A subset of the frequent flyer blogiverse has been lit up over the new US Airways shopping mall, and the changes that it’s implied – the Dividend Miles shopping toolbar no longer works to award frequent flyer miles (for online purchases or for internet searches), Amazon.com shopping no longer earns US Airways miles.
Here’s one typically take from Flyalog, “US Airways Drops Amazon.com as a Partner” … only that’s not exactly right.
US Airways hasn’t dropped Amazon.com because despite the shopping portal’s use of the US Airways name, it wasn’t before and isn’t now actually run by US Airways and neither US Airways nor the Dividend Miles program selects which merchants are going to generate frequent flyer miles.
Instead, US Airways works with Skymall who contracts out to a technology provider. Previously that vendor was FreeCause. That contract is no longer in place, so they have a new provider and a new name for the venture, Dividend Miles StoreFront.
The new provider is Cartera Commerce, which also runs the American AAdvantage and Delta Skymiles shopping portals.
FreeCause was responsible for a pretty colossal screwup where they didn’t just make an offer inconsistent to the terms under which they’d be paid by web hosting company EasyCGI, they stonewalled, pointed fingers, and were generally unresponsive to members’ questions — and even, as I understand it, to prompting by US Airways Dividend Miles. I have to wonder whether this experience had anything to do with US Airways and FreeCause parting ways.
The new vendor, Cartera Commerce, is hardly free from screwups — they were responsible for too-rich Verizon Wireless offers that they didn’t honor but that they handled much more promptly, proactively, and generously than FreeCause did with their EasyCGI offer. They communicated with members rather than stonewalling, arranged product refunds, and offered goodwill mileage awards and incentives for future purchases through their portal.
It’s important to understand that while these programs can be rich and rewarding — for activities and purchases you’re going to undertake anyway — that the process is hardly transparent and fraught with potential problems.
You aren’t really dealing with your favorite mileage program at all but rather with a separate company who gets paid by online merchants for the business they refer, and then they buy miles from the frequent flyer program to rebate to the consumers making those purchases, pocketing the difference.
And when the technology screws up, or the mileage mall merchant makes an offer inconsistent with the terms under which the online store will pay them, it’s the consumer that doesn’t get anything. The mileage mall only pays when they get paid, and consumers not only don’t generally know who they’re dealing with but don’t get especially good customer service most of the time from the mileage mall vendor, who makes money on a large number of small transactions with low margins (since they’re rebating much of their profits to the consumer in order to generate that volume). Customer service is an expense that the vendors often don’t invest in because the economics don’t support it.
FreeCause still manages the Hawaiian Airlines shopping portal. They still have a relationship with Amazon, which Cartera Commerce does not. So you can still earn 1 Hawaiian Airlines mile per dollar spent at Amazon, and those miles transfer 1:2 into Hilton HHonors. So earning for Amazon isn’t dead.
But it’s not really right to say that US Airways stopped offering miles for Amazon purchases, it’s just that they’ve changed relationships to another shopping vendor and that vendor doesn’t currently have an affiliate marketing relationship with Amazon.