Behind the Scenes of the Frequent Traveler Awards Nomination Process

The Frequent Traveler Awards are underway, and I’m told there have already been hundreds of thousands of votes cast.

I’ve gotten a couple of questions here on my blog, by email, and on Flyertalk about what it’s all about, and how it differs from the Freddie Awards — which Randy Petersen decided to bring to a close after two decades. Like the Freddies, the Frequent Traveler awards fulfill a unique role:

I’m the Chair of the Frequent Traveler Awards committee that put together the structure, voting processes, and nominations for the Frequent Traveler Awards.

I had always been a bit of an armchair quarterback about the Freddies, and the process of defining the regions that we would offer awards in, determining the categories, how voting would work, and which programs and bonuses ought to be nominated taught me just how difficult it can be to put together this kind of endeavor.

For instance, the Freddies wanted not just to be a popularity contest (who could spam their members enough to generate the most votes) but a recognition of the best of airline and hotel loyalty programs. And so the Freddies asked voters to select a program and rate the program 1-10. The programs with the highest average rating by those offering to rate it was the program that would win (provided it was selected by a minimum threshold of voters).

Problem is that different people rate the same thing differently, what might be a 10 to an excited voter like me might be an 8 (also good!) to someone else. Even if both voters think the program is providing tremendous value. And it turns out that voting an ‘8’ for a program because you think it’s the best in effect was a vote against that program, because it would bring down the program’s average. That’s why some programs began instructing their members to “Vote a 10 for….”

Still, it was an interesting innovation and more importantly a very important point — that what we want isn’t a popularity contest but an expression by the traveling public about which programs are delivering the most value to their members.

And while I used to shake my head at some of the results, it was the public at large speaking, just as it will be with the Frequent Traveler Awards.

Frequent Traveler Award voting is a little bit different though, instead of giving one program a rating of 1-10, we ask members to rank programs (up to 4). That way voters are comparing programs, saying that they believe a program is best relative to others.

We spent a good deal of time on the voting process, diving into political science literature and systems of voting. And while some of us were tempted by the more scientific but also obscure voting mechanisms that might do an even better job getting at the best representation of member opinion, there’s also a need to be simple enough that folks can understand the process as well. In other words, there are tradeoffs in the voting mechanism.

We’ve got fewer categories than the Freddies did, perhaps that’s a mistake but in our first year we thought a more modest endeavor made sense. We kept core categories like Best Program, Best Elite Level, and the bonus categories. But we’re keeping the awards ceremony a bit shorter, we’ll get to the end of evening celebrations and the armchair quarterbacking that much quicker… No best web site, best member communication, or best customer service (which is difficult to parse between the loyalty programs and the airline or hotels they represent).

Our regions are a bit different than the Freddies, the Middle East is grouped with Asia Pacific rather than Europe and Africa. That way the Emirates and Etihads compete against Singapores and Cathay rather than BA and Lufthansa. We thought they were more like in kind. Judgment calls. But otherwise it’s the same — Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia Pacific.

Similarly, we decided that each airline would be assigned to its home region, and that every voter could choose which of three regions to vote in but they could only vote in one region. Now, that does mean that the excellent British Airways Visa from Chase won’t be nominated as Best Credit Card in the Americas. And that members aren’t comparing Continnetal against Air France-KLM. But the tradeoff seemed an unwieldly process.

What results is six categories for each voter to express their opinion in, comparing what they believe is best in rank-order fashion against the other programs they’re most familiar with.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m pretty outspoken about the best and worst of frequent flyer and frequent guest programs. But as much as I like Hyatt this year, or Onepass and Aeroplan (I voted in the Americas), I’m only one vote out of many hundreds of thousands. We won’t know who the winners will be until November 4 in Houston, but then we’ll be able to pretty definitively answer the question what’s the best airline and hotel loyalty program? And then the armchair quarterbacking and dissection can begin!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Being active with US programs (UA, DL, US) and European programs (AF/KL, BD), i had to vote for both regions..used separate computer. Hope thats OK!

  2. Ah, that explains the disdain for the multiple ‘L’ Traveller awards recently… It would have been nice if you’d have disclosed that info back on the other post.

  3. @marco I had written about my role in the Frequnet Traveler awards in the past. I explained in the comments that dissing multiple L’s was a joke. It’s precisely because I’ve found other awards lacking that I’ve tried to help build something better. And it’s hardly new to see my writing criticisms of ‘best’ lists and rankings on this blog..

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