The next bubble? Travel loyalty programs


Did anyone pay attention when Robert Shiller warned about the real estate bubble or Nouriel Roubini sounded the alarm bells about the impending global economic crisis? Probably not as much as they should have. So feel free to ignore this one, too: travel loyalty programs — and particularly airline programs — are a bubble. And it may be about to pop.

All the signs are there. Delta Air Lines’ recent, precipitous devaluation of its loyalty program is just the latest. Your hard-earned frequent flier miles now die with you, and can’t be inherited by your next of kin. (Yes, Delta can do that.) This follows a wholesale downgrade of its SkyMiles program. Several hotel chains, including Marriott and Hilton, have also decimated their programs in the last few weeks.
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I probably can’t help these customers, but should I still try?

paris2If you knew you were a consumer advocate but knew you probably couldn’t help a consumer, what would you say?

For example, if you heard from someone like Donna Hamilton, who is looking for a refund on French taxes, how would you respond?

Hamilton made two purchases on her credit card in Paris last year. You can get your French “value-added” tax refunded if you’re leaving the country, and there are several services that help you, refunding the purchase directly to your credit card.
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