There’s been a lot of noise in the miles and points space of late. It’s been building for months, but things seemed to hit a whole new level when Delta decided to hide how much award travel should cost. Admittedly, I rarely looked at the award chart, but that’s because I tacitly know what Delta charges for award travel. I still know based on experience, and if my memory gets a little fuzzy, one doesn’t have to look very hard to find archived copies of the award charts right now. Then, there was the little note from Southwest, the airline that carries more passengers domestically than any other, that it was making a change to Rapid Rewards in April. Hey, at least they let us know.

The reaction to all this has been fairly predictable. A good bit of spleen-venting on the message boards. Some threats to do this, that, or the other, in response, etc. I am sure it offers some cathartic relief, but does it really help? I have said this a lot here, but I’ll say it again – do what’s good for you. I’d estimate my travel splits to a ratio of around 75 percent business and 25 percent personal. I live in Atlanta. I’m going to fly Delta. I’ll fly Delta, tomorrow, in fact, and I’m not even disappointed about it. But you know what? I’m also going to fly some other airlines when it makes economic sense. While I suppose one could argue that this is precisely why airlines should have loyalty programs and incentivize us to send that little bit of business their way too, I’ve come to see some of the changes that are taking place in frequent flierdom as more “freeing” than “disrespectful.” To put it another way, I’m not sure Delta (or any other airline for that matter) needs my little bit of extra business all that much at the moment, or yours, and they are acting accordingly. We shouldn’t be surprised, and I think I’ll act accordingly as well. (Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

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Could business conditions change? Could airlines suddenly become desperate for us to fly them again? Sure. The question really is whether or not a newfound trait called financial and capacity discipline is a fad, or a lasting thing? History indicates the airlines will go back to their old ways because they always do. I’m a lot less convinced than some that the “good ole days” of miles by the bucket load will ever be back. But what to do about it in the meantime?

A certain amount of my travel is going to happen whether I collect a mile or point or I don’t. I will make decisions based on three criteria: 1) Convenience (which includes schedule); 2) Comfort; 3) Price. Only then, will a mile or point loyalty program come into play for me. My advice to a purely 2x or 3x a year leisure flier – if you have the time and motivation, there are sweet spots in loyalty. Credit card bonuses to be earned, and spent, etc. Other than that, for day to day spend, I wouldn’t bother worrying about earning a particular airline mile for my spend. I’d focus on one of the flexible points currencies like Ultimate Rewards, Arrival Miles, SPG points, or….wait for it…..cash, which is still king no matter what anyone says.

-MJ, February 22, 2015

Back from snowy Boston, and off to snowyish Cincinnati next week. Good times! :) But at least my upgrade cleared. First complimentary upgrade from Delta since September, which is quite the dry streak. I’m getting a little too used to sitting in coach. Just sayin’. Here’s a look at the last week of posts here at MJ on Travel.

Enjoy your weekend!!

-MJ, February 21, 2015

AAdvantage and National have teamed up with a handy bonus mile offer. If you rent a car for 2 days or more between now and June 14, 2015, you can earn 1,000 bonus miles and receive a 25 percent savings. The key to your discount and your bonus miles is using contract ID 5031007 and ensuring your AAdvantage number is attached to your rental reservation.

aadvantage bonus miles, national car rental, aadvantage contract ID

Here are the terms attached to the email I received about the offer: Offer valid through 6/14/2015 in United States and Canada. Discount applies to base rate only. Discount varies by rental date, location, and vehicle type. National Car Rental collects a Frequent Traveler Recoupment Tax Surcharge to cover the cost of the miles awarded at the time of rental. Additional miles accrued, award issued and bonus offers are subject to the rules of the AAdvantage Program. Please allow 6-8 weeks after completed qualifying activity for bonus miles to be posted to your account. Taxes and fees related to award travel are the responsibility of the renter.

-MJ, February 20, 2015

Delta Air Lines is out today with a new baggage delivery guarantee. If your checked bag doesn’t arrive on the carrousel in 20 minutes or less, Delta will give you 2,500 SkyMiles for your trouble. Alaska has had a similar timeliness guarantee for some time, and I’d wondered if Delta might come up with something to compete. In my experience, Delta does an excellent job of delivering bags to the carousel in a timely manner. More often than not, when I check a bag, it’s waiting for me on the carousel in Atlanta.

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Alaska’s guarantee features the option of 2,500 miles or a $25 travel credit, which I think I’d prefer. Miles are a relatively low-cost apology, but tend to be something people appreciate. Delta’s offer runs through March 31, 2015. As Lucky opined earlier today, this is likely some kind of test. Operationally, Delta seems to be firing on all cylinders. If my baggage checking experiences are any indicator, they won’t be paying out very many bonus miles. No matter what, I think it’s a good gesture, and I’d like to see other airlines do something in this regard.

-MJ, February 19, 2015

 

Today, I took my first Southwest flight in nearly 3 years. Atlanta – Boston was the route, and I have to say it went well. Unlike a lot of the bloggerverse, I’m not looking to “break up” with Delta or any other airline. I enjoy flying Delta, and appreciate the level of care I receive as a Platinum Medallion. I am, however, not convinced loyalty for the sake of being loyal in the face of the new reality of SkyMiles 2015 and everything else going on within the airline industry is the smartest course of action. (Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

southwest airlines, atlanta, rapid rewards, companion pass

Today, I saved several hundred dollars without any impact on my quality of life or any other drain on my time. In return, I got reliable transportation between two points on a map in perfectly reasonable comfort. Every Southwest employee I interacted with was courteous and pleasant. Our flight was not only on-time, but early departing and shockingly early arriving. Inflight service was pleasant and plentiful. I’d hardly gotten through half my coffee before refills were offered. Inflight wi-fi was not blistering, but fast enough. I had an exit row seat on the aisle, and ultimately wound up with the entire aisle all my own.

When it was all said and done, I got reliable transportation delivered by courteous people. I don’t know that I’d relish the thought of flying Southwest to Hong Kong, but on a 3 hour flight or so….they work. They work so well that I can promise you and Southwest, I will be back.

-MJ, February 18, 2015

“Passbook wishes come true” was just part of the greeting from Southwest Airlines on my iPhone app update page this morning. Overnight, Southwest rolled out an updated version of its iPhone app.

southwest airlines, iPhone app, passbook

The biggest change seems to be integration of the app with Apple’s Passbook. Of course, since I’ve only recently booked my first Southwest flights in years, I hadn’t caught the fact that the airlines iOS app did not play with Passbook. Looks like Southwest and I are flirting with each other just in time because I love Passbook, and use it for all of my airline boarding passes.

My first iPhone check-in was a success with the new app. In truth, the hard part was done for me as I sprang for Early Bird Check-In on this early morning flight.

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Score! Following my advice on calling Southwest and entering my Known Traveler Number worked for getting PreCheck on this flight. Better yet, there’s now the familiar “Add to Passbook” button I’ve come to expect from every airline app. With a click and an add, my boarding pass was now waiting for me along with my other Passbook cards.

southwest airlines, iOS, iPhone app, Passbook

southwest airlines, iOS, iPhone app, southwest mobile boarding pass, passbook

The bottom line – Southwest rolled out an update to its handy iPhone app overnight which added Passbook functionality for the first time. It worked well for my check in, and I am looking forward to see what other technology updates Southwest might have in store for travelers. Southwest’s Android app is available here.

-MJ, February 17, 2015

Late last year, I took an incredible 11-night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas. Yes, I’m aware that I still owe you a review of the cruise. I’ve had my reasons for sitting on that for a bit, and it looks like my strategy has proven wise. Quantum went through some new ship glitches on start up, but from everything I can tell, management has given the ship the attention needed and things have improved. Yes, my review is coming soon. In fact, it’s almost done.

For the record, I loved Quantum of the Seas, and everything about her, including Dynamic Dining! But more than anything else, I thought the entertainment on board was a cut above any other cruise. One of the incredible shows onboard is Starwater. Unique for sure. Worth seeing? Certainly! Enjoy this video presentation of the story behind Starwater.

I’ve written a handful of posts about Delta SkyMiles in the days since the award charts disappeared. Most recently, I promised I was almost all talked out when it comes to SkyMiles and #AwardChartGate. So here we are at my last words on the topic of disappearing award charts and the path that Delta is taking SkyMiles until, of course, they actually say something about where the program is headed. I don’t wish to debate the merits of mileage- vs. revenue-based programs, though you’re of course welcome to do so in comments. What I really wish to do here is offer some unsolicited advice to Delta Air Lines. Yes, I know, they are just beside themselves waiting to hear from me.

First, I think it’s a safe bet that SkyMiles 2015 is here to stay. We’ve seen what earning looks like with the revenue model. As for burning, I think SkyMiles went revenue-based the day they went to a three-tier (later five-tier) award chart, but I digress. I know it’s not quite the same. Assuming Delta is about to foist a purely revenue-based burn model on us, my best advice to Delta Air Lines is this – be honest and upfront about it. I don’t get how anyone thinks it’s possible to keep secrets in airline pricing land anymore, so just say what you’re doing and stop the obfuscation. If you weren’t ready to go all the way, you should have left the award chart in place. Once you’ve settled on what you want the program to be, then tell everyone. Yes, communicate! Communication is something that seems sorely lacking from SkyMiles of late.

I suppose my “if I were Delta” moment could be summed in one simple phrase – tell the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, some may not want to hear it. However, if Delta has decided to “go there” when it comes to SkyMiles, then telling the truth is the best advice I can give. All the half measures followed by the silent treatment are not working.

-MJ, February 16, 2015

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This week flew by even though I spent all of it in the office. This week I’m back on the road, weather permitting. I’ve heard rumors of a winter weather “event” in Atlanta. That’s never a good thing. One thing I’ve learned in the few years I’ve lived in Atlanta – we don’t do winter weather all that well here. Keep an eye on Monday and Tuesday if you’re flying from/to/through ATL. Delta has a storm policy out. With the weather as a backdrop, let’s look at the past week here at MJ on Travel. A week in which the biggest news was a big Southwest Airlines marketing push right here in Atlanta.

Enjoy what’s left of your weekend!

-MJ, February 15, 2015

Yesterday, Southwest announced a pretty awesome offer to Atlanta residents. Fly three roundtrips and get a Companion Pass for the rest of 2015. Registration is required. Visit southwest.com/atlanta for details. That’s not a small deal. For those of you that never leave our airport, Atlanta people tend to be one of two types – ITP or OTP, that’s inside the perimeter or outside the perimeter, the soul-sucking stretch of highway that surrounds our city also known as I-285. :) For the record, I’m an ITP guy, but I do occasionally venture out. One thing I noticed on my drive about town today is that Southwest has purchased most of the available billboard advertising available. OK, “most” may be an exaggeration, but believe me when I say that they have dropped some marketing money into Atlanta of late.

southwest airlines, atlanta, rapid rewards, companion pass

All of this has left me to wonder what will Delta do? It’s no secret that this is Delta’s hometown and largest hub. Delta’s schedule frequency is far better than Southwest’s, but I can’t help but think that Southwest’s latest marketing efforts are going to have some kind of an impact. While I suspect that Delta sees its core local customers as not likely to defect to Southwest, I have to wonder if all the changes at SkyMiles will lead some to flirt with Southwest? Delta has the local corporate market locked up I’m sure, but what about everyone else?

I’m going to speculate that Delta sits tight for now to see if they notice any market share shift locally? If they do, look for some kind of promotion in our future here in Atlanta. Do you think Delta will respond in some way to Southwest’s latest Atlanta campaign? What do you think they’ll do?

-MJ, February 14, 2015

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