Balloting for the Freddie Awards has begun.
- For 17 years, frequent travelers have been asked to make their picks for the best frequent travel programs via the Freddie Awards. Introduced by InsideFlyer magazine publisher Randy Petersen in 1988, the Freddies allow consumers to rank airline and hotel programs from their point of view. The awards have grown in stature and importance and are the most prestigious consumer-generated awards in the industry.
The nice thing is that the Freddies are voted on by hundreds of thousands of real travelers. I get rather sick of having to roll my eyes at the hotels and airlines that claim to be world’s best this and that as determined by an award they’ve funded themselves. When a program wins a Freddie Award they tend to trumpet it pretty loudly.
I’ll share some of my own thoughts and votes with you, in hopes that I might influence some of the votes out there by the power of persuasion. Of course I have no vested interest in the outcomes. I just want good programs to be rewarded.
The award that is most important to me is Best Elite Level both for airlines and hotels.
This one is a little bit tricky, though, because I think there’s a big difference between the best top-level in the elite programs and the mid or bottom tiers.
Undoubtedly the best top elite level among North American airlines belongs to American, followed closely by United. If I were giving a third-place vote for best top elite level it would go to Alaska.
American gives unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades to its 100,000 mile flyers, and eight one-way international upgrades each year that are good on any fare.
But if I were a first or second-tier elite I’d rather be a member of the Northwest or America West programs because of their unlimited complimentary upgrades and the extent to which the programs deliver on those upgrades to all elite members and not just those at the very top.
On Best Award Redemption I’d give the nod to American, Alaska, United, and Delta in that order — fully recognizing that American got a bit tighter this year at least anecdotally. Alaska does a really good job with award availability, and has strong partnerships, but is somewhat limited in its own route network. United has gotten far more difficult to redeem an award with — less availability (or just greater demand for the same capacity), and reducing hold times from 14 days to 3 (down from 30 days just a few years ago). Nevertheless, Star Alliance awards really keep them in the running.
Northwest and Continental are just awful at redemption on their own metal, but their partnerships allow you to redeem on carriers that actually do make awards available. So their miles are worth something. But the gutting of the Northwest chart especially this year deserves a major kick in the pants.
I wouldn’t give the award to Southwest even though they’ve managed to eschew capacity controls. Southwest simply don’t provide the kind of awards I would ever want.
Best Affinity Credit Card ought to belong to the Starwood Amex, followed by Diners Club.
I’d give Best Website to Northwest, with honorable mention to Continental for their new award availability calendar. American might be up there, but there’s a lack of detail on some of their award rules. United is just downright unreliable. Alaska and Southwest deserve mention for their simplicity.
Best Newsletter just isn’t important to me. The category this year was expanded to include all member communication. That includes emails, but unfortunately most programs haven’t figured out how to communicate effectively online.
Best Customer Service? I love the folks at Alaska. Continental actually deserves some small mention for finally creating an actual elite desk. No doubt Southwest offers good customer service, but I have no direct experience.
On the hotel side of things, Starwood should win Best Elite Level because they offer suite upgrades and tend to deliver on the benefit. Marriott even took upgrades to suites out of their elite program. Starwood offers the best award redemption, by far. But I only hope that they don’t win best website again, because their web work is so unreliable. On the other hand, Hilton only just introduced online award redemption a year ago. So there isn’t much competition.