Beware the Non-Redeemable Bonus Mile
I’ve always found myself drawn to the subtleties of marketing messages—and there’s a new marketing message going around that most frequent fliers will miss altogether or simply ignore. I, however, have noticed the sudden and growing use of the word redeemable.
The pundit side of our frequent-flier personalities will surely scoff at the use of that word. Redeemable? Yeah, OK. But what exactly do programs mean by “redeemable bonus miles”?
I noticed the trend in a recent bonus offer from United Mileage Plus. In days gone by, it was enough to simply offer “40,000 bonus miles.” Today, that is clarified as “40,000 redeemable bonus miles.”
Why the change? It’s because of the confusion around non-redeemable bonus miles used for elite qualification versus bonus miles used for awards. Starting nearly four years ago, it become common for programs to offer two types of bonus miles, forgoing 23 years of history that included only a single type of bonus mile. Today, frequent-flier program members must get their heads around the idea that bonus miles are not created equal: Some miles count toward being awarded elite status, while others are the old-fashioned miles that can be redeemed for a free flight (i.e., redeemable miles).
Elite qualification miles are separate from the typical miles members earn through flights, credit-card use and so on. The balance of qualification miles appears in a separate place in your miles statement. Ah, if only we could go back to the good old (simple) days.
So what do I think of this change in semantics? It confuses members and will continue to do so. I have started to receive requests for advice when members’ “bonus miles” don’t post. A quick look at a statement will often camouflage that the number of elite qualification miles (EQMs) has grown when the base mileage has not. Beware, frequent fliers, and pay attention to when a bonus is not a bonus.
And here’s another marketing tidbit: As a former clothing company merchandise presentation geek, I’ve been amused by all the money airlines spent on developing and implementing the standard silver chrome metal crates at their check-in counters to measure passengers’ luggage for carry-on viability. I know they weren’t cheap, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stick his luggage in one of those sizers in the past five years.
So I was absolutely elated to hear that American Airlines is eliminating the sizers—although it might not be a sign that American really gets it, because the carrier also says it is considering new designs that could handle different shapes. Trust me on this one: There is no sizer in the world that will hinder desperate travelers from trying to avoid an extra baggage fee.
RANDY PETERSEN is publisher of Inside Flyer magazine and president of Frequent Flyer Services. Email Randy at email@example.com.