… because Christopher Elliott is just so darned compelling.
Oh, wait, he’s played the ‘quit your program, miles are worthless’ card before. I rebutted him then. And he’s still wrong. Brazenly, shockingly wrong.
Frequent flyer miles offer an amazing value for those that are paying attention to how to make the most of them.
For those who are casual consumers, they are $20 bills on the sidewalk waiting to be picked up at little to no incremental cost and for activities you’ll undertake anyway.
Sure, folks can make errors in judgment about their value. But the prescription for that is to provide better information, not misinformation designed to encourage people not to bother.
Instead, though, Elliott says:
My advice? Don’t just say “no,” but, as an old coach I knew at the Naval Academy would put it, say “hell no!”
In fact, I’d recommend you to take it one step further. You can do this right now. Remove all the frequent flier cards from your pocket. Grab a pair of scissors, cut the plastic into tiny little pieces and toss it in the trash.
Stay away from mileage schemes, my friends. They’re nothing but trouble.
Elliott goes on to say that anyone with elite status is just hurt and confused. So I guess my actual arguments should just be ignored in favor of his hyperbole.
Frequent flier programs are like pyramid schemes in at least two important ways: First, only a few people at the top of the scam benefit in any meaningful way. You see these elite-level cardmembers perched in their first-class seats, sipping their mimosas, while the rest of us do the perp walk to the back of the plane, where we wedge ourselves into those ridiculously small economy class seats.
See, here he confuses elite status programs that reward travelers who fly a certain amount on an airline (by giving them upgrades and other privileges) with the frequent flyer program where you earn and burn your miles for rewards.
Sure there are crossover issues between the two, such as programs giving incrementally more mileage award seats to their elite members (sometimes only in coach, and almost never on their airline partners).
But on the whole this just brings a bit of good ‘ol fashioned Romney-style class envy to the debate; a way to get non-elites jealous at their counterparts who get upgrades, feeling left out. When the best advice for them would be entirely opposite what Elliott offers.
And second, many of those elite program apologists will do anything to defend the system that has rewarded them, the chosen few who excel at the mileage game. They argue incorrectly that loyalty programs are good for anyone. When that line of reasoning fails, they backtrack and claim that if you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll benefit by belonging to their little club (also almost always wrong). Finally, when they’re cornered, they resort to ad hominem attacks against anyone who criticizes their beloved frequent flier programs.
I say: bring it.
Consider it brought’n!
See, once again, any argument that frequent flyer miles are good for consumers (or at least that it’s better to accept miles than to fly without a mileage number and forego what’s being offered to you at no additional charge) is based on self-interest (‘defend the system that rewarded them’) when most frequent flyers would just assume ‘kettles’ not collect miles and thus not compete for award seats or use their miles to compete for upgrades! An elite frequent flyer member arguing in favor of others’ using miles is an argument against interests.
But how does the ‘line of reasoning fail’ when all that’s happened so far is a bit of class envy without argument? Elliott suggests critics are even wrong that a frequent traveler ‘benefit[s] by belonging to their little club (also almost always wrong).’
Wait… I thought it was only the frequent traveler who benefited from the ‘pyramid scheme’? Elliott never even tells us why it’s wrong that frequent flyers beenfit?
And then any argument against him is simply an ad hominem attack. Because that category includes things like ‘reason’ and ‘logic’.
So what are his arguments?
- “Reward programs promise you a “free” flight after just a few trips or by signing up for a scammy credit card filled with hidden fees. …Even if you stumble across a “free” seat, airlines forget to mention that you might have to pay extra fees for the privilege of redeeming the miles.”
Except that Department of Transportation guidelines require airlines to disclose those fees and they generally do. And the rewards, redeemed through domestic US frequent flyer programs, that customers look for most only incur government security taxes (with the airline even picking up the cost of other taxes). At least if you book online, otherwise there’s usually a telephone booking fee.
And US programs generally offer the option of spending more miles to buy out of capacity controls.
Besides, the ‘scammy credit card’ will usually come with perks like early boarding (no need to gate check bags) and free checked bags (real savings for a traveling family) that improve the overall travel experience.
- “It completely short-circuits your common sense as a consumer.”
Sure, if you posit irrational consumers then the behavior of those consumers will be irrational. And they certainly do exist, as somebody must be buying the overpriced miles that are offered while checking in for a flight. (Though even those can sometimes be an amazing deal.)
Elliott’s argument doesn’t apply at all to consumers with a reasonable sense of what miles are worth. Or to consumers who don’t chase the miles, but just collect them when they’re being offered for activities they’d undertake anyway. Thus here he begs the question by assuming away rationality.
- “You get nothing in return — literally.” He says airlines own the miles and can change the rules. And that’s literally true (although some court decisions have suggested otherwise at times). But it puts form over substance. And the implication isn’t that you shouldn’t collect miles, just that you should discount the value of those miles (as you should adjust anything which will be consumed in the future based on probabilities, risk, and time).
Earn and burn in the same period, don’t collect miles for some far off future. Your miles are generally worth more in the present than in the future. But if you redeem your miles and enjoy them, collect more later and then redeem those, you come out way ahead.
And that’s the sum total of his argument.
He even acknowledges that people get value out of the programs, but he thinks those people should be stoned. Or something.
Some of you will say, “Hang on. I’m just a silver-level flier, but I get plenty of benefits without giving the airline all of my business. You want me to turn my back on that?”
Yes, I do. Because through your participation, you’re propping up a pyramid scheme that’s fundamentally unfair, unsustainable, and yes, fraudulent.
Airline loyalty programs as they currently exist should be banned and the accomplices who pushed points on an unsuspecting public should be arrested and put on trial.
Whoops, got to go, it’s the Christopher Elliott mileage police knocking. They’ve found me and come to take me away.
Or not. I’m off in an exotic destination. I flew here first class. My airfare and hotel are paid for on points, a vacation I could never have dreamt about taking if I had to come out of pocket with the cash.
And since Elliott decided to ditch his points, he didn’t have the opportunity to get an award ticket here. The witch hunters couldn’t find me. I’m safe for now.