Window shopping is an important factor in any life decision. When you pledge loyalty to an airline, you’re committing time, money and effort to give them your business. Shouldn’t they do the best to reward it? In our estimation – US frequent travelers are missing out on lucrative free perks, by using domestic US based airline programs, rather than programs for foreign carriers. Here’s why you should ponder a switch…
US based airlines have done a marvelous job monetizing their airport lounges, to the dismay of their own frequent flyers. Why? Because they’re not allowed in, unless they pay a yearly fee or leave the country. Even top tier American Airlines flyers are excluded from the airlines world class new Flagship lounges on domestic flights. But an elite member of a foreign loyalty program holding just OneWorld Sapphire status can access any Flagship lounge, even when flying domestic economy. The same could be said for Star Alliance Gold members.
It’s hard to make a case for the value of Delta SkyMiles. The program has done its very best to mystify their mileage currency in ways even the savviest travel bloggers can barely keep hold. At the same time, loyalty programs outside of the US have been devalued far less, with fewer credit card deals and easy ways to create points. Programs like Asiana, Japan Airlines and Korean offer consistently high performing points currencies, with aspirational ways to use points. Many airlines outside of the US also still reward miles based on distance, which can work in a travelers favor. This would apply, even on domestic flights on US airlines.
Surprisingly, not a single major US loyalty program offers points pooling, with the exception of JetBlue. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could combine the points of family members into one account? Many loyalty programs outside the US allow family members and people sharing an address to pool points at no additional cost. The benefits of such a system do not need explaining. You’ll just need to explain to your children one day how all those family trips didn’t amount to any miles!
In more than one instance, being a member of a foreign loyalty program yields better treatment and perks when flying in the US than the US counterpart! For example, as a British Airways Gold Member (OneWorld Emerald) you can access Flagship Check In facilities on all flights. Yes, even economy flights too. Members of all other airline alliances would still retain priority check in, security fast track access and baggage fee waivers too.
But What About Upgrades?
The big loss for US frequent flyers jumping ship is a decline in complimentary upgrades. Using foreign loyalty programs will bring you below most everyone else on any upgrade list. But each airline offers business programs, where travelers can simultaneously earn points for upgrades, while still using foreign loyalty programs. These upgrade instruments are not as meaningful or effective, but “free” upgrades are harder and harder to come by these days anyway.