Results, Recap, and Experiences from the Frequent Traveler Awards at Citi Field

The Frequent Traveler Awards were held Thursday evening at Citi field in New York. Yours truly donned a tuxedo and had the honor of presenting Program of the Year for an Airline Frequent Flyer Program to Aeroplan (Americas), Lufthansa Miles & More (Europe & Africa), and Emirates (Middles East, Asia, Oceania).

Here’s Ben Mutzabaugh’s take from USA Today, titled “And the world’s top frequent-flier awards go to …”

It was an amazing evening, healined by emcee Robert Wuhl, himself a frequent flyer and mileage aficianado.

These awards represent the voice of the frequent traveler, with more than a million individuals participating in the voting this year. While I’m honored to help run the event, I only get to be one vote — virtually inconsequential in the scheme of things — and so certainly the results won’t always match my own thinking. But second guessing these things is half the fun, and dinner sponsor Visa provided a baseball-like scorecard for keeping track of the winners throughout the night.

Here are the trophies in Tommy Danielsen’s suite at the Sheraton LaGuardia before the award ceremony, all lined up to make sure we had them all even though it was certainly too late to do anything about it if we didn’t.

Lynn Grubb, the Director of New Partner Development (sorry Lynn if I got that wrong!) from American Express LoyaltyEdge welcomed folks to the event during the reception. It was rather neat space, we used Caesar’s Club which comprises about 70% of a level — overlooking both the ballpark on one side and the Manhattan skyline on another.

The view of the crowd from the stage, about 300 people were in attendance. Space was tight at the venue and unfortunately we only had spots for 50 frequent travelers this year. Next year Tommy is working to hopefully have a bigger venue and open it up, and I’d love to see us be able to continue Randy Petersen’s tradition at the Freddie Awards of welcoming all comers and even picking up the tab — unfortunately while we have sponsors we don’t have pockets that deep but we’ve still been able to subsidize the event.

Here’s Greg Lindsay, a reporter and author of the new book Aerotropolis about the self-contained cities that develop around the comings and goings of travel, standing with Amy Ceriani-Nelson of Priority Club. While Marriott was the ‘big winner’ of the night amongst hotel chains, their dominance wasn’t as strong as at last year’s awards and Priority Club did exceptionally well – especially in the Middle East, Asia, Oceania region.

Now, also performing well was Hyatt Gold Passport. They didn’t win for their “Big Welcome Back” (aka Faster Free Nights) promotion. That one had my vote. But they did win two of the three Best Elite Program awards (for the Americas and Middle East, Asia, Oceania). Next to Program of the Year, in my view Best Elite Program is the most important award. Hyatt has certianly done a remarkable job over the past two years with their elite program, introducing confirmed suite upgrades rather than leaving upgrades to chance at checkin in particular, and gaining strides with their early checkin and late checkout — though in the case of checkout they still lag behing Starwood, just this morning I was given 1pm checkout at the Andaz Fifth Avenue but denied in my request for 2pm.

Starwood does deserve a shoutout, I do think that they deserved a bit more credit than the voters gave to them, they had my vote for Best Redemption Ability. While Hilton and Hyatt have matched (and Marriott and Priority Club nearly so) their no capacity controls over the past few years, Starwood was the real pioneer in making award nights available any time a hotel has a standard room available. And they also pioneered cash and points and also have tremendous bonuses on transfers of points to airline frequent flyer programs. I also think that while they haven’t innovated much in the past few years, their elite program is probably second to Hyatt’s though that’s certainly a debatable proposition.

On the airline side, the Best Elite Level award in the Americas was won by United Mileage Plus for the second year in a row, to me a well-deserved award though American AAdvantage partisans would have a reasonable argument to make I think.

Some folks were surprised to see Delta Skymiles win a Frequent Traveler Award, but it actually makes a great deal of sense. Here’s Delta accepting Best Redemption Promotion (Americas).

They’ve made great strides in not nickel and diming their customers. They won for the elimination of some of their award booking fees. It’s consistent with their strategy of similarly removing the expiration of their miles. While I’ve long argued that their miles can do less than those in many competing programs, it’s also worth noting what you can do with Delta’s miles. They happen to be the best for booking the two toughest awards that there are, premium cabin flights to Australia and to French Polynesia (because in the former case they partner with V Australia which has the best award availability Down Under, and in the latter case because they partner with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui — whereas American partners with only with Air Tahiti Nui from the mainland US to Papeete and with Star Alliance carriers you have to fly via Auckland). And Air France from the East Coast to Europe can often be quite abundant. But they didn’t win for award availability, and in fairness Delta inventory does get better closer to travel, rather for the elimination of the fees that irk so many members.

Rick Rasmussen picked up the second Frequent Traveler Award in a row for the Alaska Airlines co-branded Visa.

Members really like the Alaska Airlines Visa because Alaska Airlines miles are really flexible, useful with partners that are in both Skyteam (like Air France and Delta) as well as oneworld (like Cathay Pacific and Qantas). They like it because even though Alaska doesn’t load its own schedule until 330 days out, they allow you to book award seats on British Airways and Qantas when their schedules open (and add aditional Alaska seats to your itinerary later with no fee). But mostly they like the card’s unique selling proposition: a $99 companion ticket that allows you to book a second person into any available seat on Alaska Airlines, at any fare, no capacity controls at all. I’ve used that certificate to buy paid first class to Hawaii, and the second first class ticket was only $99+tax. That’s a great deal.

Personally, I like the Asiana American Express (2 miles per dollar, so $40,000 in spend is enough for business class from the East Coast of the US to Europe), the Starwood and Hilton Surpass and the Premier Rewards American Express cards (the former for all-around spend, the Hilton card for earning Diamond status based on spend, and the Premier Rewards card for triple points on airfare). But the Alaska card is a pretty darned attractive one to sign up for if you live in a city served by the airline.

In Europe and Africa, Amex Membership Rewards was voted Best Loyalty Credit Card and in the Middle East and Asia/Oceania it was the American Express Kingfisher First Card.

Wendy Perrin presented a Loyalty Leadership Award, which is given by the Nominations Committee rather than the voters, for changing their program as part of their Joint Business Venture with American and Iberia to offer full mileage earning on all paid fares. In North America that’s fairly standard, but in Europe and Asia it’s remarkable and something I’d hope that other carriers in those regions would model.

The other Loyalty Leadership Award was presented by Randy Petersen to Maya Leibman, the President of American’s AAdvantage program, for “30 Years of Frequent Flyer Miles.”

AAdvantage launched in May 1981, days later the United program was born, and the modern frequent flyer era began.

Finally, here I am with Robert Wuhl and with fellow Frequent Traveler Awards colleagues Tommy Danielsen and Edward Pizzarello.

It was an amazing night, I’m thoroughly exhausted from it and glad not to have to do it for another year, and yet still looking forward to next year and grateful to the progrmas, the sponsors, and the members of the frequent traveler community who made it all possible.

(Photos courtesy of Art Pushkin.)

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. The fact that Aeroplan won something takes away the credibility of the awards…

  2. Gary

    how about a left to right description re the last photo, we listen to your wisdom, would be good to identify you. Thanks for all the info. Much appreciated

  3. @Will remember that the voting took place before Aeroplan’s announcement of increases to their award chart.

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