FREQUENT FLIER

What to do when your airline betrays you

Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
To call Ron Giancoli a loyal US Airways customer might be something of an understatement. A sales manager from West Chester, Pa., he’s flown on the airline — which recently merged with American Airlines — almost exclusively for the last three decades.

“I flew US Airways even when it wasn’t the lowest price,” he says. “I flew US Airways even when it was a less convenient schedule.”

Giancoli says he’s been an elite-level customer for 27 out of the last 30 years. He stuck with US Airways through good times and bad, through bankruptcies, reorganizations and customer service meltdowns. In exchange for his loyalty, US Airways offered him upgrades into more comfortable seats and award tickets.
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It’s the end of the airline industry as we know it

Hope/Shutterstock
Hope/Shutterstock
Airlines don’t exist.

I came to that somewhat Magrittesque conclusion after hearing from Julie Eisenberg, a loyal United Airlines customer who last year spent $1,700 per ticket to fly her partner and herself from Washington to Sydney.

For just $600 more, plus 30,000 miles, United promised her a chance to upgrade into a slightly roomier seat. But the ticket agent she spoke with failed to mention that there were no guarantees and that the money and miles would be deducted from her account then and there, many months before her flight.

“The only way I can get the miles and money back is to cancel my upgrade request,” she says. “They will have possession of the money and the miles from the date I booked, on May 10, 2013.”
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Why the phone is every frequent flier’s best friend

1-TimAtLAX (1)Tim Winship will probably forget more about travel loyalty programs than you’ll ever know. He spent two decades life managing marketing for Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and Hilton. “I was a spectator and a participant in the birth and evolution of travel loyalty programs,” says Winship. As both a loyalty program manager and a frequent business traveler, he says too many travelers misunderstood mileage programs, “and therefore failed to use them to their best advantage.” So he founded the popular website Frequentflier.com in 1997 to help ordinary passengers maximize their miles, making him one of the first loyalty program bloggers.
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Why can’t I change the name on my frequent flier award ticket?

Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com
Delta won’t make a name change on a mileage ticket, endangering one family’s cruise. Can this trip be saved?

Question: I recently booked four tickets between Milwaukee and New Orleans using my Delta SkyMiles so that my husband, son and my son’s friend could fly to our cruise port. All was well, but then my son’s friend’s parents decided that they would not get him a passport, as they had promised, so we had to make changes to the cruise and the airline to accommodate a new guest.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was great about making the change — just some correspondence from our travel agent did the trick. However — and I think you know what is coming — Delta is refusing to make a name change. Its policy is never to make name changes. Delta offered to allow me to re-deposit the miles for a $150 charge per ticket, and then let me re-purchase the ticket using SkyMiles. But the cost for the ticket has quadrupled, going from 25,000 miles to 100,000 miles.
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Using frequent flier miles to escape from New York

Litteny/Shutterstock
Litteny/Shutterstock
Felix Chan’s parents are stranded in New York after a storm. They can’t get back to Hong Kong because he used miles to pay for their ticket. Are they stuck?

Question: My parents, who are visiting me from Hong Kong, are scheduled to travel on Cathay Pacific later this week from New York to Hong Kong. But their flights were canceled because of a hurricane. Here’s the problem: Both of their tickets were redeemed using my British Airways points. And those tickets follow a different set of rules.

A Cathay Pacific representative told me that since this is an award ticket issued by British Airways, there is nothing Cathay Pacific can do and that I should work with British Airways, who issued these two tickets.

I then proceed to contact British Airways over the phone, where the representative told me that all they can do is search through the Cathay Pacific “award inventory” and they do not see anything for another month. I did ask if they can try to rebook my parents on British Airways or another airline, but they were turned down.
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Are loyalty programs worth belonging to?

Aleksandar/Shutterstock
Aleksandar/Shutterstock
It’s time to question one of the most basic tenets of travel: Everyone should participate in an airline loyalty program.

A tectonic shift in the world of travel rewards is forcing passengers to reconsider their allegiances — or whether it’s worth being loyal at all. Given the already hopelessly convoluted nature of these programs, I’m surprised it took so long.

Frequent fliers have been hardest hit. In recent months, both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines revised their programs so that only the biggest spenders get the best perks. Soon, flying often won’t be enough to reach an airline’s coveted elite status. Expect more companies to follow.

Experienced travelers are taking a hard look at their loyalty portfolios. They don’t always like what they see.
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Why loyalty programs are dead — and why that’s good news for almost everyone

Gui Jun Pen/Shutterstock
Gui Jun Pen/Shutterstock

Loyalty programs as we know them are dead.

After years of playing the game, frequent customers like John Peppin are saying, “enough is enough.”

Peppin, the director of a medical center in Lexington, Ky., said he wondered about the endless bait and switch airlines pull — demanding absolute loyalty in order to be treated with a little dignity.

He often flies to China on American Airlines, to which he has given his business in exchange for the possibility of an upgrade to business class.
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