The 26th Annual Freddie Awards, presented April 24 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, highlighted what frequent travelers deemed excellent service while also bringing up several facets worth further discussion.
The awards recognized loyalty
programs offered by airlines and hotels in five categories each, across three
regions of the world, as well as one affinity credit card in each of the three
regions. Winners were determined by approximately eight million frequent
travelers who chose to vote for their favorite airline and hotel loyalty
programs, a fact event organizers were careful to point out.
“We’re not giving you any
awards; you’ve earned those awards,” Gary Leff, master of ceremonies and
co-founder of Milepoint.com said. “I’m simply offering the thanks that your
customers have for the good things that you’ve done over the last year.”
While each category had its
winners and losers it was noteworthy that, in many cases, the winners and
losers were separated by a razor-thin margin.
“If you look closely at some of
the results, it was down to four one-hundredths of a [point] difference between
first and second [places]; they were very, very close,” Randy Peterson, founder
of the Freddies and editor of InsideFlyer magazine, told me after the
Statistically speaking, that’s
a dead heat.
Petersen cited a couple of
take-home messages from voting that close.
“In the Americas, there were no
clear favorites; nobody won everything, so there’s a lot of parity within the
industry out there which means it’s always up for grabs,” Peterson said.
“Customers are very finicky,”
he added. “Every day, each program here has to earn these awards.”
While American Airlines
(NYSE:AAL), Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), and Columbian airline Avianca
divided top honors in the airline categories for the Americas region, other
airlines were named as finalists.
However, conspicuous by its
absence was United Airlines’ (NYSE:UAL) MileagePlus program, a fact that didn’t
“If you look at other types of
reports – quality reports, on-time stuff – they’re still down at number six or
seven,” he said. “They’ve got a long way to go.”
Another facet worthy of note is
the recent change that Delta Airlines (NYSE:DAL) announced it would be making to its SkyMiles®
program, moving from a mileage model to a revenue model for flights after
January 1, 2015.
While Delta’s plan to move to a
revenue model garnered a fair bit of criticism, that approach seems to have
been well accepted by customers of Virgin Australia Airlines; its Velocity
frequent flier program swept the airline categories in the Middle East and
“I think that’s the trend:
rewarding customers based on what their spend is on the airline rather than
using fare classes as a proxy for spend,” Tom Alberts, airline partnership
manager for Velocity, told me. “I think that’s the model that airlines
eventually will go to across the board.”
In the interest of accuracy,
Velocity is actually a hybrid program. Within Australia, the program’s rewards
are based on points per dollar spent; internationally, it is distance-based.
What will the future hold? As
always, that is difficult to predict but there is little question that recent
activity within the industry will play a part in future outcomes.
American Airlines, whose
AAdvantage Program® won both
Best Elite Level and Program of the Year for the third consecutive year in
2014, recently merged with US Airways, a move that could affect American’s
“US Airways [Dividend Miles
plan] doesn’t ever make the top four,” Peterson said. “Once they blend those
[programs] together, will that hurt American Airlines … or [will they] really
hit it out of the park and win a Freddie award for both membership groups?”
Stay tuned. The 2015 Freddie
Awards, which will be presented in Atlanta, are less than a year away.
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