Thursday, February 14, 2008

US Air Cuts Mileage Benefit. It's For Your Own Good!

Cutting benefits is a perk! Yeah, that's the ticket.

My jaw drops when I see an announcement like this from an airline, in this case US Airways this morning (italics mine):

As part of out continuing efforts to provide valuable benefits to our frequent fliers, US Airways is making a change to our Dividend Miles program …”

Surely, you’d think, while this announcement is going to contain some PR jive, there must be some arguable small benefit for US Air’s most loyal (and profitable) customers hidden in the palaver. I mean, they say this is part of a continuing effort to provide valuable benefits.

Uh, nope.

Starting May 1, passengers who fly trips of under 500 miles no longer will get a 500-mile minimum credit, the announcement says. Instead, they’ll get credit for the actual number of miles flown. (Most major airlines credit a passengers with a minimum of 500 miles for any trip.)

If anyone has an explanation for this move — which seems certain to infuriate some of US Air’s most loyal customers, while providing very little benefit to the airline itself that’s evident to me — I’d love to hear it. Maybe I’m missing something.

Let’s say I’m a loyal flier on the US Air Shuttle between LaGuardia and Washington, a trip of about 200 miles. As of May 1, I will no longer get a 500-mile credit for each trip. Instead, I get credit for less than half that.

By the way, the current roundtrip US Air Shuttle fare between LGA and DCA is $679.

My response, if I’m that customer: Amtrak here I come. I-95 here I come.

As part of its “continuing efforts to provide valuable benefits to our frequent fliers,” US Air also is slapping a $50 per ticket “quick ticketing fee” on award travel booked online within 14 days of departure.

I just don’t get it. Why do airlines persist in putting out public announcements couched in language that is an obvious attempt at deceit -- on the level of a prevaricating seven-year-old? Do they really think we can’t see this baloney for what it is?

Earlier this month, United Airlines pulled a similar stunt. United blithely sent out an announcement that passengers buying nonrefundable tickets (read: most of us who aren’t traveling at the last minute) would have to pay $25 for a second checked bag. (Which used to be free).

United began the announcement of the new fee with these words:

“As part of its continuing effort to offer customers choice, flexibility and low fares, United is announcing a new, simplified checked bag policy …”

Now, compounding the idiocy was the fact that most of us don’t routinely check bags anyway, and very few frequent travelers check a second bag except on very rare occasions.

If United had simply said, in effect, “Fuel costs are soaring; the weight of those extra 50-pound bags each member of the Clampett Family insists on carrying on affects our costs, and we reluctantly need to charge a fee for that second bag in order to keep fare hikes under control …” — most of us might have seen the point even if we didn't like it.

Insulting your passengers’ intelligence is unwise.

But wait till the merger (s). You’ll be reading more about the “benefits” coming your way.

PS: Here are two sample comments about the US Air move this morning on

"I just called UAMP about this since I fly the shuttle twice a week and they indicated that if booking as a United codeshare you would still get 500 minimum. The trick is not to book as true US in which case you'd get actual flight miles flown."


"So fuel is only expensive on flights of less than 500 miles? "


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