a plane with a table and chairs

I’ve long held a theory in loyalty that the travel booker in the household is under appreciated by airline loyalty programs.

It’s not intentional or mean spirited, but it’s often true. The current system for rewarding travel doesn’t move the needle the way it could for a significant number of customers who buy big, but not often.

Mind you, I say could move the needle here, not necessarily should. That’s because I could also see this proposal causing lawsuits and divorce.

a room with a couch and chairs
LONDON, UK: British Airways’ Concorde Room at Terminal 5, London Heathrow on 07 November 2017 (Picture by Nick Morrish/British Airways)

4X A Year, Or 1X A Year X4?

I’ve shared this conundrum during previous engagements in the industry and always find it as a fun icebreaker for thoughtful discussion. Typically, someone buying four international premium cabin tickets a year will earn airline elite status of some sort.

The fundamental question is: why is a person who buys 4X business class tickets per year rewarded with some level of mid to high tier status, but someone who buys 4X business class tickets for the family, but only travels once, not rewarded?

What if there was a better way to allow the travel booker to choose how the earning mechanism for elite status is shared amongst the booking group, or not shared at all?

Money Talks All The Same, Right?

Someone buying tickets for a family of four is often going to be traveling during fairly peak travel times and therefore spending pretty heavily on that purchase. In fact, if you look at the numbers, it’s often more per ticket than a deal focused flyer might spend all year. 4X bargain tickets rarely equals 4X peak season tickets.

In the most basic financial sense, the once a year but 4X expensive ticket person is actually often more valuable. Intellectual arguments for plenty of other factors are fair.

The counter argument to my argument is that this person traveling once a year is spending with you anyway, so there’s no real point to rewarding them for that one off. They’re buying the experience they want, so nothing else matters and you likely won’t get more out of them by dangling the loyalty carrot.

I counter that with: what if there IS actually more to that travel booker, if they’re finally rewarded for choosing your airline?

Or — what little gesture might keeping them from peeking across the tarmac and wondering if their close friends who always rave about another competitor might be right? If it were my airline, I’d want that person locked in for life. What if there is a second trip, knowing that there is more to earn, or that their loyalty has been recognized?

If you actually think about the shift to revenue based programs, the way Delta, United and American have significantly skewed, this metric of accounting hits spot on, we just don’t allow people to move the proverbial slider with how the reward metric for elite status is shared on a booking.

“Hello Travel Booker, would you like the rewards from this trip shared equally among the group, or divided in another way?”

an airplane on the runway

Fair Arguments, Hairy Details

Personally, I’d love to be able to supercharge my elite status by claiming the elite status credit of my dependents, or someone I pay for. The tricky bit is in who has authority to then make that decision, and is it arbitrary?

If my significant other was to wise up to the value of the perks I’ve earned when they travel solo and realize they have no perks, would they feel duped by the travel booker? What guarantee can an airline have that the person who ticks a “I have the consent of the other passengers to take all their earnings” actually has that right?

My more libertarian side would say “hey, they ticked a box, their problem” but the real world can be far more complicated. I could easily see kids growing up, reading a blog and wondering how they weren’t already at lifetime status. Seems fair enough that the person spending the money get the reward to me.

Lawsuits and divorce certainly sound possible if airlines were to allow status credit for one person across multiple tickets based on who makes the booking, but since those things are always on the table anyway… what’s stopping airlines from trying it out?

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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  1. Delta has made changes to make you happy
    When you book for 4x people with your reserve card you get 4×0.1= 0.4 in your skymiles elite qualification

  2. I’m glad to not go down this slippery road.

    My status is primarily driven through airfare purchases that my company makes on my behalf. Your suggestion means that my company as the buyer would get to keep the travel credit from my flights.

    On the other hand… we should not be surprised when some entity figures out how to tax the travel credit that is bought on our behalf.

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