Let’s be honest, on some level, everyone who loves elite status in travel kind of loves to see themselves as George Clooney or Vera Farmiga in ‘Up In The Air’. It’s fun to be the mysterious, ultra-important customer who the seas part for. That movie made people who previously didn’t pay attention, pay attention and aspire.
This week, people are mad at Delta Airlines for being a little bit more overt about which people truly matter enough to them to open up the coveted velvet ropes and extend valuable perks going forward.
Unfortunately for most of us, we’re just not nearly as important to our chosen hotel or airline loyalty program as we’d like to think we are.
It’s ok — take a deep breath and stop being emotional. The best thing we can do is to be as rational with our travel decisions as they are with their customer decisions.
Emotion VS Metrics
In an AI driven, data analytics world, we travelers still operate emotionally with our loyalty and in my opinion, it’s becoming our fatal flaw. No tears have been shed by airlines or hotels over you deciding not to renew your elite status. You either hit the heavily scrutinized and modeled numbers, or you don’t.
Yet here we are trying to justify spending hundreds or thousands on a trip we don’t need, or staying on the wrong side of town, just to hit that next level of the elite status game. We potentially get a perk in return which may in reality be worth less than the expense extended just to achieve it or too much hassle to enjoy.
Everyone has their vocals with violin of “I gave X number of loyal years to this, or that” and they can sing with that violin all they want, but when push comes to shove, no one is listening, no one truly cares and those days are over.
If we approach each travel transaction with equal clarity as these loyalty programs we can still have fun and enjoy the ever changing games.
My advice here is simple: always earn — and don’t play stupid games.
Participating in loyalty is always better than not. At the very least, points add up to discounts, savings or perks. Even if you no longer hit elite status benchmarks you’d be a fool to not earn something.
If you’re going to continue to pursue perks or elite status, choose your battles with the precision and data these programs do. Find the best perks that fit the organic patterns of your travels and don’t be struck with FOMO (fear of missing out) for things like perks you don’t really need, or will struggle to redeem later.
Enjoy the freedom of picking the best hotel on merit, or the best flight on schedule. And yes, still earn points and status where you can, obviously, just don’t get caught on a hamster wheel if the cheese isn’t worth the calories.
I made a conscious decision not to chase any hotel loyalty, because I found that working with travel agents with Virtuoso and other benefits yielded equal, if not better perks and allowed me to remain a free agent, not beholden to any one group. I stand by that, for my personal travel. I still earn minor tiers naturally, but I’m not addicted to top tier.
To be fair, I’m not a top tier guest either. That’s me coming to terms with my true value to the programs.
Let this data driven “show me the money” era of travel loyalty be freeing. Don’t chase status just so you can feel some sort of superiority or stand in line ahead of others at the airport or hotel. Trust me, no one is really that interested in your shiny luggage tag.
The adjustment will be seeing that there are still benefits if you stick with a program — heck Delta gives free wifi to all Skymiles members — just perhaps not the level of benefits people believe they were e-n-t-i-t-l-e-d to.
People talk about swapping over to other programs, but most data points would suggest its hot air. Very few actually swap, due to the ever changing nature of the game.
If Delta truly has superior products, it’d also be self sabotage to leave just out of spite. That’s personal choice. It’d be easy to argue that Delta’s products will only get better as the top tiers thin out to only those who spend enough with the airline to justify truly premium experiences. Harsh world, but real.
I’ve long argued that if everyone is “VIP”, no one is.
The reality is, many people lamenting Delta’s changes, and recent changes from other programs were doing crazy things to earn perks to fuel some sort of emotional feeling or connection. The ones that hit it naturally really aren’t impacted.
Delta has made it clear that spending money on flights or their credit cards is what matters to them. If that’s cool for you, cool. If it’s not, enjoy the feeling of free agency. Take even a small step out of the echo chamber of frequent travel forum and you’ll be told plainly that the behavior of flying somewhere or staying somewhere just to earn something you may or may not be able to use, is mental. It’s nice not to be crazy.
In many ways its sad that the “games” around status are over, but in many ways it’s also just cutting the chatter of the philosophical arguments rather than the cold hard numbers which truly justify the businesses giving out the benefits.
People did too much to earn things they probably didn’t need, or could’ve easily lived without, and that overstretched behavior created this deeply emotional rub between programs and travelers.
Path Of Least Resistance
Most but not all people choose the loyalty program with the easiest route to the thing that they want. In a world of comparison shopping and price drop alerts, it’s natural to look for the best pathway to the best perk.
But is that loyalty? It’s a handshake driving some sales for sure, but is it driving the best sales or the mutually beneficial loyalty where both parties are happy to indulge each other in rich benefits without red tape or hassle?
If too many people are “VIP”, no one is.
The truth is that for any functioning business, expenses are justified by income and the completely fun and totally amusing, but also completely convoluted world of air travel elite recognition metrics we mutually created is done.
Flying on a $200 USA to Australia ticket back and forth — over and over again where the airline makes $1 off the customer, but that customer gets more perks than the person who spends $1000 to fly from New York to Washington DC every week is just wrong.
Those in the know loved “the game”, including me — but if you ask me, the games that were created are dead, or certainly calling for the defibrillator. When we put emotions aside, we know it just doesn’t make sense, even if we’d like it to.
The true “dream” customer is unfortunately for most of us, a truly high margin one. The more data that comes in, the more that can be tracked back to that margin for the business, the more the airline or hotel has to invest in the benefits.
Loyalty will only become more impressive for those who pledge that 360° loyalty to fly, stay and spend with one airline and hit lofty numbers, and for everyone else, enjoy the freedom of making logical decisions for each trip. There will still be perks, but they’ll be different.
In 1994, the Wu Tang Clan declared “cash rules everything around me”, and when we put the emotion aside, it rules everything in travel these days too.