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The perverse relationship of airline loyalty programs compared to hotel loyalty programs

Hotel News Now has a five-part special report on the Evolution of Loyalty with a focus on hotel loyalty. This quote from Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst with consulting firm Hudson Crossing, is one to ponder with respect to the differences between airline and hotel loyalty programs:

“It’s a perverse type of relationship,” he said of airline loyalty. “In the hotel business customers are loyal because they like something; they join loyalty programs with airlines because they hope they will hurt you less.”

Hotel News Now August 11, 2013

The History and Evolution of Hotel Loyalty

I have followed Harteveldt on Twitter for some time and several of his opinions and statements over the years in hotel industry articles and twitter have made his name stand out to me.

Airline travel can be painful.

Most of us do not like feeling uncomfortable and it is a frequent occurrence in air travel.

Buying airline tickets is often a painful economic decision. Affordable airfare is generally an advance purchase, nonrefundable ticket. Reservations can’t be changed without a huge change fee penalty payment often amounting to hundreds of dollars. And still all you get is a credit for the remaining value of your ticket after the change fee penalty, if any value is left, for another ticket purchase on the same airline within one year.

Airport lines. How often are fifty people in front of you waiting to check-in at a hotel?

Baggage fees. Bag weight and bag number are critical with the possibility of baggage fees, especially when flying different carriers on one travel itinerary with different bag weight restrictions and baggage fee policies.

TSA checkpoints and lines.

Did you plan that extra 30 minutes for the TSA blockage to your departure gate? Did you remember to take that expensive liquid cosmetic out of your handbag and into your checked bag or did you just toss a $50 recent purchase into the trash?

Delayed flights.

Plane boarding where Group 4 passengers crowd the gate area blocking access to boarding for Group 1 passengers.

The seat.

The economy class plane seat is empty. Thankfully you do not have to stand in the aisle waiting for the passenger who sat in the wrong row to change to her/his correct seat.

Carry on bags.

Hopefully there is room for your bag, Even so, inevitably there will be ten passengers at the end of the flight hauling carry-on bags and luggage may whisk inches over your head as the last passengers on the plane in economy class are left to themselves to repack overhead luggage bins to create space for more roller bags as the flight attendants look on giving verbal directions across impassable aisles. 


Buckled in your seat, you wait for some kind of annoyances other passengers will inflict on you during the flight while you are confined to your small space in the plane since the seatbelt light is on for 75% of the flight time.


Finally you arrive at your destination. With luck your bag is on the baggage carousel and not flying to a different airport terminal like Phoenix or Miami without you.

How much of this pain can you avoid with a frequent flyer loyalty program?

The higher your elite status, the less pain air travel is in some respects as you have access to shorter lines at the airport, better seats on the aircraft and better checked baggage benefits with fewer fees.  

Most air travelers in frequent flyer programs do not have elite status.

For the masses, air travel can be painful.


Tell me what you think:

  • Do you find air travel painful?
  • What pain does your elite frequent flyer status let you avoid?


Ric Garrido, writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler, shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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  • JustSaying August 14, 2013

    It doesn’t get much more accurate than that………..flying was moderately fun before 9/11 and then our government response following killed the joy of travel forever…….played into the terrorists hands as if they had scripted it themselves………

  • Linda T August 15, 2013

    Spot on analysis. Had never thought of it that way, but it is totally true. And with hotel awards, free is free. Anymore I feel that there is much, much more value with hotel loyalty than with airline loyalty.

  • Brent August 15, 2013

    As a very frequent traveler, 3-4k miles per week I would agree to every said point. Having elite status does help alleviate some of the pains but not everything. I do receive better seats (United economy plus), able to board the plane first (luggage space), no baggage fees/ priority bagging and have access to shorter lines (Global entry and TSA pre-check. However, the worst (which cannot be avoided) is delayed/ canceled flights. With so much frequent travel I find my fare share (pun intended) of delays for various reasons.

    One thing I will rant about is the merger of United/ Continental ruining all upgrades to first for me. I am 1K status with over 120,000 miles this year and NEVER ONCE been upgraded this year. I know it is largely based on the route I take and my booking class, but still, for the amount of time I spend on a plane and at the airport I would expect at least one upgrade.

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