David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD on all
Funny Money – September 2023
It’s interesting reading about all the Delta frequent flyers who have just discovered that frequent flyer schemes are no longer worth it. (If you hadn’t heard, Delta just essentially demolished their SkyMiles Program, making it about money not flying.) All of the former airline ‘loyalty’ programs, originally meant to keep passengers loyal to one airline, are now just schemes between airlines and banks with the passengers being the suckers involved in the middle. These ‘funny-money’ schemes are now no better than playing three card monte blindfolded – difficult at best, often complex and cheating, and set-up for you to lose. There are multiple facets to this story, and I’m going to do my best to keep them simple.
Firstly, US airline consolidation means that there is virtually no competition between carriers on non-stop routes anymore. There is little need for any airline to be better than the next at anything. The greedy bean-counters in charge of them know this and will continue to minimize anything that is customer friendly. Loyalty from customers is not needed any longer.
Next, we have the reality that the frequent-flyer programs that exist today are profit-making schemes between the credit card companies, banks and airlines. The commodity is actually you and your money, not their miles. If you take nothing else away from this blog, hear that these funny-money schemes are no longer meant to benefit you. The airlines set the value of this fake currency, then they devalue it at their whim – both by direct devaluations (number of miles needed to do stuff) and indirect devaluations (limiting availability of travel and upgrades one can purchase with miles.) The banks buy it from them and sell it to you. You wouldn’t accept this with your cash at your bank, don’t accept it from the airlines. (The Delta move is only new to Delta flyers, as savvy frequent flyers have been saying ‘get off the drug’ for years.)
But then we add to the complexity the fact that the credit card companies and merchants are now fighting about fees. I covered a lot of this issue in a prior article, where I explained that many merchants are now increasing the cost of using credit cards to match the fees the credit cards companies charge them. Well, we consumers are now the rope in a game of tug-of-war between the credit card issuers and the merchants. The proposed “Credit Card Competition Act” would put limits on what credit card issuers could charge merchants, remove some market power from (according to those behind the proposal) the “Visa and Mastercard duopoly” and also make other changes meant to be consumer friendly. With stunning irony, these credit card issuers are now advertising to the general public to rally against these changes because it would ‘take away consumer’s ability to get travel rewards and cash back.’ Apparently, these firms want to be the only ones that can restrict the value and availability of these perks of days gone by. They have the unmitigated gall of calling this campaign “Protect My Points.”
Finally, going back to Delta, their CEO, Ed Bastian, admitted this week their announced changes “probably went too far” and said that there will be a change to the announced changes shortly. If you think that pressure from Delta frequent flyers had any influence on their actions here, you’d be being very naive. More likely it was pressure from American Express, who had the value of using their cards slashed by Delta, expressing outrage that the two companies’ combined cash-cow / points scheme was being threatened.
So, my advice here again is to get off the ride, it’s not fun anymore.
· Accept the fact that airline loyalty programs are dead and stop letting them factor into your travel and purchase decisions
· Keep *ZERO* money in their banks. Don’t collect frequent flyer miles, credit card points, credit card cash back, etc. As soon as you have enough in any of those programs to spend it or cash-out, spend it or cash-out. Who in their right mind would save coins in a piggy bank that devalues its contents whenever it feels like it.
· Pay everything that you can now via direct bank withdrawal or check (or cash where applicable.) Yes, it’s stupid to go back to the past, but it now costs less to do this than use the more advanced plastic.
· Look at credit cards solely for the convenience of paying that way, not for any benefits they may or may not have provided, as you’re now paying directly for those benefits. Try and use them only when you are at a merchant that has the same price for cash or credit. Any additional benefit the cards offer you (membership, insurance, cash-back or points) are things you are actually paying for in increased fees, and you are doing so at a premium over what they are worth.
I’m sparing you the ten screen-shots of my help-chat with United this morning trying to get back the 20K miles I spent attempting to get a domestic upgrade last month. They pulled the miles immediately upon request of-course, didn’t clear the upgrade of-course, then made me wait two weeks before I was even allowed to spend a half hour on their on-line chat to get the miles returned. These schemes are set-up for them, not us – never forget that.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
Copyright 2023 David Danto
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