David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
Where Have All The Frequent-Flyers Gone? – July 2022
You can probably hear the music in your head. I refer to the late Mary Travers, Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey singing “Where have all the flowers gone?” (If you can’t hear it, feel free to click the picture to the left.) I take this poetic license to highlight a growing phenomenon in domestic US air travel – the lack of frequent flyers in the air.
There is no argument that the state of US air travel this summer is just a mess (and that’s the most polite term I can use to describe it.) Just take a look at some of my and other trip reports on JoeSentMe.com if you need more evidence. The issue and the reasons for it are clear.
But something else that is very interesting is happening in the background. A number of factors are converging, and they don’t bode well for the US airlines.
· Airlines have gutted their frequent flyer programs over the last few years. Passenger fares spent has become more important than frequent travel to qualify for benefits. That means the airlines are set up to be nicer to the person that travels once on a high-priced ticket than the person that is flying with them every week or month, filling seats on a repeated basis. In addition, there is no longer any loyalty back to the frequent customer from the airline. The ‘no waivers and favors’ policy has been in place for many years now, and the airlines’ disdain for their most frequent customers has never been higher. (See the recent Delta ‘get out of our clubs’ stories as one example.) Airlines have totally forgotten that their mission is to provide great service. They firmly believe they exist solely to increase shareholder value.
· The COVID-19 pandemic had the ancillary effect of showing knowledge workers that they can do most of their jobs quite well while not heading into offices. Remote and hybrid working is winning in the minds of the workforce, and they are commuting and traveling far less than before.
· Many airline affinity credit cards have been cut-up by smart travelers that see they can get better deals and more travel support from firms like Capital One (see their Venture card) and others. The airlines already admitted (during their pandemic efforts for loan collateral) that their frequent flyer programs are a more profitable asset than their actual air service, so watching them squander the public interest in this asset is not a good sign.
· The aforementioned summer 2022 travel “mess” (in addition to all these other points) is keeping savvy people away from air travel. Why even bother and have to face the insanity if there are other ways to get the job done. One of the other results is the sky-high fares of the summer are starting to drop.
When you combine these and a few other factors, you find that the people that used to make-up the airline’s ‘best customers’ – what used to be “Frequent Flyers” – are simply not traveling now. And that should be of grave concern for the airlines’ current greedy management.
Take a look at the below United seating charts from a trip I am likely traveling on as you read this. Two days before travel, the back of the plane is nearly full, but Economy Plus seats are mostly empty.
I find this more and more often on what used to be very heavily traveled routes out of EWR. Who is entitled to get those E+ seats at time of booking? Of course, the answer is UA Elite travelers (the levels gold, platinum, 1K, and Global Services.)
Combine this with my previously blogged point that as a United Million-Miler (that nowadays only gets me lowly gold status) I’ve been upgraded a number of times on some routes where I used to only get to 28 or so on the upgrade list.
My conclusion from all of this is elite frequent flyers are just not flying at nearly the level as they had done in the past.
Just maybe, after years and years and years of abuse from greedy airline management (that actually once referred to their elite passengers as “overentitled”) people are finally voting with their wallet and telling the airlines to go %$#@ themselves.
If this trend continues, expect the airlines to come to congress with their hat in their hands again, begging for money. At that time I’d again (‘till I’m blue in the face) strongly advise everyone to just let capitalism work and let this greedy and out-of-touch group of airline managers just fail as a result of their customer unfriendly policies. What will then come out of the ashes of their collapse will eventually be services that at least admit to themselves that they are in fact services, and not only investor satisfaction engines.
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 2022 David Danto
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