A lot of people are grounded right now. Most of us are going to travel again. And we’re sure going to be itching to do so.
No matter what happens with the business of any of the airlines, we’re going to have big airlines to take us where we want to go. There are fleets of planes, airports, runways, and gates and there are outstanding aviation professionals who will be excited to do get us moving again.
It’s going to take time before business get employees flying, until governments lift restrictions, and until people are comfortable. But once the restrictions lift it’s going to be an exciting time to be a passenger.
To be sure it’s painful getting there. And we’re going to see real service cuts that take a long time to come back from. Already United is closing all of its Polaris lounges along with a dozen United Clubs. This is temporary, but temporary is likely to last longer than we want it to.
Once it’s prudent to take discretionary trips there are going to be plenty of empty seats. That is great for several things.
- Real deals on airfare. Via Notiflyr I’m already seeing $1000 roundtrips in business class between Europe and Asia. Many deals like this are bookable now far into the future, so consider booking travel 11 months from now. But don’t rush – there are plenty of deals to come. Party like it’s 2002…
- Outstanding award availability. Empty seats frequently mean great opportunities for using miles. United Airlines rarely makes business class saver awards available on its own flights, but Dan’s Deal’s notes that saver space is widely available to places like London and Tel Aviv into next fall and winter. This is only the beginning of course. Party like it’s 2009…
- Mileage bonuses and elite incentives. Airlines are going to want customers and they’re going to finally turn back to their marketing engines, the frequent flyer prgorams, to move the needle – both to generate incremental trips as well as “share shift” where they compete aggressively with each other for customers. I’ve already talked to the heads of multiple programs who tell me their teams are brainstorming how they’ll do this. Reminds me of the time 20 years ago that I earned nearly 100,000 miles off a single roundtrip between the Coasts in the Continental OnePass program.
For years frequent flyers haven’t felt the love from mileage programs. Planes have been full, which has meant a real difficulty scrounging for award seats and airlines not needing to invest much in marketing to fill empty seats. That’s going to change.
There’s one elephant in the room. What if an airline doesn’t make it?
- United (and Continental which merged into United), Delta (and Northwest which merged into Delta), and American (and US Airways which now controls American) have all been through bankruptcy, some even twice.
- Frequent flyer programs are the most valuable assets the airlines have. If there’s a viable business coming out of bankruptcy, the miles will be protected.
- Miles have been lost when the airlines themselves haven’t made it. airberlin’s topbonus program was small, not only didn’t airberlin continue but the airline hadn’t been paying for the miles awarded to customers so the loyalty program had too many receivables – a real outlier.
I’m continuing to earn miles with impunity, with excitement even. It’s my only ‘financial’ account where the balances are rising these days.
We won’t be grounded forever, even if the weeks and months ahead begin to feel like forever. Now is the time to start accumulating miles, so you’re ready to pounce when the best awards become available. And remember that research shows that planning trips generates much of the enjoyment we get out of the trips themselves.