As I write this, I’ve already resigned to the fact that this will be a largely unpopular opinion, but an opinion it is, nonetheless. My thesis: there must be an equilibrium between customer and travel brand desires, and people complain too much about erroneous things. As someone who feeds daily deals and travel opportunities, I’ve somewhat come to know what people want, and more and more, they only want things that are free, and easy. That’s totally cool, but free doesn’t fly planes or build hotels. A balance must be struck.
Wanting free is totally natural. It makes perfect sense, and I am part of this. Truth be told, sometimes I want free too. I offer up daily deals and actionable info on how to get the most bang for your buck or points, anywhere in the world. I am, in many ways encouraging people to become customers, but in some ways, to become “bad customers”, if there is such a thing. People want extreme deals and so do I: the more bang for the buck or points, the more readers. No one is flying over to our site over $1000 economy fares. Long story short- everyone needs customers, but should good customers have more clout and voice?
Should non paying customers, or once a year customers have the same complaining rights as returning paying customers? This is tricky. In a way, I say – absolutely, yes. There are standards and if you ever want to attract a repeat customer, or turn a once a year customer who uses points into a paying customer, you must offer the same level of service and professionalism to all. On the other hand, is it fair to complain about things you’d never pay for? Like Beluga caviar, or Dom Perignon on a free ticket? I, say no. Sure, points can be seen as currency, but the airline cannot cash them at the bank. Points are precious, but you have choices. If experiencing caviar is what you care about on your free ticket, do your research and find out who consistently offers the best. Service should always be the same for all, no doubt, but what about the intangibles?
Natural competition will always dictate better and worse offerings, and we as customers will always seemingly have a choice, so if we are unhappy, is it really our fault? If we were regular customers, we might have a baseline of what to expect. I receive countless emails from people who go to great lengths to never pay for anything, yet are absolutely furious when said things are no longer as they once were. I wonder why? There must be a balance in the relationship if we want nice things to stick around or to deserve the right to gripe about them.
This is the crux of why I am torn between a desire for everything cheap and free, and actually becoming a good customer whose extravagant uses of points are reward for many flights entirely lacking extravagance, or just continued loyalty. Travel brands need us, and we need them. If an airline disappoints on my free flight, it may cost them my business on paid flights, therefore I see both sides of the coin. Travel brands must be at their best at all times, full stop.
As an engaged, often paying customer, I think any voice is magnified. So be a better customer. Even gripes about first class champagne may actually reach someone, since you’re not just the person who plays the game once every few years, but someone who flies whenever possible with the airline. You instantly become a voice of concern. That’s why I find frequent traveler gripes to be very fair.
I now want to be a customer that when things go wrong, a person behind the desk looks at my record and says – “wow, this guy engages with us a lot. Let’s see what we can do”. That’s just not going to happen as a once every few years customer who only sleeps or flies for free. In fairness, it shouldn’t. If there’s one last seat, the better customer deserves it. But at the same time, a bad customer is still a customer and better than no customer at all. My verdict: if you want the best from a brand, enjoy the freebies, the cheapie’s and all the other stuff, but sway your loyalty to them and spend with them sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with paying for stuff, every once in a while.
Dwindling benefits and lost discretion undermine the entire point of this story, and in fact – they actually push people to become bad customers. If we feel scorned by our favorite airline, will we take the lower competitor fare? We just may. And the same goes for hotels. There’s a fine line between frequent travel and free agency. And there’s a fine line between expecting a great experience, and complaining about caviar service, when you’ve never bought caviar before.