The Truth About Disappearing Frequent Flyer Seats
Over the past few weeks, I’ve received the usual number of phone calls from various media, but for once they all want to talk about the same thing: industry cutbacks and how they certainly mean that today’s frequent-fliers will not be able to use their miles.
I fi gured I’d better do some research before spouting off anything during all those media calls, so let’s try to separate the facts from the fiction. I know some critics will start to sputter when they hear this, but the facts seem to indicate that we’ll be just fine.
I often use the bellwether frequent-flier program of Continental OnePass as an overall industry indicator. In April of this year, OnePass handled 191,253 award redemptions. In April 2007, the program handled 150,392 award redemptions—that’s just over a 27 percent increase. So much for the idea that airlines are cutting back redemption. In fact, redemptions in March 2008 were up 13.1 percent from the previous year and February saw 18.3 percent more, while January was up 12.5 percent. No matter your original standpoint, it seems difficult to claim that airlines are cutting back and that seats are harder to get, since most of these redemptions are likely for the popular summer travel season.
These statistics can be interpreted in several different ways: They could indicate the impact of the economy right now, demonstrating that more members are using miles than money for their annual travel plans. This may also be because the membership base of the OnePass program has grown so large, or it may mean that the economy is more troubled than you might think. For optimists, it might mean that the airlines are being nicer to passengers and giving away more awards.
As much as I admire OnePass, I don’t think the latter explanation works. I think that these awards have always been available from OnePass, but were never demanded until now. Regardless of reasons, it is factually clear that in this particular case, Continental Airlines’ frequent-flier program is not cutting back award availability; and, in general, it does not seem harder to claim your awards than in years past.
There’s also another factor in this increase—many of the programs have made huge improvements to the manner in which they show the available inventory of awards online. Some carriers, such as Delta, are now showing more of their partner award inventory online, making it a much better environment in which to determine award availability and redemption.
Whatever the reason behind it, this situation may not be as dire as some critics seem to indicate. But let’s be clear: This may all change as members start to plan redemption for the fall and into next year, when additional route changes take effect. But even then, I don’t see heartache for you over not being able to use your miles.
Whatever your occasional thoughts of doom, keep these facts in mind and remember that just maybe, the world of miles is not falling apart.
RANDY PETERSEN is publisher of Inside Flyer magazine and president of Frequent Flyer Services. Email Randy at email@example.com.