

    As I said, I have also found the customer service at the Aadvantage desk to be superior. Maybe I have just lucked out. As a traveler who flies solo most of the time I have appreciate having staff on the other end of the phone who go the extra mile to provide assistance when I need it. That, more than anything, has cemented my loyalty.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I don’t see it that way. I believe loyalty programs have led to an erosion of basic services.

    If you think about it from an airline’s perspective it makes perfect sense. Make the economy class seats and the overall experience so awful that people will clamor for a humane amount of legroom (Economy Plus or Comfort) which can be gotten by joining a loyalty program, and spending more money with the airline. Airlines have an incentive to make the back of the bus unbearable while making the lie-flat seats seem unbelievably appealing. And they know they’re doing it.

    A small army of loyalty program apologists believes this is somehow acceptable — having tiny seats, snarky service and a fee for everything, while they are lavished with extra perks, is morally correct. You don’t have to be a socialist to know something is wrong with the picture.

    Without the loyalty programs, all of this nonsense would end, in my opinion.

  • Alex McIntyre

    While there may be a correlation between worsening service for lower profit travelers and loyalty programs, it’s not necessarily causal. Loyalty programs previously existed without trouble, before the era of nickeling and diming customers began in 2008. If customers then enjoyed humane treatment, then clearly a restoration even with loyalty programs is feasible.

    I think if loyalty programs directly eroded basic services, this would be universally true on all airlines. You speak as if this is the reality. However, Southwest, for example, has maintained respect for less profitable consumers while rewarding those who frequent the airline with perks such as early boarding, early check in, and free adult beverages. Spending more money will accrue free flights faster, as it should. But I fail to see how this penalizes lower margin travelers, who are still treated to humane conditions and, shockingly, pleasurable customer service.

    Of course, Southwest’s program doesn’t fit the model of most loyalty programs (the airline obviously lacks the full scale luxuries of first class), but it does illustrate the idea that rewarding your best consumers doesn’t always compromise the “back of the bus.” On other airlines, we could simply end the “nonsense” by just requiring minimums and bare standards.

    I also think that by eliminating loyalty programs, you could inadvertently spike the price of your own ticket since airlines could no longer count on the business of regular higher margin travelers. To compensate for the potential loss, airlines would be forced to charge lower margin travelers more. Again, as one that flies on the cheapest possible fare, I strongly oppose this.

  • cowboyinbrla

    In other words, Adam, I believe you are saying “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  • cowboyinbrla

    I take it, Adam, that your position is basically “Hey, I got mine (or somebody to pay for mine), so F U, all you commoners”.

  • Adam Lake

    I concur. But this is exactly the point that Chris is missing, Alex. For those who want limited loyalty options, there are airlines like Southwest and others that cater to that group. What’s unwarranted is trying to copy and paste that model onto every other airline and demanding the same expectations.

    Southwest’ business model works for some, and that is their competitive advantage. Some of us, however, chose not to fly them under any circumstances because they don’t offer any reasonable status that would warrant the tens-of-thousands a year of my business.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Early boarding, perhaps, is fine. We’ll all get on the plane eventually, and we’ll all get there at the same time, more or less. But I’m with Chris: eliminate first-class and keep the same number of seats on the plane, spreading them out equally so that everyone gets a humane amount of seating.

    Hotels are a different story. Hotels don’t create increasingly tiny rooms with only 12″ on each side of the bed to create more room in suites. They don’t remove phones and televisions in basic rooms so that they can put 120″ LED TVs with game systems and gigabit wifi in the suites. Completely different kettle of fish.

    As for disclosures, how are they going to disclose, and what? Would Biggo Airlines be forced to publish, for instance, the results of a Consumer Reports test showing that for twenty popular routes, seventeen were never available under “saver” conditions for using miles, for instance? That’s the kind of “disclosure” metric people would want to know – not some airline-contrived “72% of people searching for miles awards on our system were able to book a flight” statistic that tells us nothing about how useful the miles are to get what people really want.

  • Adam Lake

    Chris, this Robinhood-like self image you have of yourself delivering average travelers from the peril of airline companies and their loyalty programs is borderline psychosis. Look at the results of the survey itself, perhaps you should rethink your position. Constantly brushing us aside as “loyalty program apologists” is just proving how much you’re missing the point.

    Better yet, why don’t you engage some of us in a serious discussion on a point/counter-point style discussion that allows people to make up their own minds, as opposed to labeling everyone an apologist who doesn’t agree with you. It doesn’t serve you well, friend.

  • Alex McIntyre

    Intrinsic value does not equal financial value. While all people deserve to be treated fairly, that doesn’t mean an airline shouldn’t reward the guy willing to pay triple the price for his ticket with a few extra luxuries. There is nothing inhumane or wicked about this idea.

    I think what you are really upset about is the inequality that allows some people the resources to buy a thousand-dollar airfare, while doing so for others is entirely unthinkable. This is an entirely independent debate.

  • cowboyinbrla

    But Alex, you miss the point, I think: Southwest is the exception, not the rule, and it’s EXACTLY because they don’t have a first class section on which to lavish space and amenities that keeps the loyalty program from eroding basic services to the rest of the customers. Because they don’t have a first class cabin with some ridiculous amount of legroom, they can keep seat pitch reasonably good. Because they don’t lavish free drinks on first class passengers, they don’t feel the need to do away with all the blankets in coach to save a few bucks. Because they don’t fawn over the twelve or so people in first class with a dedicated flight attendant, they’re able to spread the workload of serving the plane over the crew equally – so everyone gets served quicker.

    And Adam, again: your position seems to be “I spend a lot of money flying, and for that, I DEMAND the right to have my butt wiped with ermine, because I DESERVE it”. Which would be fine, if the airlines you fawn over (and urge to fawn over you) didn’t fund their pampering by shoving the coach folks ever closer-together, unbundling services to squeeze another $5 or $25 or $50 out of each of us.

  • Adam Lake

    Let me draw parallel. Let’s say I owned a company, and you were my 6th tier best customer. I value your business, but you’re not even close to my best customer who spends on average 10x the $. My customers who buy more, earn more discount of whatever product I make because they’re in a higher tier. While I understand that situation makes it harder for you to compete in the market place because others are receiving better discount than you, the same benefit and discount level is available to you if you get to that next tier.

    Not all animals are equal, friend. That’s why there’s a food chain with lions and tigers (oh my!) at the top, and everything else below. Animals were not created equal, and they’re not treated equal even by us. That doesn’t mean that any one of them has less value than the other, but there is a pecking order.

  • Adam Lake

    You take it incorrectly friend.

  • Adam Lake

    cowboy, it’s not my fault the airlines cram people into smaller seats. If the argument was “hey lets have more space in the rear of the plane” i’d support that argument. But to blame the loyalty customers for the airlines business practice, and moreover to make us feel as though we’ve done something wrong for travelling as much and as hard as we do – away from our families – and getting some benefits that we value is where I take exception.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Adam, isn’t that what I’m doing here – engaging in a discussion?

    As for the “apologist” label, I haven’t leveled that at anyone in particular. Sorry if you feel singled out.

  • Adam Lake

    I don’t expect to change your mind, and I respect your opinion and viewpoint which differs from mine. However these articles alienate you from your own reader-base, and don’t provide any real datapoint or even suggestion. It’s like shock-jock style headlines that generate clicks but offer no real insight or fact, alla Limbaugh, O’Reilly.

    If you are seriously passionate about your position on ending loyalty programs, examine it from all sides. Run the true numbers on the consequences to the businesses and airlines and customers alike. Case in point, the IRS part of your article, that will hurt average travelers as much if not more than the loyalty program folks. Those poor souls might take a year to earn a free flight, and now they’re going to have to pay tax on it as well.

    I suppose I’m asking you help me understand your argument better, please. Why not grab several people from all sides of this discussion and write about that.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Something tells me you’re not being completely sincere. You use the term “shock jock” which is word for word what someone called me on an obscure loyalty program apologist’s website just a few days ago.

    I guess that’s what happens when you have the moral high ground and the facts line up with your well-reasoned posts — the opposition resorts to name-calling.

  • Adam Lake

    No Chris, i did not call you a shock-jock. I said shock-jock style headlines. Now you’re attempting to put words in my mouth in an attempt to discredit me or draw me out into some kind of argument. Sorry to disappoint you again, i won’t bite.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Well, let’s see. You’ve called me a borderline psychotic. You’ve invoked Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. And don’t forget the shock jock comment. Who’s trying to draw whom out?

  • Adam Lake

    I don’t understand why you’re so offended by someone engaging you in a discussion. Are you really this sensitive? It’s like you’re not even listening, you’re just on auto-pilot defensive mode.

    “OK” man, you win, whatever. Best of luck to you.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Wow, so that’s it? You can’t win an argument by name-calling so you just walk away? I think you’ve just reinforced every stereotype about the loyalty program apologists who troll my insightful stories online. How disappointing.

  • Adam Lake

    Well Chris, it’s clear there’s no reasoning with you. It’s futile to engage in any further discussion because you think you’ve been name called and you won’t get off that point. However it’s ok for you to name call people “apologists”, right? Hmm seems like a double standard to me friend.

    FYI: A troll is not someone who tries to engage in discussion and asks to help better understand your argument. Just saying. I have a logical and succinct argument that differs from yours, but your tone is very much “if you’re not with me, you’re against me – so I better quickly poke holes on whatever I can scrounge up to make myself appear like the moral right.”

    Let’s agree to disagree and stop this before anything unpleasant is said further.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I agree, it’s probably best that we end this discussion. If I thought you could be reasoned with, I would have done so. I don’t think you’re here to discuss anything.

    For future reference, starting an argument by suggesting I’m delusional, a shock-jock, comparing me with two lightning-rod media figures whose politics are obviously diametrically opposed to mine … let’s just say it’s not the strongest opening line.

  • Adam Lake

    Likewise, insulting your reader-base, calling them apologists, and being completely unreceptive to anyone who thinks differently than you is not the inclusive environment that will make people want to comment. But it sounds like you don’t want comments, you only want people to nod in agreement.

    It’s a shame you took down your survey, would have been poignant to see just how wrong you are in your opinion. Can’t say I’m surprised.

    If you’d ever like to have a real discussion on the issue I welcome it, if you’ll agree to not start throwing out names at your loyal readers.

    (Oops sorry, there’s that loyalty word again…)

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Oh, have I hurt your feelings by criticizing loyalty programs? I’m beginning to understand why you’re taking this so personally.

    You love your platinum cards, don’t you? I’ve never understood why, when I write something critical of frequent flier and frequent stayer programs, it feels almost as if I’m insulting someone’s religion. But I think that’s what I’ve done. I’m sorry about that.

    Look, if I didn’t want comments, I wouldn’t have a comments section. The poll is still on the site and 66 percent of readers say we should not ban frequent flier programs. I’ll continue to run the poll as I do for every poll on this site.

    If you were a loyal reader, as you claim to be, then you would have more comments in the system than I see. They’re all on this post. Something tells me you dropped in from one of those loyalty blogs.

  • Adam Lake

    I’ve been following you and reading your articles as they’re posted on LinkedIn for years. I’ve been commenting on the LinkedIn sections as well, but I guess they don’t show on the sites where you post them. Much of the time, i agree with you.

    I don’t have a single platinum credit card or rewards card. I don’t get points by going out to dinner or things like that. Instead I just fly an airline I’m loyal to. They reciprocate by looking after me. If I’m displaced, they make sure I get home as quickly as I can. if it’s an emergency, they’ll work with me as best they can. When i book flights there’s a specific person I can call for assistance. Sometimes I’m able to take an earlier flight without fee. I don’t pay to check my baggage. In exchange I take 140+ flights a year with them, who knows how much $ exactly I don’t keep track.

    For me, loyalty programs justify my time on the road. Why? Because when i’m away from my family 200 days a year, it’s always nice for them to know that once a year, I cash it all in and we get to spend a fun vacation together for a week or two. That’s it. You’re right, I am defensive about the programs because every time I get on a flight and leave my kids behind even when I don’t want to go, I can take solace in the fact that I’ll make it up to them. It’s only appropriate that the thing that takes me away from them is also the same thing that gives us our time together.

    Is that so wrong?

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I think you have to look at the big picture: How are loyalty programs changing the way all of us travel?

    If a company could offer the benefits you mention while still treating the rest of us fairly, I’d be in favor of it. But that’s not how it works.

    Unfortunately, as an airline adds perks for the privileged few, it removes important things from the back of the plane. The first and second checked bag, the seats with a humane amount of legroom, the ability to make a seat reservation without paying extra. And, of course, the “you get what you pay for” service from the crewmembers.

    I’m not against the perks. I’m not against the elites. I’m for everyone on the plane having a safe, reasonably comfortable and sane experience.

    What we have today is an extremely stratified, like pre-revolutionary France. The peasants in steerage suffer. The nobility, seated in first class, is grasping at straws to support the system (“We subsidize the cheap seats” and “Pay more, get more” are their hollow arguments).

    But make no mistake, this system is unsustainable. Not only that, it’s un-American. Really, we are better than that.

    The airline caste system is ripe for reform, if not revolution.

  • Adam Lake

    Thank you – this was the discussion I was looking for by the way. I don’t disagree with you on fairness and equal treatment, but much like many other hot topic issues there has to be a balance. I’m not better than any person, it just so happens that sometimes I get put in first class when the seats aren’t booked and paid for by someone else.

    In free market, as we are both so privileged to live, competition is encouraged though. And airlines who cater specifically to that genre are available. Southwest has a viable business model, and it works for them. They have a competitive advantage, a reason d’etre, a unique value proposition. So if the model already exists, if it truly were the ‘right’ model, wouldn’t the other airlines have figured this out? At least customers have a choice.

    If what you predict is true, and that the system is unsustainable, then that eventuality will make itself self-evident by way of major airlines ditching their loyalty programs in favor of the other more southwest friendly models. This will happen organically over time if that is the case. But what truly is American is the ability for both of the airline business models to succeed and thrive independently of each other.

    The core of the discussion is the word “class”. I think that word needs to go. First class vs other classes. To imply that one is in First class almost demands that everyone else is second class, and no one should be made to feel as a second-class traveler, citizen or otherwise. Perception is reality.

    If I recall correctly, it was the peasants and commoners who revolted the monarchy beginning the french revolution. It later brought about the republic, which ultimately failed giving Napoleon his dictatorship. Right? Is a revolution what we need? When so many people are “OK” with the system the way it is now?

  • BobChi

    It seems to me that Chris is going from bad to worse on this issue. I get it. He makes money writing whiny articles. That’s his niche. Is there a business in the United States that does not treat its most profitable customers differently in some way or other than its casual, occasional customers? Perhaps, but I don’t see Chris crusading to ban them.

    If you like to whine about these evil bloodsucking corporations bring your lighter to Chris’s silly party. If you want to travel the world cheaply read the bloggers he scorns here, who indeed will courteously be happy to help you have wonderful experiences. Well, back to my morally corrupt planning for my award trip to Australia next month. Just booked a Great Barrier Reef cruise the other day.

  • BobChi

    Chris Elliott: “what someone called me on an obscure loyalty program apologist’s website just a few days ago”
    Chris Elliott: “As for the ‘apologist’ label, I haven’t labeled that anyone in particular”.

    The fact that you repeatedly, consistently resort to name calling in dealing with those who disagree with you is one of the more unsavory features of your work. You take on a hostile, antagonistic persona that really does not invite reader interaction, but puts down people who haven’t bought into your world view. I’m surprised not to be called a fanboy yet this time around.

  • BobChi

    Bring on the lighter fluid or the guillotines?

  • BobChi

    He didn’t say you shared their politics, just their tactics.

  • BobChi

    I don’t understand the causation mindset. The airlines don’t mistreat Chris or others BECAUSE they treat other people well. It’s not a zero sum game the way he for some reason thinks it is. In each instance they are seeking to maximize their profits, which is what their shareholders demand. If maximizing profits means pampering Passenger A so that A will continue to pay $12,000 for a first class seat, they do that. If maximizing profits means they squeeze more rows of seats into coach, they do that.

    Chris is fundamentally against the marketplace and the free enterprise system. He campaigns for the government to micro-manage. That’s his right. Guess what, Air Koryo (North Korea) has a business class. Cubana de Aviación has a business class. It’s going to be hard for Chris to find a part of the world to lead his crusade in.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Bob, you’re completely misrepresenting my views on loyalty programs and deliberately twisting my words. And you’ve done it on numerous occasions here and on other sites, despite my polite and repeated corrections. Your snarky, incendiary comments are no longer welcome on this site.

  • Marcin Jeske

    My view on first class (and business) is a little more nuanced… in the context of all the other places where wealth enables great luxury (giant mansions, yachts, spacious suites, and fine dining), airline seats have a much narrower disparity… they would be towards the bottom of my list.

    Plus, if I understand airline economics sufficiently, paid first and business passengers pay a much higher premium for their transport than use in economy… and in concert with those paying “full fare” for economy enable (subsidize is not quite accurate) those of us with flexibility and lower standards to pay less.

    Were it otherwise, there would be no way the airlines could offer some of the low fares they do, making air travel accessible to more people. The worst thing that could happen is if mainline airlines did cut out first and business, and those passengers migrated to specialty airlines or private jet service.

    Economy suits me well enough for most trips… I am luckily not too large to site comfortably in pretty much all planes I have been in, I have picked up habits that make flights more enjoyable, and it is more comfortable than a bus trip, thought the train beats both.

    Finally, I will admit there is the “aspirational aspect”… on the rare occasion rebooking or delays or luck have caused me to get bumped up… it’s a small luxury I can enjoy… though I doubt I would pay for it even were I wealthier… I think you get much better bang for your buck on spending more on hotel rooms.

    I think an airline would do quite well if a row of business/first seat were used as “surprise upgrades” for randomly selected economy passengers, essentially a lottery where each economy seat was a ticket…. people would love that.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Hotels don’t work under the same kind of space constraints… but count on them sizing and investing in their rooms in proportion to how much they sell for.

    Why would you think eliminating first class would lead to more comfortable seating… you would just get more seats crammed into the same space… airlines have good evidence that people will happily pay for tiny seats.

    In fact, there are any number of airlines that fly economy-only service. Take a wild guess how tightly packed their seats are…

  • Tim

    Loyalty programs are getting out of control.