Over on my travel consultation, Soulful Adventures Travel, I wrote about being loyal to one airline or travel brand. The only one I find easy to follow myself is Southwest’s Rapid Rewards, and that’s only because my husband and I use that credit card.
Even if we didn’t have the account, we would probably still stay pretty true to Southwest because we just like a lot about them. Some of the reasons:
- No change fees for flight reservations
- No checked bag fees
- Decent fares
- No charge for regular drinks and small snacks
- No fees for preferred seats, lavatory use, or breathing oxygen (of course I’m kidding for that last one, sort of for the second)
But here’s a surprising thought. More American travelers aren’t staying loyal to one airline. That’s likely because travelers are looking for deals instead of points.
This report, from the travel marketing site Skift, also suggests that Americans truly don’t fly much, versus driving. When they do, finding bargains is significantly more important than sticking to one airline or in an alliance. Further, many of these travelers don’t believe that airlines provide them with many benefits and thus reasons to go with a particular company.
The other problem is constant change in the frequent flyer rules. Airlines often cut back on benefits. Some have reduced the extras and bonuses you get when you fly with them, such as free checked baggage or access to a lounge. Others, like American and Alaska, have ended alliances that help out travelers on both airlines. These kinds of shifts have discouraged travelers from staying true to one airline.
In an article from Forbes, the author Larry Olmstead writes that travelers who still adhere to frequent flyer are more interested in gaining status levels than earning perks. The reason is fairly obvious. A status level brings more long-term benefits than just a one-time free flight for a travel companion, a complimentary stay at a hotel or something similar. In turn, these features may likely inform travelers on which program to choose.
But the harsh truth is even more basic. Most air travelers don’t feel obligated to travel with one airline or alliance, because they simply want a good flight deal. The luxury perks promoted by airlines are mostly available to affluent and business flyers and less often to the casual leisure customer. Those high-end benefits – such as individual seats that fold into beds and gourmet meals – appear out of reach for most flyers.
What does all of this mean for you, the casual middle to upper-middle class traveler? My guess is that until the market dictates otherwise, I would go for better deals that sticking to one airline…in most cases.
I realize that I’m somewhat contradicting myself here, because I declared that my family and I fly Southwest whenever we can. But we like Southwest because it mostly fits our travel needs. More important, we can always find great deals when we need to fly.
But I really don’t see any reason to be loyal to others. Many of these airlines charge you for things that you really don’t expect. Then your once smashing deal on a flight to New York or London becomes a sticker shock experience that unexpectedly drains your account. I’d much rather know what I’m getting upfront, rather than finding out how much more have to pay as I go.
What do you think? Do you stay loyal to one or two airlines, or do you shop around? Are most frequent flyer programs becoming less accessible to all? I’d love to know what you think, so share your thoughts below.