My take on this year’s Freddie Awards

A full recap of this year’s Freddie Awards is available online, complete with all of the results.

Air Canada received an Industry Impact Award for introducing

    personalized elite-level benefits, allowing members to select from several “Experience” benefits packages.

This actually isn’t the first time an airline has tried this. United offered its elite members “the Gift of Choice,” a menu of extra benefits including upgrades and lounge access after its disastrous summer of 2000 which was dubbed “the Summer From Hell.” But it didn’t catch on, and United didn’t continue the practice.

Certainly personalizing benefits to member interests is a way to differentiate a program, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s the wave of the future — it can be costly to administer and costly to maintain as tailored benefits are more likely to be consumed. Something to watch!

Best Bonus Promotion by an Airline (International) was a squeaker:

    Swiss TravelClub takes the top spot with its AmEx Platinum Card 30,000-mile welcome bonus. KLM Flying Dutchman places second with its own AmEx bonus, wherein members who applied could keep their present elite status until March 2006.

Personally I would have flipped those two, but both are outstanding.

I’m a little bit non-plussed by the category of Best Newsletter and as the event’s host Randy Petersen observed most program communication is now electronic. Perhaps an award in the future should be dubbed “Best Member Communication.”

Starwood picked up Best Web Site for a Hotel (Americas). This one causes me to groan a bit. In fairness, I’m not impressed by its competition. Hilton only just introduced online award booking! But the Starwood site has tremendous room for improvement, is glitchy at best, and doesn’t even offer a mobile access option.

Diners Club again won Best Affinity Credit Card (Americas) and as I’ve recently written they offer a truly outstanding program. And now that there will be a partnership in place with Mastercard for 2005, the one real drawback — acceptance — will be overcome. We all could be carrying Diners Club cards soon, and enjoying their outstanding customer service.

And the good news was that the Starwood American Express, really the only card that gives Diners Club a run for its money in value, placed in the top three this year.

Starwood won best award redemption, best elite level, and best customer service — deservedly. Southwest won best award redemption for an airline (Americas), also deservedly (with the caveat that Southwest’s awards can only take you so far…).

America West won Best Elite Level for an Airline (Americas) for the second year in a row. This one is a bit surprising. Certainly America West is good at what they do — providing complimentary upgrades to members. But they scaled back elite benefits this year, especially bonus miles, and that didn’t appear to cost them.

What’s more, they don’t really offer some of the benefits that their competitors do — benefits that strike me as most important, but apparently Freddie Award votes disagree.

Only United and American, among domestic US carriers, offer real international upgrade privileges to elite members. And I can’t imagine a ‘best elite level’ moving past that.

I voted for United for their international upgrade benefit, their continued commitment to awarding one elite mile per mile flown regardless of fare, and their recognition of high level flyers by introducing additional benefits after 125,000 miles flown.

It all depends on what you look for in a program, I suppose.

I have similar thoughts about the Airline Program of the Year (Americas). Alaska won in spite of significant award price increases and cuts in elite benefits (including an end to confirmed upgrades at booking from any fare for their top elites).

My biggest concern, though, comes from Frontier’s second place showing in the category. They do alot of things well, but I have a hard time seeing how an airline whose program offers only one class of service (no upgrades or first class awards) and a limited route network can be considered for Program of the Year. Again, I suppose it all depends on what you look for in a program. Alas.

More than 275,000 frequent travelers have spoken — and more likely than not they’re right and I’m wrong. Or at least that’s what I remember as the lesson of Condorcet.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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