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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Bother?

Tried to book an airline rewards flight lately?

My experience, spread over the last three days, has me ending my relationship with my otherwise preferred provider.

First, you need to get acquainted with the terms & conditions. This includes the standard blackout dates, limited seat availability, and a host of other rules designed to shift rewards travel to off-peak routes and dates, or to prevent you from successfully booking an awards reservation entirely.

Heaven help you if you are arranging travel for others, and want to share a trip with them. No one – not even Southwest – has the ability to combine an awards and non-awards booking in a single transaction. How difficult can it be to use the awards portion and leave a balance to be paid by credit card?

A terrific indicator of how likely you are to be satisfied with the encounter, the “awards travel tips” are, in order:
• Search alternate dates
• Search alternate times
• Search for alternate airports
• Search a different award level

In other words, don’t count on getting the time you want, the date you want, the city you want, for the price you want.

If this was an isolated incident on a single airline, I would chalk it up to poor customer service, ditch provider, and move on. Unfortunately, each rewards program is a virtual carbon copy of each other.

The unimaginative airline industry has mee-tooed their rewards offerings like they’ve mee-tooed every other aspect of their experience. (It always amazes me that they behave the way they do and complain about being commoditized by their customers.)

If the airlines are using rewards programs to develop a loyal customer base that could save themselves the effort and cost. Roll up the programs entirely, reinvest in making core operations work.

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