It is always a shame when the airlines make cuts to their loyalty programs. Certainly the value of the points in your accounts is likely to never be better than it is right now, but when the cuts happen they still sting a bit. Continental Airlines has been on a bit of a tear lately with cutting benefits from their offerings. These cuts are affecting both their most frequent customers – those with elite status – and the every day random customers as well. They really all pretty much suck.
So, what are the cuts in question? Some are relatively old news, like charging non-elites for the seats with more legroom. Of course, when they made that announcement they also made it clear that:
Extra legroom really means extra legroom. The seats that we’ll be selling have at least 7 inches of extra legroom. Specifically, our mainline aircraft will offer 10-12 extra inches on average.
So what happened in reality? They realized that they could also sell seats that have nowhere near that much extra legroom for more money, too. They’re charging for access to the bulkhead seats now on mainline aircraft, seats which have nowhere close to 10-12 extra inches. On top of this, those seats are now blocked from assignment prior to the day of travel. So even elites who can get them for no up-charge cannot actually book them in advance. This offers a small benefit to folks booking at the last minute as they have a chance for a decent seat, but it is a pretty raw deal for everyone else. I am looking at potentially flying to Los Angeles for a meeting on Wednesday and I see the bulkhead seats available but I cannot choose them. Not knowing that I can get a better seat has me seriously considering just skipping the flying and calling in instead.
Next up on the chopping block? Complimentary upgrades on flights to and from Lima, Peru. For the past several years (at least 5) flights between Lima and both Houston and Newark were eligible for complimentary upgrades. That benefit disappeared last week with the announcement that upgrades would now incur a mileage charge and likely a cash payment as well, depending on the fare paid for the ticket. What do customers get in exchange for this increase in cost? An ice cream sundae, assuming you’re going to Newark. There will be a minor upgrade in catering on the Newark flights. Folks going to and from Houston actually get nothing different than they do today, other than a guarantee that they’ll be riding in the back of the plane. The airline did actually upgrade everyone with a previously purchased ticket, essentially honoring the complimentary upgrades for folks who bought when that policy was in effect. This was a nice touch to be certain, but new purchases must pay the higher costs going forward. Sure, it is just one route, but that ice cream sundae is pretty damn expensive now.
Finally, there is the issue of their call centers. It was a few months ago that they announced their intention to shutter one of their three facilities, removing about 500 agents from their role. And now trying to get through to actually talk with someone is a tremendous challenge. Yes, the volcano is affecting a number of flights causing more calls than usual. But for a customer to be greeted with a recording stating that too many people are already on hold and that they should call back later, followed by the call disconnecting, is bad for business and bad for the customers. Sure, they’re saving a few bucks on the expense side of the ledger but the costs on the revenue side may eat up those savings and more.
Maybe it is no wonder I haven’t flown on Continental all that much this year. Sure, I’m still collecting points in their OnePass program, but I’m not particularly inclined to pay their asking prices for flights these days; the value simply isn’t there.
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