Commentary

Is United’s new frequent flier program created for wealthy rocket scientists?

Frequent flier programs have always been complicated and at times seemingly irrational, even for frequent fliers and travel agents.

But United’s new MileagePlus program takes it to a whole new level, since travelers who care about both Elite Status and award tickets now have to consider three different numbers for each trip.

No joke. And two out of three of those numbers are not obvious.
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Is it time to ban batteries in the air?

Last week, KLM flight attendants put out a fire in an overhead compartment caused by a lithium-ion battery in passenger’s hand luggage’ on flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok.

Mobile phones, laptops and tablet computers are powered by lithium batteries.

A KLM spokesperson said the incident occurred when the Boeing 777 carrying 321 passengers plus crew was taxiing to its gate at Bangkok International Airport after flying in from Amsterdam.
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Do seductive frequent flier programs hurt competition?

If you’ve ever done something for the miles, like Rick Brown has, you probably know the dilemma.

Should you shrug off a higher fare, a less convenient routing or consistently bad service for the promise of a “free” flight?

Brown, who runs a trading company in New York, has done all that — sticking with his preferred carrier, United Airlines, even when the airline struggled. He’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on airfares for himself and his family during his career, “more than on any other airline,” he says.

Research suggests many consumers are similarly seduced, and that the siren song of loyalty programs can lure them into booking a substandard product. The debate is particularly intense now, with United’s’ controversial loyalty program changes taking effect this month. It becomes the latest airline to reward customers based on money spent instead of miles flown.
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