When Delta stopped publishing SkyMiles award charts a few years ago, their “hope” might have been to be able to push price increases through without getting noticed. However, the opposite has happened. Since removing award charts, Delta has been in a continuous drive of devaluation and there are several bloggers out there doing nothing else than checking award tables and reporting these changes. For instance, a roundtrip Business Class award ticket, Transatlantic on partner airlines, ran 80,000 miles not so long ago. The price has now increased to 120,000 miles – one-way. While this might not shock readers in Venezuela and Zimbabwe in front of their local inflation rates, all others should be advised that all SkyTeam partner programs represent a better value here in the meantime. Delta has definitely been the most successful major US airline for the last few years. However, they may stretch the patience of their loyalty members just a bit too much if this continues.
Just days after British Airways lost supermarket chain Tesco in its Executive Club, a new two-way conversion partnership with the coalition program Nectar was started. Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is the main partner in the program, but Nectar obviously provides customers added value, making this a real enhancement for the Executive Club. While Nectar points have a direct cash value for redemptions, you can actually achieve a much higher value when converting Nectar points into Executive Club miles and redeem under the Executive Club rules. Additionally, Nectar points provides a far cheaper option when purchasing Executive Club miles than any other option, at a “price” of 0.8 UK pence per mile. However, redeeming Executive Club miles at a lower value than 0.8 UK pence per mile – as it is, for instance, the case with the cash & miles offers – becomes a strict no-go for members in the UK since they can now transform miles to cash of that value by converting them simply into Nectar points.
Virgin Group has now fully launched its new loyalty program Virgin Red – but maintains Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club in parallel. Members need to enrol in both programs in order to receive the full benefits of both programs, however, only persons in the UK may enrol in Virgin Red. For Flying Club members nothing changes, but the integration with Virgin Red adds quite an interesting variety of new non-air rewards. Compared to other Frequent Flyer programs, the value of these non-air rewards is not catastrophic – but it remains far from the value you can reach with traditional flight awards, too.
While Norwegian received some support from the Norwegian government, which should help it to survive, albeit at much smaller scale, bad news for members of its Norwegian Reward program was just around the next corner: The program has been temporarily suspended until an undefined point (including all points accrual on Norwegian, but accrual with partners continues). When the program resumes, it is likely that a limit on the number of points you can use per booking will be introduced, this will help Norwegian to ensure a minimum of (real) cashflow. If you hold only a few points and you tend to redeem them continuously, you won’t really be impacted, but if you sit on a huge balance and you were really considering your points as cash, you will see limitations. However, if you reside in one of the many markets abandoned by the airline, which is dramatically down-sizing (not only through halting all its long-haul operations), you may not care too much since your points are, in practice, useless anyway as they can only be used as payment for Norwegian flights.
In many programs, the value of upgrade awards is at least questionable – but Etihad has just taken this doubt to new levels: After a branding of its fare categories, Etihad Guest members can now upgrade to Business Class by purchasing a ticket at the lowest fare category, Sale. But doing so doesn’t cost you just “a bit” more than redeeming your miles straight away for a Business Class award flight: For instance, a one-way upgrade from London to Abu Dhabi would cost 181,705 miles in conjunction with such purchased ticket in the Sale fare category. Costs for redeeming a Business Class award ticket start, however, at 62,500 miles – provided you are lucky to find a ticket at that price under their dynamic pricing system. But even with their award prices running an average of double the lowest prices displayed, these new upgrade prices still don’t make any sense. Yes, sometimes the pricing logic of airlines is kind of hard to understand…
02 February 2021
Norwegian’s announcement to suspend temporarily its Frequent Flyer Program comes as a shock to its members, but points to a dilemma many travel loyalty programs are facing these days. What is the best solution?
I’ve been passionate about aviation ever since I can remember and about FFPs ever since I started to think – yes, I am not one of these young bloggers, who were even not yet among us on 01 May 1981, when an idea of American Airlines was
Programs in Korea or Japan are not immune to program devaluations, the difference is they always provide huge advance notices to members for the slightest cutbacks. That’s also what Korean Air did when they announced in December 2019 quite a massive increase of award prices, notably on its partner airlines, to come into effect in its SkyPass program in April 2021. But this change has now been postponed until April 01, 2023 – as customers haven’t had sufficient opportunity to burn their miles since the initial announcement, given the events nobody could predict at that time. Let’s hope such customer orientation will also prevail when Korean Air merges with its rival Asiana Airlines and that the interests of frequent flyers of both programs will be well taken into consideration.
When Alaska Airlines joins oneworld on March 31, international members will find it more difficult to reach elite status in its Mileage Plan, by introducing the requirement of a minimum number of segments to be flown on Alaska Airlines. By joining oneworld there was fear that award levels would become less attractive, however, Alaska Airlines confirms that no changes to current award levels are planned for March 31 and that any future changes would be properly communicated with a 90-day advance notice. This leaves some interesting sweet spots in the program, notably low award levels with Cathay Pacific. It seems that individual award charts per carrier will be maintained, but will most likely be extended to cover the whole network of the corresponding (oneworld) partners. Today, many partners offer award flights to/from North America only.
Etihad Guest has lost several of its airline partners over the last few years, but the loss of Czech Airlines on January 31 will be particularly painful for many European members. As a matter of fact, Czech Airlines represents/ed one of the most interesting niche possibilities for the use of awards since award flights to/from Prague were available between 7,000 and 10,000 miles for a roundtrip from almost everywhere in Europe. This clearly represented an excellent value. It is our advice that you use the remaining time until the end of January to book such a flight, what can be done up to one year ahead of travel.