View from the Wing criticizes United’s new complimentary beverage policy for Premier 1K and Global Services members because it might mean fewer drinks overall. Basically, a new policy in which drinks are provided to those customers on every flight suggests the end of complimentary drink coupons, which could be saved or shared with other passengers (e.g., if the elite member usually gets an upgrade or pays for first class).
I understand the point Gary’s trying to make, that this could be viewed as a net devaluation of the MileagePlus loyalty program. However, I think he’s got the wrong idea of what a free drink policy is meant to accomplish.
A coupon policy says, “This is how much your loyalty means to us: 10 drinks. You better remember to bring those coupons with you or you won’t get one.” It’s not really about recognizing the customer. It’s about checking a box. Other airlines have free drinks? Fine, here’s your free drink.
The new policy recognizes a top-tier passenger who, for whatever reason, didn’t get an upgrade and still sits in coach. It provides an opportunity for the employee to greet the passenger, thank them for their loyalty, and provide an equivalent benefit with more personalized service.
It doesn’t matter if the line is cheesy:
Good afternoon Mr. Johnson, as a Global Services (or Premier 1K) customer, I’d like to offer you a complimentary beverage today.
American Airlines and Alaska Airlines already do this — American for its Executive Platinum members and Alaska for its Gold and Gold 75K members. American throws in a free snack, and Alaska sometimes offers a chocolate bar. But I never really care too much about my choice. What matters as someone who flies 50,000 to 100,000 miles a year on these carriers is that they appreciate my business — and many of the employees sound very sincere when they make the offer.
To me, loyalty is less about a list of benefits and more about valuing the customer through excellent service. Even great benefits won’t be appreciated if they are delivered with a scowl.
Gary suggests this isn’t such a great change:
- In future years, Premier 1K members may not receive coupons that they can share with a friend.
- In future years, Premier Platinum may not receive any drink coupons at all.
- Premium wines aren’t included. (I’m not aware of any airline that does include them.)
- There’s still no snack, which American and Delta provide to their top elite members.
To these complaints, I just say Gary’s missed the point. Free drinks aren’t supposed to be about free drinks. They’re supposed to be about recognizing the customer. The only flaw I see here is the absence of a free snack, but it’s still an improvement. I’m glad to see United finally adopt this policy.
But all of you are the frequent flyers, so which policy would you prefer?