If you’re a subscriber to Joe Brancatelli’s website, as I have been for a number of years, you know he published an important article last week. His column, “The Brancatelli File,” for April 21, 2016, was entitled “Screw Frequent Flyer Programs.” Joe’s column sits on a subscription website, but let’s just say the gist of it was that he’s done inconveniencing himself for the sake of being loyal to an airline and its “loyalty” program.


Loyalty Isn’t The Same Anymore

I’ll admit that I’ve shared similar feelings here in the past, and I still feel the same way. Loyalty is a one-way street, be loyal to yourself. Still, while I support the underlying premise, and everything I’ve said in each of the articles linked to here, I think it’s important to say that loyalty programs still matter. If you live near the hub of a major airline, it is very likely that you are going to spend more time flying that airline than any other. You should participate in their loyalty program, if for no other reason than elite status will get you slightly better phone and IRROPS support, and certainly the off chance of an upgrade here and there.

Elite Status Still Matters But Not as Much as it Did

As you know, I’ve been experimenting with Alaska’s Mileage Plan as primarily a Delta flyer. For now, it remains mileage-based and management does not appear to be in some kind of fever to move to a revenue-based program…..yet. Given that I have a barely perceptible chance of an upgrade as a SkyMiles Silver Medallion, I suppose it might make sense to continue my experiment if all I cared about was earning the most redeemable miles possible. While redeemable miles do matter, consistency of service, and elite recognition when things go wrong count for something too. As long as I’m living in a Delta hub, I’m going to fly Delta more than anyone else so I might as well do what I can to maximize my Medallion status.

But in a clear demonstration of just how far we have come, nothing about elite status excites me… at all. I’d rather have it than not. If I transact enough with a certain airline to earn more elite status than I currently have, I might as well do what I need to do to maintain it. But I will not spend one penny on a credit card or some other vehicle over and above what I would otherwise just to say “I’m Kryptonite Plutonium” on any airline. Most importantly, I never book just one airline blindly anymore and there is no way I’ll eat much of a fare difference just to assure I have elite status. Frankly, I just stopped caring about it. And why should I when I can tactically buy things from trip to trip that make a transactional travel experience slightly better? First class fares are so reasonable in many instances nowadays that I don’t even think twice about just buying the seat vs. lighting some candle and praying for an upgrade I won’t get.

Yes, I still earn miles…. yes, I still care about miles, and I spend them every chance I get. There are very valid reasons to focus on specific airline programs, especially if you live in or frequently travel to a big hub city for one airline. But I’m done being emotional about airline loyalty programs. As I said over a year ago, the airlines have moved on, maybe we should too.

-MJ, April 25, 2016