The Somewhat Relentless Push to Revenue-Based Frequent Flyer Programs And Why I Think That Makes Lifetime Status More Valuable

View From The Wing has a synopsis on what is starting to seem like an inevitable change to revenue-based frequent flyer programs by the legacy domestic US carriers.

Shockingly, I’m really not a big fan of revenue-based programs.  While most of my fellow road warriors prefer to “earn and burn” I’ve always preferred stockpiling points.  My strategy’s not for everyone.  Because I travel a lot for business, it’s not always easy to plan trips ahead of time.  So, sometimes my trips come in batches and I like to have enough points that I don’t have to think about compromising on a destination or not being able to travel comfortably.

While that strategy hasn’t really hurt me in the past, a move to a revenue-based program with no grandfathering of an old award chart would be pretty painful for my mileage balance.

I’ve had plenty of discussions about revenue-based programs in the past, but this most recent conversation has me thinking a couple of things.  First and foremost, Gary and Joe Brancatelli are probably right that business travelers will enjoy the new program more than mileage-runners or casual travelers.  That doesn’t mean business travelers will necessarily be happy overall.

Second, I think this actually increases the value of lifetime status with the major airlines, assuming the legacy airlines don’t go ahead and void their lifetime status programs.  A good example is the access to the seats with extra legroom.  If award tickets generally become more expensive, a logical change to someone with my travel patterns might be to use more points for premium travel internationally while foregoing a premium cabin on shorter domestic or international flights.  Personally, I still think I’d be spoiled enough to pay the difference, but I could see people using this scenario.

If they flew a million miles on United and held lifetime Premier Gold status, they’d have access to Economy Plus seating for free.  And, American has intimated that Platinum status passengers will have access to Main Cabin Select (their second iteration of more legroom in coach) for longer than Gold passengers.  It’s probably a permanent benefit of that status level, but way too early to be sure.

Additionally, if an airline were to make a move to a hybrid program with both revenue and traditional mileage hooks, higher status will likely still maintain some earning or redeeming perks.  The reason I’ve been pushing hard for lifetime status is so that I have some benefits left when I’m finally done traveling that I can share with my family.

I strongly recommend anyone who travels a lot for a living (or for fun) try to focus that flying or hotel stays in a way to achieve some sort of lifetime status.  While maintaining status in multiple programs now can make the road warrior life a bit easier, I would argue you’ll be a lot more miserable later on if you have no lifetime status at all then you would be on that occasional flight with an airline you don’t have status with right now.  I do believe it’s worth investing some pain now in favor of that long-term benefit

Revenue-based programs will most likely damage my mileage hoard (or cause me to change that strategy).  But, if the airlines aren’t too unkind to us legacy flyers, I might still have some reasonable comfort from my lifetime status.


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