And now, an angry rant…

Now – I’d normally chalk this up to a bad coffee, bad weather or a rough nights sleep, but none of these are the case. I feel absolutely fine, yet I find myself bewildered by a recent spate of airlines reducing seat size, slashing benefits from loyal customers and raising prices using points, making it even harder for people to cash in their mystifying “loyalty” currency. While the obvious finger to point would be directly at airlines, the story has become so repetitive, it’s beginning to feel like one of someone who knows they’re being cheated on – yet does nothing about it – over and over again. Which begs the question: are we passengers to blame for airline cuts?

Vote with your feet. Vote with your wallet. Those are the two simplest phrases used by wise travelers to describe any devaluation, service cut or other common airline issue we collectively face. Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me. Much like news et al, it seems that we’ve become so phased by bad news in air travel, we’ve stopped fighting it. Our preferred airline rips the benefits we care about to shreds and what do we do about it? We freaking go on their website, check our points balance and then look into paying for our next flights. In fact, we often then look to see if there’s a way to spend more money with them via a credit card or paid status challenge, just to secure the perks we once already had! If this were real life, and you just found your partner with another person, you wouldn’t be booking a holiday with them – so why do we just play along? This is real life after all!

Many call the state of current airline affairs the “race to the bottom” – and as it stands, we’re all lubricating the finely tuned racing machines. One airline cuts something – the world seems to be outraged, yet next thing you know, the airlines balance sheet goes up, and so do passenger numbers. So what does that tell the next airline? Let’s see how far we can take it. After all, they got away with it! And so then the next major cut comes, this time from a new airline. We’ll stop there, because that’s where the story should end. If we had any collective backbone, we would’ve turned our backs on the first airline that tested our patience. If we had, share prices would’ve fallen, yields would’ve dropped and it wouldn’t have signaled to every other airline on the planet that cuts are not only tolerated, but are also the way forward. We’re addicts.

But, but, but. Yep, there’s lots of ugly but’s in this equation. But if I switch to that airline I lose the chance of upgrades! But if I fly with the other airline, I may have to connect versus fly direct. If we really cared about this, wouldn’t we suck it up for a bit? When good news wins press, the airlines compete to deliver good news. This leads me to the key point: unless your benefits are tangible, they’re hardly benefits at all. The chance of an upgrade is not an upgrade. Just because you’re higher on the list doesn’t mean you actually get one. An extra baggage allowance is useless if you don’t check bags. Main cabin extra is pointless if you don’t fly economy. Having lounge access is pointless if you fly from airports without lounges. We must collectively stop trading on potential promises, and instead seek tangible, defined benefits only. We must weigh the cost of acquiring said benefits with the value received from enjoying said benefits. Promises just aren’t good enough.

Many airlines make more money off of selling points than they do flying planes. That’s a fact, and it’s worth a quick pause to reflect on. Too many stories of travel bloggers like myself experiencing extreme luxury via points and miles has fueled the airline points sales pitch. They sell you 50,000 points for $750, and there’s absolutely zero oversight to protect your investment. Today, those points may be enough for a one way business class ticket, while tomorrow, they can’t get you an economy seat. What other industry on earth sells goods, and then unilaterally changes the value, without any form of rebuttal or refund for the customer? Now don’t get me wrong – buying points can be fantastic. I do it regularly. But if I do, I burn just as fast as I earn. It’s the only way. I will never be the fool sitting on millions of points when the hammer comes down.

Are we to blame for airline cuts? You bet, but so are they. We can’t help but to entertain our natural desires to see the world and experience the best things in life. As the only people with airplanes, they’ve got us there. I can’t really see Beijing without hopping on a plane. We also must provide for ourselves and our families, and this is where airlines have become disingenuous. A customer means nothing to them. A corporation means everything. Most of the high roller tickets purchased on airlines are purchased by companies. They don’t care about loyalty, they care about price. The person flying on the ticket has no choice in the matter and just goes where they are told. Airlines are mistaking these two customers, and the good they can do to keep these niche customers with the will of the people – and that’s wrong.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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5 Comments

  1. Spot on. The last few lines are key.
    The airlines make money with business class tickets & corporations are the main buyers. They are driven mainly (eg, I don’t think they would do a deal with biman air unless desperate!) by price and connectivity.

    The passengers using these tickets have minimal to no say.

    Unfortunately as the majority of premium revenue tickets are purchased by corporates, the airline making things worse for their FF redemptions and status benefits doesn’t have much impact on these sales.

    They know that. You know that. This is here to stay. So I agree with you – ppl who have an option should value the overall benefit vs virtual ones through statuses that may not offer what one actually needs.

    I pay for my business class tickets. I’m sure I could have had some high status on one airline if I had sacrificed my comfort in 2-4-2 business class (we know which airline!). I don’t. Instead I fly premium airlines based upon route and price. This gives me a chance to experience my money’s worth.

    I use where to credit to try and maximise whatever I can. I know many ppl will be like why! But I just think some hope of future benefits are not worth ruining an expensive confirmed self paid trip.

  2. If it’s any solice, airlines will get crushed in the next economic downturn. Tons of capacity, huge commitments for new aircraft, hefty union contracts and higher fuel prices are going to come crashing down on airlines. They will be desperate for passengers, even in Y. I suspect. Airlines will be a lot more forgiving.

  3. I agree somewhat. If people weren’t focused on cost first then they wouldn’t cut benefits. But you are severely limited with switching airlines. For example, my local airport is BWI. Almost all of the flights out of BWI are Southwest. I hate flying Southwest but what choice do I have if I am flying domestically? They don’t have food and they don’t have assigned seats. Their flight attendants are the worst but not much I can do other than not fly domestically.

  4. I agree overall with your premise. The big problem is how to fix the situation. There’s a finite number of miles options, and even fewer viable miles options. When a program burns you and every other choice is at least as bad, what do you suggest? That’s my quandary, and I’m fairly certain that I’m not alone.

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