a row of seats in an airplane

Airline perks earned as a result of loyalty have traditionally been classed into two forms: “always on” benefits and “choice” benefits. The latter refers to things which are one off opportunities, like choosing an upgrade or a gift-able lounge pass, whereas the always on benefits are things that apply all year, on all trips.

In an attempt to harness greater loyalty — and greater spend along with it — airlines have gotten better at making many perks a game of choice. If you always fly business class and don’t need upgrade certificates, you can choose other things, and so forth. Smart airlines are going further, adding day of travel benefits like helicopter transfers and better security experiences too.

But there are still many benefits which are bolted on, not at all about choice and are designed to create simple satisfaction on the airline you choose to stay loyal to and all their partners. Quite often, these benefits are the ones I’d love to trade away for just about anything else.

Here’s a look at the first one I’d ditch, and why it isn’t as easy as people might hope.

a man and woman standing next to luggage

I’d Love To Trade My Extra Baggage Allowance

I have top tier status in both SkyTeam and Oneworld and love most of the benefits I receive from each. Lounges come in handy for me on long international itineraries and dedicated wings at my home airports are stellar.

If you’ve ever seen me in an airport without my family though, you will never have seen me with more than a carry on and a backpack. I don’t often check any bags, let alone “extra” bags, as my loyalty benefits would allow.

In a perfect world I’d so gladly trade the “extra” baggage allowance from the circa 50 times I fly in a year for virtually anything else. A few lounge passes for friends, a drink voucher for premium pours or some credit towards ancillary or partner fees. Anything!

This is a benefit that’s simple to offer and valuable to some, but is absolutely not of any value to me, which makes it less of an effective play for my loyalty than any other perk.

And My “Y” Seat Anytime Offer

As soon as I say this, I’d imagine there will come a time when I’ll actually want it. But — I don’t see any time in the future where I’ll want to use my “perk” of being able to book a fully flexible “Y” economy fare and get on a plane, even if its sold out.

For those not as into fare codes, a Y fare is truly the most expensive economy fare offered and can often cost more than business class, or even first class itself. It’s a fully flexible ticket, but if you’re in the need to buy one, you probably don’t need flexibility but do need a seat. In this instance, it can often be better to just buy whatever is available, which may not require a fully ‘Y’ fare.

a bar with a bar and chairs

Why I Won’t Get My Way Anytime Soon

The problem with my dream of trading away a “bolted on” benefit for something else is airline alliances. They are the best for many things, such as global connectivity on one ticket, a network of shared airport lounges and fast tracks and points earning, but for anything that involves I.T. they are a total mess.

It’s hard enough for one airline to get their IT right, let alone disparate global airlines with different tech stacks and different stages in their multi lifetime journey into tech competence.

It’s really hard to get airline alliances to get someone’s bolted on benefits to properly reflect across all airlines without throwing any new customization or opt-outs into the mix. Basically – consider it a miracle that your frequent flyer travel benefits from one airline properly show up on another within an alliance.

Brand new systems would need to be created to allow agents from different airlines to see what’s been opted out or traded and a more real time system for whether those new perks have been consumed would also be a part of that. That might as well be a new route to Mars, for now.

Airlines Could Meet Halfway With Their Own Members

Being able to get personalization across an alliance isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but an airline with whom you directly have status could, and really should make more of the game convertible or a matter of choice.

The hard thing here is that a benefit which isn’t used by some, such as the added bag allowance benefit for me, costs the airline nothing. If they were to offer me something in exchange that I’d definitely use, there would be a cost there.

Unfortunately, this is the modeling scenario used for these kinds of decisions in airlines and why it’s so hard to get a great benefit to stick, or to trade low cost benefits with clear modeling for some that might cost more.

This is precisely where I’d love for partners to step in. For a partnership, there’s more opportunity for the partner to fund part of the benefit. This is often the case with things like Blade, or CLEAR and I’m here for it.

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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