Sometime in the early 1980s I came across an old paperback book in the basement of the house where I grew up. It was worn, and I have no idea how many decades old it was at the time. It was called You Be the Judge and contained interesting ethical dilemma stories that called on you to sort through right and wrong.
I Googled for it but only found a series by the same name from the last decade.
I thought we’d try something like that here. I’m going to describe two customers, and ask which one should United award more miles? You be the judge.
Fast forward to the end of 2015, and let’s review the travel for the year of Mary and John.
Customer 1: John
John is an investment banker out of San Francisco. His bank is based in Minnesota and has a corporate agreement with them. Most of his travel is paid premium cabin to Minneapolis and New York, but he likes to fly Virgin America when he can.
He’s putting together an important deal in China and has to fly to Chengdu. His admin puts him in business class on United, since they have new non-stop service 3 days a week there. It was a 3-day advance purchase Z fare and cost about $7500.
The 787 was great, the flight over was half empty, and he was reasonably rested when he got to China. He made great progress towards closing the deal, too! There’s going to be a huge round of financing, and he’ll make a ton — for himself and his bank.
He also took one United flight to London in business. The company’s deal should put him on Virgin, but he needed to make a morning meeting and United’s earlier flight let him do it (it’s earlier than the first of the two BA flights also). That flight cost ~ $6300, with no discount. He took the Virgin flight back, though.
That’s it for his United flying for the year.
Since his admin added his MileagePlus number to the reservations he earned 69,000 miles. The admin is a bit of a mileage junkie, unbeknownst to him, and will keep on top of the account and make sure his miles don’t expire… though feels it would be much easier to track the United account with Award Wallet, but that’s the story for another post…
Customer 2: Mary
Mary works in the Midwest as a mid-level manager for a large Agribusiness company. She’s doing well, and on the road more than she’d like. Fortunately her husband doesn’t travel for business and can make it to all of the after school activities for their three kids.
She puts all of her travel on United, at least as much as she can without drawing too much ire from her accounting department. She squeaks by with just over 50,000 miles a year all domestic, almost all flying through Chicago with the occasional trip through Houston. It’s a lot of planes, too, with 70 flights for the year.
When United costs a bit more than American or Delta, she’ll go with United because she likes her status and she likes economy plus and the occasional upgrade. She tells her bosses that they’re benefiting too because she gets free checked bags (even though she never checks a bag — too good a traveler for that) and because she won’t waste as much time during bad weather disruptions as her status gets her to the top of the waitlist.
Mary tries to get the best fares she can, she’s careful, but with an average fare of 12 cents a mile she easily makes the minimum revenue to keep her Gold status. But just in case she puts all of her family’s expenses on her United Explorer card; about $2250 per month.
When the kids were off of school for the Christmas holidays, she and her husband took the kids to Disneyland. She even found three award seats with her miles, helping make the trip affordable for her family! Naturally the kids flew on awards, she saved a paid ticket for herself so she could earn miles, and her husband’s ticket was paid too.
As a United loyalist Mary buys all her tickets on the United.com website, but her company makes her use a corporate card to do it. She buys flowers for her mother when FTD has a good MileagePlus bonus offer, and since she’s busy she buys as much for her family as she can online — always going first to the MileagePlus shopping mall.
Mary’s 50,000 miles of flying cost $6000 and earned her 48,000 miles thanks to her Gold status. She flew about the same miles in 2014, and earned 75,000 miles for it.
Is that the right distribution of miles between the two of them?
Let’s stipulate that:
- A frequent flyer program can’t be designed just around two customers.
- These flyers may – or may not – be typical.
End of the year John earned 69,000 United miles from flying, and Mary earned about 48,000. Sound about right?
You be the judge in the comments. Let’s hear who you think a frequent flyer program ought to award with more miles, and why.
- You can join the 40,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to receive posts by email (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s free. You can also follow me on Twitter for the latest deals. Don’t miss out!