I’ve had it. I’m done. Done.
I’ve been disappointed too often, spent too much time and energy giving my undying loyalty to an organization that promised me there would be something at the end of the rainbow.
I was assured the latest “enhancements” were for my benefit. They would make things better. All would be well.
Yet here we are, at the beginning of another year, and all is not well. I’m disappointed yet again. It feels like the only thing your business cares about is money. Well, I’m sorry, but my loyalty is not free. You’ve let me down too many times and I won’t do it anymore. I’m making it official…
I am no longer a Miami Dolphins fan.
What, did you think I was talking about something else? Maybe you assumed I had decided that Delta had gone too far with their revenue-based revisions to SkyMiles? Or was it United that upset me with their brainless copycat changes? Or American and/or US Airways which I’m sure will be awful once Doug Parker is done with the merger and has time to blow up the AAdvantage program?
We’re at the start of 2015 and witnessing some of the most drastic changes to the legacy frequent flyer programs in decades. And as always happens when loyalty programs make major changes, there’s a great deal of grumbling and threats to take our business elsewhere.
But guess what? You’re not going to do it. Really. You aren’t.
You’d like to believe you have that kind of flexibility and control, just like I’d like to believe that I could move on to another football team. Perhaps there’s a very small number of you out there who can actually make the switch.
But when it comes to airline loyalty, just like my beloved Dolphins, we just can’t quit you.
Remember the good old days?
Ever since I was 12 years old and growing up in South Florida watching games with Dad, I’ve been a Miami Dolphins fan. Those were the Dan Marino years, when the Fins were owned by the Joe Robbie family. That was a well run team. Playoffs every year, an occasional Super Bowl appearance. You know, a team you could really root for. Dad even got us a season ticket package the first year the team was in their brand spanking new stadium. We were loyal to our Dolphins and they rewarded us with wins in return.
This was also roughly around the time when, if you were flying, you would come to the airport with a piece of luggage and the airline would check it for you free of charge. Really! Airlines would (correctly) assume that if you were going on a trip that lasted more than 48 hours, you might need to bring a few extra clothes. Maybe even so many clothes that they wouldn’t all fit in your backpack. Then you’d get onto the plane and there’d be so much room between the aisles that you could comfortably sit down even if you were taller than 5’8″. I know, right? Isn’t that fantastic?
Well, you’re not going to believe this next part, but once you got into the air, the airline would actually bring hot food down the aisles. Yes, for everyone. Even the folks in economy. Granted, it wasn’t great food, but at least it was an actual meal during a multi-hour journey.
Yes, back then there were reasons to be loyal to a football team and even an airline. It was a business but the people running it still acted like they actually cared about you. It was nice. Life was good.
That was then. This is now.
But eventually Dan Marino retired without ever getting us that championship ring. Don Shula stepped down as coach and even Jimmy Johnson moved on to TV. In their place came a long slog. Years and years of mediocrity. An owner change. Then another. Maybe an occasional playoff appearance here and there. But make no mistake — my team hasn’t delivered in decades.
Around the same time, airlines decided that the folks in economy didn’t need room to put their legs. The hot food disappeared, replaced by an abysmal drier-than-cardboard prepackaged sandwich (and somehow they’d only bring enough of them for 7 people on the plane anyway). Soon enough they were charging for that aforementioned abysmal sandwich, along with everything else that might not be completely nailed down in the cabin.
And don’t think for even an instant that an airline has a responsibility nowadays to transit not only your body but also your belongings. Forget checking even one bag for free. You can’t check any. Not a one. It’s your job to either pay $25 extra or figure out how to stuff 8 days of clothes into a carry on bag big enough that everyone in the cabin can argue about it before takeoff.
The way airlines treat customers today is as soul crushing as the Dolphins’ win-loss record. The only reason to be loyal is in the hopes that you’ll be elevated above the masses, that you might catch an elite-level glimpse of the old way of doing things. Maybe a hot meal in an upgraded seat. Or a waived baggage fee.
Yet the airlines keep taking and taking. Elite status now comes with spend requirements. Redeemable miles are tied to airfare. It’s just money, money, money. No one cares anymore.
When everyone is mediocre, then no one is.
In football there are losers, which by definition means there are also winners. I could choose to root for a more successful football team, one with better ownership, or one which just doesn’t make such stupid decisions. I hear the Houston Texans are up and comers. J.J. Watt. Non-idiot ownership. That sounds promising.
But the travel industry is monkey see, monkey do. There don’t have to be winners or losers. Only average. Everyone can just be average.
Once the first airline cut hot meals and reasonable legroom without consequence to their sales, the others soon followed, and we had ourselves a race to the bottom. We can threaten to take our loyalty elsewhere, but to where? Who else can we turn to?
That’s why we’re trapped. Held captive by geographically convenient hubs and a relentless focus on low ticket prices, even if it means hiding the actual costs in a bunch of tacked-on fees. A few of these fees might be warranted but most of them aren’t. Does it really cost United $200 to put redeemed miles back into your mileage account on a cancelled mileage ticket?
You can pick a better football team. But is there a better airline than the one you already have?
Unfortunately, probably not.
The Devil’s Advocate admits he’ll always be a Dolphins fan.
Earlier this week the nitwit owner of the Miami Dolphins hired a castoff failure from the New York Jets (an even longer suffering team) to run the football side of the organization.
And at that moment it occurred to me… why am I bothering? Why do I continue to support a team that has no idea what it’s doing and crushes my heart and soul year in and year out?
Because I do. I just do. It’s my team. They make me angry, but I’ve got a long history with them. They were good to me in the past. One day they’ll be good again. They have a young, promising quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. Jarvis Landry is a great rookie receiver. The offensive line improved this year. These are the glimmers that keep me coming back.
Maybe the same is true for you. Maybe Delta’s your airline and SkyMiles 2015 is the last straw… but you can’t stop appreciating their clean planes and generally well run service.
Or maybe you’ve just about had it with United… but they’ve always got the most nonstops out of your home airport of San Francisco.
Or maybe you’re a US Airways elite who doesn’t understand this newfangled AAdvantage 500-mile upgrade system and is looking around for options… but American’s going to be the only airline still handing out redeemable miles for the distance we actually fly.
So you stick around and tell yourself… I’ll give them one more year. I’m sure next year they’ll be better. Next year they’ll make my loyalty mean something. Next year they’ll finally appreciate their fans.
Next year’s the year. I just know it.
Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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