My friend, DeltaPoints, wrote a very interesting post this morning on the point of loyalty. I’ve opined on the topic from time to time, usually with a different take than my fellow BoardingArea bloggers. I am sure some of that is steeped in the fact that my formative working years were spent in the employ of a very large airline. As a manager, it wasn’t necessarily in my job description, but I made a point to get to know our top customers. Back when you could enter the secure area with just a confirmation of a flight, I made sure I printed the boarding passes of some of our top customers and personally handed it to them after they cleared security. These were the folks one knew would be there every Friday at 5PM, I had dealt with personally for years, and I as an airline manager wanted to ensure they knew that I and my employer appreciated them. In short, that was how I rolled, and that’s what I would do today if I were still there.

On the other hand, I think it is important to make peace with a few facts surrounding the airline industry in general, and their loyalty programs in particular. Airline loyalty programs were created in a day when 65 percent load factors were great years (or Christmas), and a mile was a relatively reliable indicator of value. In the years since AAdvantage first appeared, a lot has changed. I’m not sure there is a word to describe airline pricing, but the airline business in general is structurally different. Airlines have discovered profitability, even in the face of challenges like high oil prices, bad weather, and a hit or miss economy. That’s not to say that the next terrorist attack, bird flu, or whatever won’t create challenges…they surely can/will. But airline managers are better equipped and educated in experience to deal with the fallout.

In the end, I’ll just leave you with the comment I posted on DeltaPoints.

“As you and I have discussed before, the meaning of loyalty in airline parlance is changing. While I penned “Make Loyalty a One-way Street” on my own blog, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the perspective of others. Many of us find ourselves wishing for days gone by. On the flip side, I have to wonder why a business relationship with an airline should be any different than your relationship with the corner gas station? Airlines provide a service – safe transportation between two points on a map. That is all. One thing I rarely see mentioned is the absolute fact that the mileage programs we have today were created in a time when 65 percent load factors were considered a banner year. The math no longer works.

I am of the opinion that if an individual is not being reimbursed for a significant portion of their travel, they should not care about elite status, or the fallacy of being loyal to anyone other than themselves. Fly what makes sense. That isn’t always the lowest price, but more often than not includes product, schedule (the amount of your time spent), and then price. For others, that order may very well be different, but that’s how I look at things. Living where I live and traveling the way I travel right now, it absolutely makes sense that I unapologetically fly Delta. The “romance” of all this is long gone. Do what’s good for you.”

Yes, do what’s good for you….and that may mean some change in your travel loyalty habits.

-MJ, May 2, 2014