After years of putting up with blackout dates, broken promises and bait-and-switch games, American travelers — particularly air travelers — are finally saying, “Enough!”
They’re refusing to play the loyalty-program game and jettisoning blind brand allegiance in favor of a more pragmatic view of travel. Price and convenience are trumping mindless devotion to an airline, a car-rental company or a hotel.
In a recent survey, 38 percent of travelers said that finding the best deal topped their list, a tectonic shift from previous years, when collecting credits in a frequent-flier or frequent-stayer program was more important. Only 9 percent of travelers will book their trips based on loyalty to an airline or hotel chain, according to the poll conducted by Wakefield Research.
“It’s all about the bottom line,” says Nathan Richter, a partner at Wakefield.
Consumers in the past have been willing to endure the fine print and shifting goal posts of most travel loyalty programs. They’ve looked the other way while program rules were quietly rewritten and their points expired, hopeful that they would someday get a free award ticket. But the latest reforms by such legacy airlines as Delta and United, which tied rewards to the amount that travelers spend rather than the number of points they earn, were a pill too hard to swallow.
So travelers are quitting.
April Thompson has been a loyal Delta SkyMiles member since she graduated from college in 2004. She discovered the value of accumulating miles and redeeming them through the airline’s expanding network of global partners — until the carrier decided to change the way it measured her loyalty. Those SkyMiles revisions, announced in February, will take effect on all flights departing after Jan. 1, 2015.
“I will definitely be loosening up my allegiance to Delta,” she says. “Value and convenience are now my top priorities.”
Thompson has already allowed her elite membership to lapse, slipping from platinum level to gold, and she’s shifting her spending to an American Express card that allows her to redeem her rewards on multiple airlines.
Most of these loyalty-program breakups happen quietly, from the privacy of an office cubicle or a home study. But not all of them. Consider what happened to Ron Hingst, a formerly enthusiastic participant in La Quinta Inn & Suites’ Returns loyalty program.
On a recent stay, when he proudly presented his loyalty card at the desk, an employee delivered a little bad news: Because he’d found a discounted rate online, it didn’t qualify for points.
Hingst cut up the card right then and there.
The few remaining loyalty program fans have a ready answer for people like Hingst. Go ahead, they say, throw out your card. That just means more free rooms and tickets for us. But their responses suggest that these holdouts are missing an unsettling truth: They are witnessing the end of loyalty programs as they know them.
It might be a positive change. If enough travelers can break the loyalty habit, then the corrosive effects of loyalty programs on the travel industry could be reversed. In time, the division between haves and have-nots might even narrow, and perhaps all passengers will get decent service, regardless of the color of their loyalty card.
Source: The Dallas Morning News