When Christopher Elliott loves your loyalty program, you know you’re doing something wrong.
He loves Delta’s planned changes for 2015 to go revenue-based, even though he doesn’t seem to get that they take what he hates about loyalty programs in an even more extreme direction.
The way I square this circle is that I actually think he:
- Hates the people who like and benefit from loyalty programs.
- Finds that writing provocative things generates traffic and kudos from his employers, even when those things are utterly non-sensical.
The thrust of the over complaint of ‘Elliott-the-Populist’ is that frequent flyer programs reward some people and not other people. And those who benefit from the program reap unjustified benefits.
To Elliott, it doesn’t matter that those are the most profitable customers that airline has. Those benefits must come at the expense of other travelers, rather than perhaps even in the extreme benefiting other travelers by providing a cross-subsidy, allowing the average traveler to buy inexpensive seats that would otherwise go unsold at the margin.
Loyalty programs may be the single greatest scam pulled on the traveling public.
Want to segment customers into castes of “haves” and “have-nots”? Create legions of blindly brand-loyal passengers? Lift your profits to avaricious new heights?
Nothing does it like a clever frequent flier program.
At the same time, Elliott argues that the frequent flyer who is being well-treated is also getting taken for a ride because they aren’t getting more, or geting more consistently for free. (Presumably the frequent flyer is being harmed by the passenger who pays for premium cabin travel.)
Yet, as a consumer advocate, not a day goes by that I don’t receive a despondent email from a platinum cardmember who spent every travel dollar with a company, only to come up empty-handed, betrayed by a program’s vague promises.
Nothing is ever the fault of the traveler. And anything that an airline does is underhanded.
Who wouldn’t be fatigued after hearing from thousands of unhappy passengers whose miles expired or were denied “elite” status or were banished to the back of the plane on a Transpacific flight? Who wouldn’t be furious at the travel companies whose adhesion contracts allow them to pull this barely legal bait-and-switch?
Elite frequent flyers of course, in most programs, don’t find their miles expiring because by their very nature they earn or spend miles at least once every 18 (or 24 or 36) months. Not all programs’ miles expire.
Outside the U.S. of course actual expiration of miles is more common. For instance, Singapore Airlines Krisflyer miles expire 3 years after they’re earned if they aren’t used (and can be extended for a fee).
But denied elite status? There’s generally a pretty clear criteria for how it’s earned and those who follow that criteria receive it, and those who do not usually don’t receive it (although perhaps exceptions are made).
I can think of only one case where things have been really less than clear for US frequent flyers (although perfectly clear for readers of this blog).
And as for barely legal, well, the Supreme Court disagrees with Mr. Elliott’s analysis.
But what’s the upshot of all of this?
And that is why I love Delta Air Lines’ new loyalty program.
Mr. Elliott makes controversial statements. Even when they make no sense.
What program in the U.S. is going to be the ultimate in rewarding the haves over the have nots?
A revenue-based program that awards elite status based on a minimum level of spending (United followed Delta in announcing this) and a revenue-based program that awards miles based on ticket price.
Elliott should hate this. I can only surmise he likes it because many frequent flyers don’t.
Best I can tell from the argument, he actually likes it because it’s bad for flyers. And they’re finally going to wake up and give up on frequent flyer programs entirely as a result of Delta going off the deep end.
Me, I’ve got my Plan B.
But we now know that Christopher Elliott revels in things that are bad for consumers on purpose. And takes a Leninist view of the overarching history of loyalty programs — that it is necessary for those programs to exacerbate their internal contradictions and enter crisis in order to finally collapse.
So he’s much more of a scholar than I ever realized.