Business travel is down this year. There is no one arguing that fact. The carriers are all looking for ways to boost their numbers – thus far reasonably unsuccessfully – and it seems that there are a couple different approaches to the situation in play.
On one front, Continental is offering a stealth price guarantee program of sorts, with a $50 change fee on all transatlantic flights for the first 30 days after purchase. So if the fares drop within a month of the purchase you can get the new price for a $50 fee rather than the normal change fee of $250+ on those fares. Decent motivator, but not spectacular.
On another front, American Airlines is leading the charge to try to build up their elite passenger base with fewer miles flown through a repeat of their Double EQM Promotion from last year. The rules are simple enough. Fly between March 18th and June 15th and earn double EQMs for all flights on AA, American Eagle and American Connection. The bonus is only for EQMs, so no extra reward miles that can be redeemed for anything, but it still isn’t a horrible deal. Oh, and United is “expected to match” later this afternoon, though I’m not sure really who is expecting that or why. But that may happen.
I struggle trying to understand how this type of promotion is really good for the carriers in the long term. On the one hand, making passengers feel more welcome by giving them more benefits should drive customer loyalty. That would translate into a customer who knows that they are only going to fly 50K miles this year choosing one of the double EQM programs since they’ll get top-tier benefits for their no-so-top-tier flying pattern. On the other hand, however, it means a potential swelling of the elite ranks, which makes it difficult to truly provide distinctive service as the number of people at that tier is greater. If everyone is special, is anyone actually special?
I have no desire really to hit elite on AA or United. But I can see how this would be beneficial for a lot of folks out there with travel budgets that have been slashed who still want keep their status. Of course, if you’re not really traveling I’m pretty sure that the status is of little value, but that doesn’t seem to figure in to the calculations. And there is always the forward looking aspect of elite status, since flying today is really about earning status for next year, when travel numbers might be up again.
I’m going to be top tier again in my two programs of choice (Continental and bmi) and I’m pretty comfortable with that. And I can do it by taking advantage of the “normal” quirks of their programs rather than needing the double promotions.
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