At a time when every airline offers homogenous routes and services, is consolidating your loyalty with one airline still a worthwhile proposition?
I found myself pondering this 54 days into the New Year, when I had skyrocketed to 80,000 qualifying miles on Delta Air Lines, extending my top-tier elite status for the next two years.
Reaching Platinum Medallion in such a short a time was pathetically easy. I flew three international flights and three transcontinental flights paying about $5,000 for coach-class tickets, which were upgraded to first or business class on every flight.
Now comes the hard part. Should I stay with Delta or try another airline?
I started to wonder if the requirements for elite membership in loyalty programs had become too easy, reducing the value of my loyalty.
No airline is perfect, so it's certainly tempting to give another carrier a go. But instinctively, I also recognize that giving into temptation can be dangerous. So I mapped out the pros and cons of each route.
Here are the results.
Upgrades. By far the best reason for being loyal to an airlines is for the upgrades. My current loyalty has placed me at the front of the line for a shot at the good seats. In reality, any airline would favor my business and offer me elite status with noteworthy upgrading opportunities. But I would be establishing an entirely new profile with that airline, forgoing my long history of previous seat time.
Service. Second to being upgraded is the preferred service a loyal customer receives, and I can't criticize Delta too much for its service. However, temptation does set in when I read about the exceptional, service offered by other airlines including such amenities as Flat Bed Sleeper seats. As tempting as a quiet bed on a long flight sounds, I doubt that my initial entry into their loyalty program would yield me such benefits at the discounted prices I currently enjoy.
Relationships. Loyalty programs are all about building mutually beneficial relationships. Sometimes, it can be a really small thing that supports the relationship. For example, when a ticket agent puts my tickets into a ticket jacket I always give it back to her and joke that this might save the airline a penny and keep you flying. Think about this, if one million people did this, it could save the airline real money.
The key to a good relationship is continuity. In real life, becoming seduced by every temptress that comes along would result in utter chaos. In my opinion, this is the same thing as chasing the newest or latest loyalty program.
Whether you reach first-tier elite status, or ultra status, continued loyalty is the consumer's half of the equation, rewarded with upgrades, preferential service, and the occasional special reward.
I remain a passionate supporter of consolidating your travel business to build loyalty with a few quality travel providers, but there is a catch that we all should beware of. Elite status in the travel loyalty programs is beginning to go the way of premium credit cards.
Remember the day when a Gold American Express or a Platinum Visa Card made an impression? Nowadays, offers for these cards are sent to millions of homes every day. The real cachet comes from such cards as the American Express Black Card, which is only offered by invitation to a select group of loyal customers.
As elite membership becomes diluted with ease of entry, the worthy rewards will go to the devoted loyalists.
Instead of offering generic award, airlines and other travel companies will tailor exclusive rewards that will create purposeful incentive for their customers. For example, during a recent Hyatt Free Night Promotion I earned three free nights which due to the restrictions and other requirements had virtually little value to me. Hyatt offered me an equivalent but customized award more suited to my needs.
For me, the fun of chasing elite membership for this year is gone, but after all is said and done, I will keep my seat on Delta, knowing that someday I'll be offered something analogous to American Express's Black Card.

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