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The End is Near

The End is Near

Old Aug 10, 07, 6:45 pm
  #1  
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Programs: On the cusp of elite level with Pan Am and Sabena.
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The End is Near

The end is near.

The rich get richer and get all the free tickets. We, the humble lot, gallantly step forward on our tired feet upon the worn carpet of many a plane after hours spent waiting in airport bars sipping cheap wine and wondering when – or if - we will ever get home. We ask in our most feeble voice if perhaps that exit row or an upgrade to a beer in an actual glass might come available. Meanwhile, the others, a privileged lot of wealthy credit card users stroll upon the plane with free first class tickets in hand. They are bound for Bangkok. And Sydney. And exotic points afar. They live in large mansions of tinted glass and groomed gardens and only come to the airport so as to clog the security lines with a slow strip tease of tacky jewelry. All this and they are flying for free. Because they can. Because they rack up 500,000 miles a year in affinity credit card charges. And could care less about paying the excess miles for “anytime” (extortion) awards.

The end is near because the wealthy are ruining for us what was once our one and only reward for the days upon days that we endure the LAX’s and LHR’s and NRT’s. We fly. They buy Prada. We get nothing. They get free seats. And they don’t deserve it. The rich are ruining it because they are ignorantly paying a premium for free tickets. As they can. And the airlines with their greedy promises of a glossy-shiny-world-for-your-loyalty-and-give-nothing-in-return programs are shuffling the cards unfairly and are just as much to blame. The people who actually fly are left with a lousy pair of twos at a stacked table of high rollers and crooked dealers.

Pity us the little folk who when trying to book awards to anywhere at anytime are left to realize that our loyalty, our pain in favoring an alliance, our convoluted routings to gain miles was really all for naught. Because the airlines quickly discovered that they could fill the free seats with affinity card users that are more than happy to pay 240,000 miles for a first class to Tokyo instead of 120,000. And while we try to keep up with actually flying for our miles - in the end we are left chasing our tail. We will always be outspend, outmiled, and outmaneuvered by armchair travelers who rarely fly, often spend, and take every free seat to everywhere you ever might want to go.

Of course, there is Halifax. This is United’s token spot of free ticket availability that seems to always come up in the “we have free seats to here” chart. I have been to Halifax. It is a nice place and all that. But I really want to take my girlfriend to Asia. Or to Europe. To hike grand mountains and eat exotic foods. Must I be forced to go to Halifax because the affinity card users don’t want to go there? Perhaps we should start a campaign to romanticize the virgin wonders of Nova Scotia and the exceptional shopping and dining of Halifax in an attempt to lure the affinity card users in thinking that this is the new “it” spot of the world. The phones would be ringing off the hook at United to get those free seats to Halifax leaving us in turn to maybe - by miracle - find a lowly business class ticket with only seven connections to Bangkok for which to use our miles at the “saver” rates. But I dream. As there is no Four Seasons or Aman resort in Halifax just yet to serve as bait.

I give you below a chart below of the “haves” and have not’s” of the mileage war. In order of the most privileged:

1. Actual Frequent Flyers who fly AND spend a few hundred thousand a year in affinity charges. (They actually deserve the free seats more than anyone but are far too willing to pay the high extortion rates for awards )
2. Any Frequent Flyer who resides in Halifax.
3. The wealthy Affinity Card users that never pay for flights but charge everything and spend like crazy. (They do not deserve free seats and the sad irony is that they can actually afford to buy them.)
4. The road warrior who racks up hundreds of thousands of miles in expensive full fare tickets but must wait three years in order to use them as it takes that long to get to the double the miles extortion rates that the airlines love you to use. (They should be 2nd In importance on this list)
5. The nice folks who fly twice a year and still write checks for their purchases. (They might as well walk to their destination as they are never going to get anything free from the airlines.)

I do not mean to come across as a frequent flying version of Che Guevara. And I really do not wish to eat the rich. I only wish to eat the airlines who, in the drive to build lofty returns for shareholders, forgot that they were airlines. But it is too late to turn back. The damage is done. The only course of action for them now is to offer standard “extortion” rates for miles to lure people like my friend Alan in California who charges close to a $1,000,000.00 annually on his United MasterCard and has never once paid for a ticket.

And don’t you dear friends find it rather funny that the airlines now refer to the high mileage awards as “standard” and the original and more appropriately rated awards as “savers?” Do you remember when there was only one tier? And it was not called “saver?” And do you really believe that they are holding an allocation of free seats for 1K’s or Platinum’s or Diamond’s or whatever bull crap name they want to give us? They are not. How many times have you tried to get a free ticket in business class…eventually gave up and bought a coach ticket…only to board the plane later and see that business class is empty? The “standard” (extortion) rewards are the only rewards. And they are force feeding them to us. And the affinity card users are paying it. This is why the end is near.

But perhaps the greatest aspect of a failed system within our fiercely competitive and capitalist society is that someone will inevitably see the wrong and make it right in effort to gain an edge. Thus, I have high hopes for Virgin America. Members of the program accrue miles based on dollars spent (it’s about time!) and award seats are available anytime on any flight if a seat is available for sale. The downfall is a lack of partners and the question as to whether they will link up programs with Virgin Atlantic for redemption. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope. Virgin America may be the last chance to bring back a level of fairness and sanity to a system gone haywire. To properly recognize those who buy airline tickets. To give us reward for bearing the hell that is now business travel. To give us an ounce of hope that the $5 Pringle chips I bought onboard after paying $800.00 to fly one-way to Minneapolis might amount to something one day. And that I just might get me and my baby two seats to the Maldives without feeling like a street beggar in Central Park East.

In the meantime…does anyone know of a nice hotel in Halifax?
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Old Aug 10, 07, 6:58 pm
  #2  
mia
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I have redeemed seven transatlantic awards in 2007. All in business or first class, all at the "saver" rates.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:10 pm
  #3  
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With a little advanced planning and some schedule flexibility, I have always secured first or business class tickets for myself, wife and son. Not once mind you but many times across the Pacific and Atlantic.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:13 pm
  #4  
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Where even to begin?

Do you have any data on greater willingness of credit card users to spend more points for the same seats?

Not that it matters, since you seem to misunderstand the economics of award seats. Availability of capacity controlled seats is is driven by excess capacity that airlines don't expect to sell. As airline loads increase those seats become tougher. Willingness to spend double the miles to buy out of capacity controls doesn't mean fewer seats available at the lower mileage price.

To be sure, printing more miles means more competition for capacity controlled seats. But why does one class of program members deserve the seat more than another? (and this ignores even the fact that many airlines set aside award seats that only their elite level frequent flyers can redeem...)

'Credit card miles' are profitable to airlines, just as flying (sometimes) is, occasionally even more so. Members buy into a reward scheme either way, behave according to set rules, and have the same legitimate expectation to use their miles.

And geez.. It's almost surreal to suggest that frequent flyers are somehow society's "poor" and that in any kind of class struggle folks here on Flyertalk would be the revolutionaries left in control of the means of production after the materialist dialectic hurdles us towards a Trotskyite free award seat Utopia ("if only Snowball had won...").
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:15 pm
  #5  
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Thumbs up

Originally Posted by mia View Post
I have redeemed seven transatlantic awards in 2007. All in business or first class, all at the "saver" rates.
Hi MIA!

Wow, that is 700,000 or so miles reddemed in one year! Very impressive! I bet a good deal of those were affinity card miles. Thus, you win the award as being part of the #1 group on my list. Of course, if you are from Halifax you are disqualified.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:18 pm
  #6  
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Originally Posted by eyechip View Post
Hi MIA!

Wow, that is 700,000 or so miles reddemed in one year! Very impressive! I bet a good deal of those were affinity card miles. Thus, you win the award as being part of the #1 group on my list. Of course, if you are from Halifax you are disqualified.
I think you miss the point, but if it helps we could ring for PremEx who has been known to call United and have them remove any non-flight miles that somehow creep into his UA account.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:24 pm
  #7  
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The truly wealthy people in this world do not give a rip about affinity cards. They could care less about free seats on a commercial airliner shared with a bunch of total strangers.

It was a nice post, though.

'07 has been a very good award redemption year for me. By year's end, we will have done three full family vacations (4 award seats per itin) using miles, plus a handful of other individual trips or freebies we've given to others to visit us. I'm doing one solo later this year - U.S. to Germany in F on LH.

The seats are there, you just need to know how/where to look. Yes, in some ways the game is a bit more difficult to play (especially at peak travel times), but that's more due to high revenue loads, not some mysterious cabal of really rich people who enjoy flying commercial just to hack you off.

Edited to add: Just doing some math here...my burn this year is 470,000 plus a handful of WN awards and a couple of DBCFREE's (United's VDB tickets). My earn has been somewhat lower on the air side (maybe 200k), but very high on the hotel side. I could pull the trigger on a couple of Marriott Travel Packages if I had to get more air miles...

Last edited by pinniped; Aug 10, 07 at 7:38 pm
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:27 pm
  #8  
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Hey Gleff,

No, I don't no notin about no yield management or any high fulitin stuff like that. Me here is just a simple man who gets on planes and flies an airline to point a from point b and gets me some miles to use to go to one of them nice poster places the airlines always tell me I can go for free if I fly them. As a simple man I always thunk like my daddy taught me: airline points should be for people who fly. Credit card points should be for them fancy people that charge.

Trotsky? Wasn't he a center for the Red Wings?
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:34 pm
  #9  
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I don't get it... if the "wealthy" are using their miles on "anytime/extortion" awards shouldn't you be thanking them for leaving the Saver inventory for you?

With that said, I haven't had any issues redeeming for transpacs with a little patience, flexibility, and planning.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:42 pm
  #10  
 
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Originally Posted by chexfan View Post
With that said, I haven't had any issues redeeming for transpacs with a little patience, flexibility, and planning.
Same here..
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:45 pm
  #11  
 
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eyechip, consider that the only reason most people fly so much these days is because it's cheap to do so. There is a price to pay for those cheaper tickets which make it easier to earn all those miles... that price is that it costs more to get a free ticket, and availability is lower. If you want to regress 10 or 20 years when "discounted" transcon economy tickets cost $1000 instead of $250, then you'll find that the problem is even worse, namely that the rich can afford to fly often while the rest cannot.

Personally, I'd rather have cheaper airfares with higher redemption levels than regress to the "good old days" where flying was a luxury rather than a commodity.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:51 pm
  #12  
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Originally Posted by chexfan View Post
I don't get it... if the "wealthy" are using their miles on "anytime/extortion" awards shouldn't you be thanking them for leaving the Saver inventory for you?

With that said, I haven't had any issues redeeming for transpacs with a little patience, flexibility, and planning.
Actually, I am now the one confused. Or maybe we all are. Because the airlines don't even know what business they are in at this point.

My point is simply this: That if the airlines went about as a business model of flying people, and thus justly rewarding those who fly instead of allowing rewards to those who just charge and never fly, we might find (as the people who fly) that we could get a free ticket without the pains and hassles (or patience and flexibility as you call it).

Which is why I am quite excited about Virgin America. They seem to be focused on the right way to reward flyers...revenue based mileage and free seats with any availaibility. Of course, they may well be prone to falling by the wayside. But for now I will enjoy knowing that my miles earned from flying are not going to be pit against a stacked deck of those with affinity cards.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:54 pm
  #13  
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Hmph. Methinks we're gettin' trolled. There's no way that someone who flies a minimum of 175k BIS per year - and probably a lot more than that - isn't already milking the hell out of the credit card game. I mean, you gotta use a card to buy those tickets, right? And buy all of the hotel rooms that go with that volume of travel??

I think eyechip already has a UA Platinum Visa for those 100k+ miles of UA purchases, an SPG Amex, maybe a Thank You Network card for the AA/CO purchases, and maybe a Marriott or HH credit card if he stays at either of those. Plus he's talking about int'l travel, so it wouldn't surprise me if there's a Diner's Club or a traditional Amex charge card in his wallet too.

He's a road warrior and he's found Flyertalk. There's no way he's not doing this. He's just havin' a little Friday evening fun with us.
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Old Aug 10, 07, 7:57 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by cepheid View Post
eyechip, consider that the only reason most people fly so much these days is because it's cheap to do so. There is a price to pay for those cheaper tickets which make it easier to earn all those miles... that price is that it costs more to get a free ticket, and availability is lower. If you want to regress 10 or 20 years when "discounted" transcon economy tickets cost $1000 instead of $250, then you'll find that the problem is even worse, namely that the rich can afford to fly often while the rest cannot.

Personally, I'd rather have cheaper airfares with higher redemption levels than regress to the "good old days" where flying was a luxury rather than a commodity.

True. I agree. I have no problem with cheap fares (though I rarely seem to benefit!). But on the whole I think you will find that this is not the problem with the FF programs. It is the affinity cards. 10 years ago, when fares were plenty cheap as well, it was simple and easy to get a free ticket to pretty much anywhere at anytime you wanted. But now the affinity cards have so clogged up the system that I (unlike the lucky few who have posted here) seem to never be able to fiind anything.

Also, in regards to the fares, I am quite happy to see Virgin America starting a program that is based on dollars spent on the ticket rather than just miles. Now that is fair fare!
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Old Aug 10, 07, 8:01 pm
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Originally Posted by eyechip View Post
My point is simply this: That if the airlines went about as a business model of flying people, and thus justly rewarding those who fly instead of allowing rewards to those who just charge and never fly, we might find (as the people who fly) that we could get a free ticket without the pains and hassles (or patience and flexibility as you call it).
If the airlines' sole business is to fly people around, there would be no rewards. Clearly their business is not only to fly people around, but to make it so that people prefer to fly around. Moreover, they still fly people around who redeem award tickets paid for with miles earned from affinity cards.

Or let me put it another way. The frequent flyer program of nearly every airline is actually a separate company. In most cases, it's a wholly-owned subsidiary of the airline, but it's managed entirely separately from the flying operations part of the company. Some airlines have actually spun off their FF programs into entirely separate companies, i.e. not subsidiaries. In other words, the airline is still entirely in the business of flying people around, although they allow people to pay with miles from an FF program instead of paying with cash. It is the FF programs, not the airlines specifically, that allow people to accrue miles for things other than flying. (Perhaps this is an academic point since, as mentioned, most FF programs are wholly owned by their parent airline... but IMHO it's an important distinction.)

Regardless, my point is that airlines don't have to offer any rewards. They offer them as perks for loyalty, sure, but they got along just fine 30 years ago without any FF programs. (In fact, they were probably better off back then.) In today's market, they offer FF programs to remain competitive with consumers who demand to get everything for nothing. Part of that includes offering miles for things other than flying, but the airline makes money off of that, too.

Remember that the airlines are in the business of making money, not of adhering to one and only one business model. If you don't like the way a particular airline conducts its business, the best remedy is to vote with your wallet and find an airline whose business meets with your approval.
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