There was a time when choosing a “budget airline” meant traveling with the Southwests, JetBlues and Frontiers of the world.
It was an affordable experience that actually had the feel of a boutique rather than a big box brand. The flight attendants were friendly, the customer service was on par with the rest of the industry and the perks for frequent fliers were so worth it.
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.
If you don’t like some of the recent changes to your airline loyalty program, talk to Mike Croswell. He’s a United Airlines “Million Miler” who assumed that his three decades of devotion to the airline would be reciprocated after he stopped being a frequent flier.
He assumed wrong.
“The money I spent chasing Million Mile status is without a doubt the poorest investment of my career,” says Croswell, who lives in Aspen, Colo., and joined United’s frequent-flier program, MileagePlus, in 1983. “I have zero benefits that were promised to me.”