Should the government regulate loyalty programs?

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Frequent-flier programs are rigged to favor airlines, deceive passengers and cost consumers billions of dollars. At least that’s the contention of one Florida frequent traveler named Alan Grayson.

But it just so happens that Grayson is a member of Congress. And as such, he can ask the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General to investigate airline loyalty programs.

That’s exactly what Grayson, a Democrat, did this summer, and now an audit is underway. It will take about a year for the inspector general to determine whether airline loyalty program practices are unfair and deceptive. But when the dust settles, the DOT might be closer to cracking down on one of America’s favorite addictions: collecting points and miles.

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Public opinion on the issue is split. While some frustrated passengers side with the congressman, others vehemently disagree that the government ought to get involved in regulating their points and miles. A new survey by market research firm Colloquy reflects this deep division. It found that 54 percent of U.S. loyalty-program members are “unhappy” with their reward options. Also, 48 percent say that they’ve been “frustrated” by the reward redemption process.

Grayson didn’t respond to requests for a comment on the audit. But in a letter to DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel, he presented his arguments for tighter regulation. “Frequent flyer programs are prone to manipulation by the airlines that control them,” he wrote, likening the estimated $700 billion worth of miles to an unregulated currency. “Airlines establish the rules, the terms, the value, expiration dates, and the sales pitches.” To earn more money, airlines are constantly devaluing this de facto currency, which is “profitable for the airlines, and costly for the consumer,” wrote Grayson.

The congressman zeroed in on federal laws that seem to prohibit the kind of behavior airlines are engaging in, and correctly pointed out that the DOT has some authority to regulate them.

But some say that his critique misses the biggest problem with these schemes. Thanks to loyalty programs, airlines have completely separated their most valued customers from the rest. They lavish top spenders with perks while forcing the less valuable passengers to sit in shrinking seats and pay fees for services that should come with every ticket, such as a seat reservation and the ability to check one bag without paying extra for the privilege. Frequent-flier programs have widened the airborne caste system to the point where it’s hard to believe everyone’s on the same plane. They’re making air travel worse for all but a few privileged elites, according to critics.

The DOT inspector general audit resonates with frequent fliers like Ken Wisnefski, the founder of a Web marketing firm in Camden, N.J. As a professional marketer, he’s seen any number of loyalty programs up close. But he says that nothing compares with the airline programs, for both their elusiveness and their deceptiveness.

“There are excessive fine print and aspects that make them more and more difficult to navigate,” he says. “I do believe many people are led to believe that the programs will be something great and are, in turn, very discouraged when they find out it wasn’t what they had thought it was. I’ve even heard people refer to these programs as bait-and-switch scenarios.”

Others say that the government has no business regulating airline miles. “We have seen over and again what happens to various industries when the government tries to get involved and issue mandates,” says Charlie Barkowski, who publishes a blog called Running With Miles. The free market, he adds, can fix what’s wrong with an airline program. “If a loyalty program makes some drastic change — even one that may go against the entire purpose of having loyalty in a program — the customer base speaks, and they are gone and on to another program the next program year,” he adds.

The government probe is taking place at an interesting time. Carriers including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are changing their programs to reward customers based on how much they spend rather than on the miles they fly. The net effects of these revisions will begin sinking in early next year, just as the government investigation starts to gain momentum. And that could spell trouble for the future of unregulated and immensely profitable loyalty programs.

DOT inspector general audits can result in significant if not sweeping changes. For example, a 2001 report on airlines’ customer-service commitments contained recommendations to increase resources allocated to the DOT division responsible for consumer protection and a corresponding increase in the oversight and enforcement of regulations. In response, Congress upped the agency’s funding. Likewise, a 2007 report about onboard delays led to landmark tarmac delay regulations, which went into effect in 2010. New rules required airlines to develop customer service plans, contingencies and reporting requirements for long onboard delays.

It may be difficult to effect serious changes within the current regulatory system, according to Tim Winship, who edits the Web site FrequentFlier.com. He notes that a DOT memo points out that the department has little power over the programs’ rules but can mandate clearer disclosure of costs and program rule changes.

“Today, airlines routinely implement consumer-unfriendly program changes with little or no advance notice,” he says.

Perhaps letting frequent fliers know about a change in their program would be a good first step. But if the changes end there, the investigation will have been pointless.

Should the government regulate loyalty programs?

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160 thoughts on “Should the government regulate loyalty programs?

  1. Why is this even a discussion? First, Loyalty programs have nothing to do with loyalty. They are frequent shopper programs (they aren’t even frequent flyer programs). Second, they are not currency. The idea that you have points is an illusion, it’s a visual relatable representation of your worth to an airline.

    So why should the government NOT regulate them, because then they will simply disappear, and by that I don’t mean go away, there just won’t be any transparency. Airlines will still lavish top spenders with perks, and commoners who bring a few hundred or few thousand dollars to an airline will get basically nothing. The airlines will still track value and worth of individual flyers, and decision makers who bring them business, the costumer just won’t be able too see it anymore. Which means there will be nothing to regulate.

    1. In terms of economics, loyalty points/frequent flier miles are an almost perfect example of a privately issued currency. They are an item that has little or no intrinsic value that is accepted in exchange for goods and services. You accept the currency for the service of using a business, and that businesses accepts the currency for other goods and services.

      They are more than a private script, since the miles/points are issued and accepted by more than the single business. I can receive United miles via a credit card and spend United miles on a hotel — all without ever being a United customer.

      In some places, one can even purchase (exchange currencies) miles/points, or sell miles/points.

      Some regulation against fraud, misinformation, theft, etc, is definitely warranted.

      1. Really I’ve never seen a FF bill, or coin, or note, as is necessary for a currency (and bitcoin isn’t currency). FF points are like video game tokens, except with FF points their isn’t even a token. That’s not a currency. Just because travelers or all the nuts on flyer talk think of them as currency doesn’t mean they are. There isn’t a single airline executive that think’s of their reward or milage programs as currency, and yet pretty much everyone over at the Federal Reserve considers those green pieces of paper are currency.

        1. Currency and money are not the same thing. Typically I use less than $50 in currency a month, yet spend several thousand dollars of money. In fact to old timers M1 was currency, but there was still M2 and M3 all are money. If you substitute the word money for currency in Richard Smiths post it would be more accurate.

    2. Wow, I completely agree with what you said. Must be because I haven’t had coffee yet. 😉

      Actually, your points are completely valid. Every business, not just airlines, reward their customers who are the highest spenders in one way or another – discounts, “free” stuff, dedicated phone lines and so on. At least in the current airlines model those rewards (or at least a part of them) are visibly listed for everyone to see.

  2. I’m going to sidestep the regulation question because the below quote must be responded to.

    But some say that his critique misses the biggest problem with these
    schemes. Thanks to loyalty programs, airlines have completely separated
    their most valued customers from the rest

    Really? This is just silly. Those critics have wandered off the ranch. No business survives without identifying its most valued customers and taking steps to ensure that they remain customers. This happen irrespective of a loyalty program.

    Of course, everyone should be treated well. That’s a given. But to suggest that everyone will receive the same level of preferential treatment is foolhardy. I strive to give excellent service to all of my clients. But certain “special” clients will get preferential treatment such as meetings on a Sunday. My policy is leave me alone on Sunday. But I bend it for family, close friends and high-value clients.
    I guess the congressman would object to such a separation.

      1. I think your making a big stretch here saying that these programs torture the economy class.

        I’m not arguing that the airlines don’t torture those in steerage, I just don’t think that the miles programs are the tool they use.

      2. How, why, are coach customers “tortured” because of the frequent flyer programs? It is easy to throw words like that around but where is the proof?

        Yes, the seats in coach are small and uncomfortably close together in many passenger’s view. Yet most people fit comfortably into those seats. It is us who are not 5 foot and 90 lbs who think seats need to be larger. But even 1st class is not what it used to be with many airlines not even providing drinks, much less meals pillows and blankets, to 1st passengers many hours of the day.

        Is it torture because the airlines don’t feed the coach passengers? Actually I feel it was torture to try and eat the coach meals most airlines were serving before they stopped including them.

        Is it torture to not provide a pillow and blanket to the coach passengers? When you think of how many people used those same items before they were given to you uncleaned, was having them really a benefit?

        Is it torture for infrequent flyer coach passengers to have to pay to check luggage? Would it be a better benefit to raise the price of plane tickets by $30 to include one checked bag or $50 for two? I think most passengers would disagree with that.

        Nothing you demand to be included in the ticket price for everyone comes close to “torture” due to its current exclusion and the use of that word to describe conditions in the coach cabin I feel is unwarranted.

      3. I fail to see how FF programs are being used to “torture” coach passengers. What I see is a populist refrain, i.e someone has something better than I so ipso facto I am being oppressed, abused, even dare I say it…tortured.

        If you have a detailed factual example (not merely conclusory rhetoric) I would be interested in understanding, how the existence of a FF program hurts coach passengers.

        1. That sounds deliberately obtuse, and I’m sure you’re smarter than that.

          You and I have both witnesses the slow decline of civilization on commercial flights — those in first class getting more and more while the people in the back get less and less. Airlines are using loyalty programs to weed out the commoners from the big spenders.

          If you participate in a loyalty program, you are complicit in this segregation.

          Frankly, I favor simpler fares and a one-class configuration on all flights, but that’s just my politics. I favor a well-regulated free market where common sense and respect for the customer, not avarice, determines corporate policies.

          1. That is already an option and it is with Southwest on their domestic flights. A one class cabin….all coach. Passengers do have options in many markets. So would you also require all stores to be like Kohl’s? No Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Neiman’s?

          2. Seriously? Where did I say the government should force a one-class configuration?

            I’m actually fine with business and first class. I’m not fine with depriving economy class passengers of basic necessities and then claiming they have a “choice” to pay thousands more for a ticket or to become loyalty program slaves.

          3. What basic necessities are any airline passengers deprived of? They all have air to breath, a toilet to use, and a seat to sit in. As long as the airline allows you to bring your own food and drink if you want, what else is a basic necessity?

          4. Seriously? The government already has minimum space requirements for animals in a cage in the cargo hold.

            Where does it end for us? At 28 inches of seat pitch, 16 across? At 25 inches/15?

            When, exactly, does this free market dystopia become immoral?

          5. The government does have a minimum. For example, the FAA has a maximum number of 145 seats allowed on an Airbus 319. Spirit Airlines has (you guessed it) 145. That translates to 28 inches of pitch.

            There are other options. For example, United chooses to put only 120 seats on the aircraft at a minimum pitch of 31 inches in economy.

          6. Exactly, there are options — too many options. United could install four rows of lie-flat seats and torture the rest with 25 inches of seat pitch, if that’s what the market “demands.” This kind of calloused, bottom-line obsessed airline behavior is indefensible. The government needs to intervene.

          7. Options aren’t good? Should everyone drive the same model car? No one is allowed a Porsche or Corvette, we all should drive Volvos (because they are presumably safest)?

            I suppose it wouldn’t matter, because we would not have McDonalds or Ruth’s Chris to drive to. Just a building that says “Restaurant” on the sign, where we are all served the Soylent of the day.

            The information is out there to make an informed choice and safety regs are in place. Why does the government need to be a nanny about if I’m comfy or not?

          8. Let’s keep the Soylent references out of this. Somewhere in the U.K., Harry Harrison is turning in his grave.

            If customers demanded cheaper cars without seatbelts, would we comply? If hotels could build less expensive rooms without fire escapes or indoor plumbing, would we let them?

            We are heading down a dark road where the unfettered free market has its way with those of us who aren’t rich enough or refuse to pledge their fealty to a frequent flier program. You don’t want to go there.

          9. What you are pointing out are safety concerns, not comfort. The FAA does have safety standards on how to configure aircraft and what Spirit is doing is exactly what you propose. A single class of service (primarily) that meets safety standards.

            The Airbus 320 is allowed 179 seats, Spirit has 178. JetBlue has 150 on the same aircraft type. Just a bit of simple research tells me that I may want to consider paying a premium for jetBlue. Is there a premium that you would pay to avoid the 28 inch pitch on Spirit to get the 34 inch standard on jetBlue?

            Side note….there IS a company that is marketing a food in liquid formed named Soylent. www (dot) soylent (dot) me.

          10. You keep calling coach “torture” I have noted that passengers have all of the basic necessities to survive the trip. Both comments are at the extreme end of reality.

            I have never stated I like the shorter leg room airlines are using. I never said I like anything about modern coach cabins other than the low prices (but then I always look for the airline that offers the most space and avoid those that have the minimal which means I pay more than the lowest available price).

          11. Chris, you and I probably agree politically, at least insofar as I have a great distrust of big business and get upset when they use their superior leverage to abuse people, even if those people ought to know better. But I have to agree with the others on this one. Several airlines have touted their extra space as a feature and charged slightly more for their “humane” treatment of passengers, and passengers have stayed away in droves. If people didn’t want the cheapest possible fare, airlines woudn’t offer the crappy flying experience that is the outcome of that desire. I personally wish for *more* classes of service, because I’d like there to be a greater gradation of choice between the $350 coach seat and the $2500 business/first seat. Economy plus is a step in the right direction for me. But since most of the people on the plane buy the $350 coach seat and would have chosen a different airline if one offered a $340 coach seat, it is what it is. That’s not a free-market dystopia; it’s the free market giving the people what they want, even if what they want looks stupid to some of us.

            As for FF programs, the only real quality they possess of dubious morality is enticing people to pay $375 for that coach seat, even if another airline serves the route for less, so that they can earn miles towards a free flight, and then making those “free” award seats so rare that it’s near impossible to get one without using an obscene number of miles. But if giving the leftover first class seats to the people who are their best customers is immoral, well, then, you tell me: how should they do it?

          12. Wow. Just like a prison cell, except the guards do bring some food and drink around. And a prison usually has more legroom. Passengers are deprived of a bit of space in which to enjoy breathing that cabin air with which they are supplied. I did vote “no” by the way.

          13. Are you comparing 14 hours in a prison cell to 14 hours on a plane? Sure I’d take the prison cell, but no ones flying prison cell size spaces, and the vast majority of people in prison are staying MUCH longer than 14 hours.

          14. From your post above:Frankly, I favor simpler fares and a one-class configuration on all flights, but that’s just my politics

          15. Having worked at Macy’s for many years, I would have classed them closer to Kohls than the other two.

          16. In our area Kohl’s is bargain basement shopping. A step up from Walmart, but not by much. Box store, ugly.

          17. Neiman Marcus, but I can’t comment as I buy most of my clothes from H&M or Uniqlo, with a couple of high end (Armani, Oscar, Prada) pieces. My fiance is rather shocked at the small wardrobe I have, I told her black wing tips and a good quality jacket/blazer go a long, long way. Sometimes it’s good to be a guy, well that and we get paid more for the same work.

          18. That was non-responsive and I’m sure you’re smarter than that. Now that we have the ad hominems out of the way. Let’s remain gentlemen and avoid further invectives.

            First class is getting better and coach is getting worse. No one disputes that. The question is why?

            It should be clear that the two phenomenon are unrelated. Do we honestly believe that coach service would improve if we didn’t have a FF program. Of course not.

            I submit as proof that the most profitable airlines are Spirit and its ilk. Spirit has a horrendous seat pitch of 28″ in coach. Yet, it has great load factors and is the most profitable airline in the US. Passengers are flocking to it.

            Why do people put up with this grief. It’s because it’s cheap (or appears to be) and people want cheap so they will put up with this, especially on shorter flights.

            And Spirit delivers this abysmal service without a traditional loyalty program.

            If I’m an exec at an airline, the obvious take away is that I can make more money for the airline by delivering Spirit-like service to the coach passengers and thus, the devolution of coach service.

            Note, the race to the bottom is independent of the existence or non-existence of a FF program as evidenced by Spirit which only has the $9 club which does not have miles, upgrades, or most of the perks associated with elite membership in FF programs.

          19. I said your argument was obtuse, not you. That’s not an ad hominem. I’m sorry if you felt that was personal. It wasn’t meant that way.

            To your Spirit argument, I reply with Southwest, which still offers a humane amount of space, a one-class configuration and better service than the legacies.

          20. But, if I’m not wrong, Southwest is slightly expensive than Spirit…

            Are you willing to pay Southwest prices?

          21. Just poking around on fares, and Southwest came up about $120 LESS than Spirit on flights I looked at.

            Details: DEN-IAH round trip (HOU for WN), least expensive ticket for weekend leaving DEN on 11/07 returning 11/09, one carry on and two checked bags (included in WN price, extra on Spirit), one non alcoholic drink each way (included on WN extra on Spirit).

            Of course if you don’t check bags or have a carry on and don’t drink anything on the plane, Spirit comes out $100 less.

            So yes, I am willing to pay WN prices over Sprit. And I get a roomier seat (just barely, but every inch counts). 😉

          22. For you, two checked bags, a carry on & two drinks are a necessity. For me, I pass the drinks and at least one checked bag for domestic trips, usually I travel only with a carry on.

            Therefore, for me, these extra perks are a waste of money.

          23. See that is the problem. The carriers are dummying down to those who don’t care. Less leg room, no checked bags, no onboard entertainment, no drinks, no food….means a crappy flight!

          24. I bring food, and something to drink and bring my own iPad, I don’t check baggage, and I’m 160 lbs and 5’9″ I fit just fine in my seat. I enjoy my flight and it’s cheaper than what it used to be subsidizing other people’s baggage, etc.

          25. I am 5’4″ and was miserable in coach on the 777 to HNL this year. Also, my fare, which I watched from Dec to Apr, never dropped below $600 that in years past we have paid $238 to $358 for each ticket for the same time period. For $600 this year, we didn’t even have entertainment on board unless you brought a laptop. So in this case, we got less for more money plus less legroom.
            I do know that fares this year were higher in many more markets that last year and you got less for the money than in years past with carriers that removed certain amenities.

          26. Your comparing what was then for this is now. If you didn’t want to pay $600 you could have stayed home, or swam, or taken a canoe, it doesn’t matter. You pay $50 for a steak dinner the restaurant doesn’t owe you a steak dinner at the same price tomorrow.

          27. It has nothing to do with flying or not flying. You need to know historical fares to know if you are getting value or not.

          28. No it doesn’t value yesterday has little to do with value today. My father still has a pair of leather dress shoes he had made in Italy from the Vietnam war, and other then some polishing they still look relatively new. Whats the value of whatever he paid for them stretched over years. Air travel is not a durable good. It doesn’t have historical value.

          29. And you are obviously such a good shopper regarding airline ticket, you keep doing what you are doing and paying more.

          30. I don’t shop for airline tickets. My company uses a specialized vendor website. I login select a departure time (morning, afternoon, evening) and dates and that’s it. I don’t get to select a carrier, or upgrades, or seat assignment, or equipment, or route, meal service, or anything else really. I get am email with my itinerary, and FRL and I can login to the airline website 24 hours before the flight and check in. However most times, i cant select seats, or even pay for many upgrades. I basically have to do those at the airport with an agent. I get no FF points or rewards for my company travel.

          31. I may confess I’m giving only half true… I’m willing to pay more for the extra space. Spirit doesn’t offer it (and Mark forgot to use it against me 😉

            But regarding the extra perks he cited… I don’t need them. (Well, half true again… For int’l flights, I love to be a Brazilian resident!)

          32. No, for me checked luggage doesn’t exist. I never take more than a carry on. I do like to have at least a cup of water on occasion on a plane for which Spirit charges you.

            What I tried was to price was equivalent costs. To get the equivalent of a Southwest fare, you have to include those things.

          33. For that weekend, the fares are the same for both carries, it is just what is available that you are seeing. Published fares in the DEN to Houston market start at $19 for one way and go up from there. The lower fares require a 14 day advance purchase.

          34. We have had this discussion before. It doesn’t matter what the published fares are if the passenger cannot get that fare. The only thing that matters is the available fares at time of booking.

            I have never seen an available fare on WN for $19 from DEN to HOU. no matter how far out I look. You might be able to get a ticket with the $19 fare but us mere mortals who are not travel agents can’t.

          35. Sorry, but it is important for ‘mere mortals’ to understand what they are looking at and not say the wrong thing. 99% of the time, all carriers have the same published fare in a market. WN usually sells out before other carriers on the lowest of published fares.

          36. Need to compare fares to and from the same airports. Airports have different fees and etc. Also, someone could claim that I want IAH because it is closer to my destination or my home or etc.

          37. Sorry, I have too agree with Mark here, and we’ve had this discussion before as well. $19 is just not a flight I have access too inside the US. I’m glad you can see it, and it’s on a screen, but just as Kate Upton is a single woman, she’s not really “available” too me.

          38. That isn’t true. You have access to all published fares. It just depends on when you search to what is available at that moment.

          39. What the party started at 12:01 and I got there at 12:01:24, yeah I always hear the best stuff happens in the first minute of anything.

          40. True, not the best comparison. But for me HOU and IAH are equal distance from where I need to be when I go to Houston. HOU is a quicker drive to my destination due to better interstate highway connections and most things (rental cars, airport food, parking) are all less costly. IAH gives you better connection options.

          41. I agree, SW tends to be about $100-$120 more than the cheapest flight I can get elsewhere. Sure you get 2 checked bags, etc, but since I don’t use those all i’m doing is paying more for things I don’t use or benefit from.

          42. Isn’t that with any shopping trip, knowing if what you are paying for will be fully used or not to be sure you get the value out of your purchase? If you get one of WN’s low fares, then you have the option of checking bags or not. WN’s fares sell out first because everyone assumes they are the lowest.

          43. That still deflects from the FF question. Spirit lacks an FF program yet still manages to treats its passengers “inhumanely” without one and be insanely profitable. The point being is that the FF program is wholly irrelevant to the bad treatment of coach passengers as the very profitable Spirit demonstrates.

            I submit that it’s merely populism to suggest that FF programs result in
            coach misery when in reality its the fact that people want cheap and flock to
            Spirit and similar airlines

            Curiously, if I wanted to defend your populist position, I would use Southwest as the best example. It’s Business Select class probably negatively affects other coach passengers more other programs and classes. Southwest has open seating. Business Select permits higher value customers the ability to jump the queue and get the best of everything. First pick of seats, first pick of bin space, etc. I.e., they get the first pick of a shared resource.

            If you have the misfortune of having many business select folks on your flight, they will all get the best and second best seats (aisle and window) before you, leaving you your choice of middle seats near the lavatories.

            And as far as humane seating, Southwest has as little as 31″ seat pitch and 17″ seat width.

            And of course, southwest engages in the sketchy but legal practice of not allowing easy comparison shopping by not allowing its prices to be displayed on most meta-engines.
            .

          44. Even on Southwest having the A-1 thru A-15 boarding position for your flight (assigned to Business Select customer) can be meaningless. Was on a flight that came in from another city and continuing on to my destination. I had the A-1 position, but when I got on the plane it was already half full and all of the seats I consider good were taken by those on the plane from its origination point. On an empty plane this would have been equivalent to having a B position.

          45. “…by not allowing its prices to be displayed on most meta-engines.”
            I am not aware of a single fare search engine…it is my understanding that the only place for a DIY to find Southwest fares is at their website.

            Southwest did a super job of offering initial low prices and building their brand upon that (if you ask 20 people what they think of Southwest, they will say low fares). By not having their fares displayed on the fare search engines, a lot of people are not aware that their fares are NOT the lowest.

          46. Why’s that sketchy, it sounds more like the customer is lazy? “What I have to go to two whole sites to compare flight costs, but my fingers are so tired, how am I going to push another stick of butter in my mouth, if I have to go to two websites”. It’s their business, and your welcome to visit the SW site and check their prices or not. There are starving kids in Africa who have to run 7 miles, without shoes to a travel hut to check their flight information, and those of us in the first world have to check two whole web sites.

          47. Interesting. Years ago, the perception of Southwest was that they crammed passengers into their aircraft with cattle call boarding, offering minimal onboard service. Today, as we have dropped our standards, more and more people point to them as the way to run an airline.

          48. “…Southwest, which still offers a humane amount of space…”

            Where are the facts to support your claim that Southwest offers more space? According to Seat Guru, here are the planes in the Southwest’s fleet:

            737-800: 17 Width and 32-33 pitch
            737-700: 17 width and 31 pitch
            737-500: 17 width and 32-33 pitch
            737-300 V2: 17 width and 32-33 pitch
            737-300: 17 width and 32-33 pitch

            Again, according to Seat Guru, here are three of the planes (ones that you will found on the same routes that Southwest flies, etc.) from US Airways:

            A321: 32 pitch and 18 width
            A319: 31 pitch and 18 width
            A320: 31 pitch and 18 width

            The seats on US Airways are wider by one inch…given that Americans are more wider today than 20 years or 30 years or 40 years ago, it is my guess that most passengers will prefer a wider seat.

            Southwest has a bigger pitch but the pitch on their 737-700 is the same or smaller than the US Airways’ A321, A319 and A320.

            To me, it is a draw…US Airways has a wider seat and Southwest has a bigger pitch.

            In regards to Southwest’s 737-7000, in March of 2012 Southwest began reconfiguring their 737-700 fleet to increase their seating capacity from 137 seats to 143 seats…this is very similar to Spirit.

          49. Every time I have this conversation with my Euro friends, I just say Ryanair, and then everyone nods, and takes a drink of their beer. If comfort, class, amenities, seat pitch, seat size, beverages, food, or any of that mattered more than cost Ryanair would not be in business. The fact that they are and doing rather well, would seem to indicate that their business model has merit.

          50. I’ll play the devil’s advocate. I don’t know whom is the seat manufacturer for Spirit, but I know that there are some seats with less padding, which in theory allow more knee space with less pitch.

            In fact, a couple of years ago I had flow in an Air France A319/20 (I don’t recall the metal) with a no reclining Recaro seat (Chris’ dream). I remember the seat has less padding, and the knee space wasn’t bad.

          51. Look at Walmart, that’s what the airlines are giving us, the “Walmart” approach to air transportation.

          52. Yes, let’s look at Walmart. A dirty store, cheap prices on cheap crap from China and low pay for employees. Employees who say to you, with missing teeth in their mouths, “We don’t got that in stock”.

          53. Dirty, blood soaked, seat cusions, cheap food made in a cafeteria miles away and a day in advance on a plane with parts, avionics, etc “made in china”, and FA’s who qualify for food stamps, and yet we keep shopping there and we keep flying these airlines.

          54. “Food” what is this thing you speak of being available on planes?

            I wouldn’t call much of anything available on US based airlines “food.”

          55. Well it is certified “fit for human consumption”. I’ve heard kids comment that what they have gotten on the plane is the same thing they get at their school cafeteria.

          56. “,,,I favor a well-regulated free market…”
            This is an oxymoron…it reminds me of people who says “I love Jesus but I don’t like the Bible.”

          57. In fairness to Chris’s language, the term “well-regulated free market” can mean anything and therefore means nothing. I favor a free market where the governments primary regulatory function is health, safety, competition and adequate disclosure.

          58. I don’t see how FF programs is causing FC passengers to have more than Economy passengers. Can you give specifics instead of generalities?

            Using my experiences on America WestUS Airways, there are 12 seats in First Class on the A319 and A320 and 16 seats in FC on A321…less than 10% of the total seats. When America WestUS Airways was flying the 737, there were only eight seats in FC. I sat in FC several times over a 15+ year period and I was surprised to learn that there were several FC passengers paid for their tickets instead of being upgraded from economy to FC based upon their FF elite status.

            In other words, First Class wasn’t always full of elite FF.

          59. First Class still isn’t full of elites even today.

            With there being so many elites in the UA program all hoping for the “free” upgrade, UA has started selling 1st at a huge discount. Still more than you would pay for economy in most cases, but a lot less than full fare. The result is over 80% of those now riding in 1st on UA are on a real 1st ticket and not an upgrade.

    1. If the good member of Congress has issues with everyone not being treated equally, I wonder if he passes on all the perks like free front row parking and faster security that he gets as a member of Congress. Anyone willing to bet?

    2. I agree…all businesses identify their most valued customers…every client receives excellent service but their VIP clients receives additional services above and beyond.

  3. What’s wrong with the existing laws and regulations? I don’t see anything special about airline frequent flyer programs that warrant special legal treatment. If a particular program is deceptive, existing remedies are sufficient. Congressman Grayson (like Senator Charles Schumer) simply has an affection for media attention by always proposing new laws whenever an issue arises, even if existing laws are adequate.

    1. Omg, I googled him and articles of domestic abuse and wife beating came up. Not sure Elliott used a good role model to beat up the airlines this Sunday morning.

      1. Congressman Grayson has been rather controversial on several things, is outspoken, and does not hesitate to use colorful terms for his political adversaries. I would suggest that the allegations you’ve uncovered do not affect his reasoning as to regulation of air carriers (indeed, this country modeled its interstate highway system from the autobahns built in the 1930s by a certain German chancellor, there being little nexus between his transportation policy–limited access highways and affordable automobiles–and his horrendous humanitarian record). I’ll be among the first to condemn spousal abuse itself, but I’ll oppose his regulatory proposals on the merits.

  4. I voted no. There are certain few limited situations where government regulation makes sense. For example utility board where just about every person uses electricity, natural gas, etc from what is essentially a monopoly. Or in transportation such as how cars are built and mandatory safety features.

    But what your talking about here is a free market issue, if you don’t like what the airline is giving you, vote with your wallet. Unless there is some downright deceptive process here who is really being harmed by a program that is basically the same as the program at your local supermarket or department store? Buy more crap, get more perks.

    If you want to talk about regulating the airline industry as a whole, well that’s a completely different argument.

    1. Exactly….what next?, Dunkin Donuts, supermarkets, Macy’s, any or all gift cards ? These are personal choices that the consumer needs to read about and pay attention to. Even if only 1-2 airlines start making changes consumers don’t like, all the others soon follow anyway (it’s just a matter of time before AA and WN start doing this). Passengers just keep chasing their tails when they jump from mileage program to mileage program. How about going back to the concept of NO MILES. I’ve been saying this for years – I wish the airlines would dump it all and have two types of fares – First Class and Coach…..or how about only two fares – F-class (high) and only one coach fare regardless of when you purchase – a reasonable, affordable rate ? Nah…..I must be dreaming.

      1. Be careful what you wish for. The “simple” fare concept could end up pricing many people out of air travel. You would see many of the cheaper fares go away, not every seat then being sold at the cheapest current fare.

        1. A carrier that only offered first class and only two fares, one way and roundtrip, did go out of business. People say they want something, but in the end, they bail.

    2. What’s with you and electricity, you don’t need electricity, in Japan we don’t use electricity, we power our cities and homes with good will, and happiness…..

      Sorry, I can’t do it.

  5. Why didn’t you mention that Bloomberg Businessweek writes that the Florida politician has about 10 million Frequent Flyer miles? You don’t think that is important?

    businessweek dot com/articles/2014-09-25/airline-miles-would-regulation-mileage-programs-less-frustrating

    1. It is simple…a conflict of interest…here is a politician that wants to add regulations and/or change the laws to benefit himself…how many travelers have 10 MM frequent flyer miles? This is no different when Hilary Clinton shorted her health care stocks in 1993 then accused the drug companies of price gouging and made them a prime target of health care reform efforts then she made millions. A detailed University of Michigan study concluded that the public pronouncements of the Clintons criticizing pharmaceutical firms depressed stock prices of those firms by as much as 27 percent.

      The Florida politician should donate his miles to charity (i.e. Make a Wish Foundation) then propose the audits, regulations or etc. By keeping his miles, it looks like he is looking out for himself.

    2. I asked his office about the 10 million miles repeatedly. No response. I only felt comfortable saying he was a “frequent flier” which conveys the same thing, I felt. He definitely has a vested interest in change.

  6. Wow, I almost puked and wanted to Run Away From Miles when I checked out the blog written about in the article. It was pimping a credit card that offered me 70,000 points. Oh and it says it is the last call so I better run and get it. Maybe the last call is on Chris, since he really needs to soul search whether he wants to be associated with credit card pushers in the same blogger family.

  7. I’m not a big fan of frequent flyer programs and how they stifle competition, but I am also opposed to bigger government. Appoint a Frequent Flyer “Czar” to create another regulatory agency? No thanks.

  8. Frequent miles are a bonus, not entitlement. Let competion decide. This is how my hard earned tax dollars get spent? I could buy my own air with it instead of government spending my money on this nonsense.

    1. Is this the response you were expecting to elude to when you posted “I think everyone knows the correct answer to this one …” on the Elliott Facebook page?

        1. Really, you ever try to make a horse go somewhere it doesn’t want to? You know what two hooves to the chest will do to you?

        1. Ha! Thanks! I thought I typed that! I must have been thinking of how to escape the notion of more government when I wrote it. Subliminal message. 🙂

    2. Argumentum ad populum, it means appeal to the people, and is an argument that because something is popular it must be right. I use it a lot, when selling clients on an expensive proposal that doesn’t have a lot of concrete benefits.

  9. I have never used airline miles, however I do accrue reward points using my CC. These points are just another type of loyalty program and credit card companies will simply end the programs if it isn’t profitable for them. It’s up to the consumer to decide whether a loyalty program is worth it.

    1. I have a bunch I use them to renew my fiances and mines magazines. She loves getting the “American” Cosmo and Glamour magazines, she says all the models are fat.

  10. I don’t trust the government and its ability to regulate the loyalty programs anymore than I trust the loyalty programs to deliver what they say they will (in the future) deliver.

    1. What we need is a government airline. Run by civil servants from the pilots and FA’s to the counter agents and CSR’s, the baggage handlers, everyone. That would give Chris a lifetime of material.

  11. More Liberal agenda. Lets have government get involved everywhere…

    How about let consumers vote with their wallets… at least when the government isn’t dipping their fingers into them in order to help out some other cause.

    If we do anything, it should be to punch douchebag flyers with high status in the sack. Sorry, elitists, just because your work gets you lost of miles doesn’t mean you are any better than anyone else… so don’t act like it.

    1. Except the so-called free market isn’t. You need good access to information for a market to function efficiently, and these frequent flier systems do not always have good access to information.

        1. A good example would be flight availability. Asa former Continental frequent flier, when United took over, SFO-EWR flights on frequent flier miles were no longer available, despite being advertised.

          1. Let me understand. They eliminated all FF award tickets on SFO-EWR regardless of time of desired flight? How do you know this?

          2. No they didn’t. I just checked and dates I want from SFO to EWR are wide open for a FF ticket. Lot of flight options, including the nonstops.

          3. It was a route I flew regularly while my parents were alive. I’d sometimes want to use miles, particularly after they jacked up the prices for direct flights. Nothing available out to eleven months in advance.

            As noted, that may have been a result of the consolidation — and I have no need to fly that route any more.

            Another example is the “international upgrade.” If it is a connecting flight, the upgrade applies only to part of the flight. You had to pay for a higher fare class when I tried it ($1700 SFO-EWR-GLA, instead of $800) and it was 30,000 miles for an upgrade. Domestic upgrade was 10 (or 15) thousand. When the upgrade “came through” it was for EWR-GLA only.

          4. I think you are confusing the upgrade to what was available when your upgrade went through. Yes, you have to pay a higher coach fare to use your miles on certain routes or you have to use more miles to upgrade based on the class of service you are booking in. Also, to use miles on partner carriers, you have the carrier that holds the mile account, put in the request to the partner. That takes times, which then you could lose the space.

          5. Respectfully, neither is a lack of market information.

            The former has been adequately addressed by others so no need to repeat that.

            The latter, regarding the international upgrade, is also not a lack of market information. It sounds that you, like many others, simply didn’t read the program rules else you would have know that a higher fare class was required in order to use a mileage upgrade.

            That information is readily available to any member or potential member of the program as well as the general public.

          6. I never found the mileage upgrades to be financially beneficial on United. Usually, I could get a mileage only flight for not much more miles than the upgrade and without the cash expense. I never was happy with the “we take your miles and money and when we feel like it we tell you if you got upgraded” approach of United.

          7. I agree that during the initial consolidation period there were no mileage flights available on many popular routes. It was extremely frustrating. There were other issues too, like already booked mileage flights disappearing from your account. It drove away many customers.

            However, there are plenty of flights available for the SFO-EWR route now. I was even able to find a Saver award to fly the day before Thanksgiving just now.

      1. What’s missing? There is a LOT more information out now than there was 25 years ago and you got airlines tickets through a TA, or called an airline directly.

      1. SHHHHH, don’t give them any ideas. Seriously, we need a czar to handle 5 people who got sick??? More people will die in the US of flu than Ebola.

        Unless I get to be the Air Czar, then I’m okay with it.

  12. Governments tend to over regulate versus regulating in a balanced way. If travelers would like unexpected, and unpleasant, outcomes, then beg for government regulation.

  13. He needs to fly coach and probably didn’t have enough miles to upgrade. Most likely he lost some miles, due to not watching the program and…gasp….couldn’t get upgraded.

  14. I might be dense this morning, but what do frequent flyer programs have to do with comfort in coach? People don’t need to participate in frequent flyer programs. Those of us who do participate do so because it offers something we want, whether it be free flights or upgrades. Successful participation requires that the passenger understands the program and keeps current with any changes. If people don’t want to do that, they will be frustrated and disappointed. The rest of us are happy with the perks we receive as an elite flyer with a certain airline, based on the choices we make. If you won’t take the time to understand the program, don’t blame me because I pay attention to the details of my program.

      1. What do you find so offensive in the loyalty programs? I am not getting your take on them. If you get government being involved, you know that they have been wanting to tax the benefits.

    1. Hard to stay on topic. Two days in a row for more government regulations on two different aspects of the airlines industry. (Interesting that the focus of loyalty programs is only on airlines.)

      I’m all for better seats and more legroom, and I’m prepared to pay for it. I’m anti-loyalty programs as well. I just don’t want more government regulatory agencies involved.

  15. Personally I can’t see any issues with loyalty programs. You get what you pay for and they have served me well. I am more concerned about the quality of service in general, paid or not paid, although even there I don’t have major issues. I guess I’ve just been lucky or I’ve learned to enjoy the good and live with the bad.

    1. If there is no cost to belong to a loyalty program, then what we give is better than nothing. If I have to pay to belong, and some programs do charge, then my expectations are going to be different. I am happy to get $1 off a gallon of gas with Safeway’s program, I am happy to fly internationally for only the cost of the tax with my UA miles, cash back with my CVS card and gift certificates with my Macy’s card.

  16. If the government gets involved in these programs then it needs to get involved in ALL frequent shopper programs. I am a member of Delta Skymiles program and I fly in coach. But that is the only frequent shopper program I belong to. And I fly other airlines regularly if their prices and routings are better. I have not seen it as a way to treat me worse in coach class That I blame on myself and other travelers who were always looking to save some money by demanding lower and lower ticket prices. As much as we want to point the finger for the poor conditions in coach we have to look no further than the closest mirror to see where some of that responsibility lies. Maybe Mr. Grayson should look into seat pitch, space and food in coach rather than at frequent flyer programs. If he wants to make a difference to consumers maybe he should look into the frequent shopper programs at a number of stores. Some–such as Kroger and Rite Aid–require that I join their frequent shopper program in order to get sale prices advertised at their stores. Why should I part with personal information to get an advertised special at a store?

    Mr. Grayson and others are simply looking for publicity opportunities. I have known for years airline loyalty programs are a one-way street. But so are the loyalty programs set up by many companies–from hotels to grocery stores. Government regulation of an airline frequent flyer program will not improve coach class. Establishing minimum pitch and meal requirements for coach will help improve the conditions in that section of the plane.
    I am not an airline apologist by any means–i write a number of complaints each year about sub-standard treatment in coach. But nor do I think that airline loyalty programs are the root of all evil in those companies.

    And let’s face it—many stores and other companies recognize their most valued clients. High spenders and frequent spenders are more important to a company than the one-off client who is attracted only by a lower price.

  17. “…Frequent-flier programs are rigged to favor airlines…” Who doesn’t know that…of course, they are because they are run by the airlines. Isn’t the IRS rigged to favor the government…you are guilty until proven innocent? The Social Security is rigged to favor the government in regards to disability. Isn’t the frequent grocery shopper programs are rigged to favor the grocery chain?

    “…cost consumers billions of dollars.” Where are the facts to support this claim? I am not aware of any frequent flyer program of the legacy airlines where you must pay money to join?

  18. Same old song, isn’t it. Any business process carried on by anyone should be carried out in a fair manner and not be deceptive. Where some regulation might be merited is in the area of points expiry and devaluation.
    If the airlines wish to “coddle” a certain set of customers, that’s their business. But they should not be changing the levels of points required for things without reason. Proper adjustment for inflation would be a reason. Changing the points required for something because you gave out/sold a gazillion miles and now find you can’t redeem them is not a good reason.

  19. I am shocked that the goverment is not onto this already. $700,000,000,000 worth of miles? Should they be taxable? When you win a car on Wheel of Fortune, you pay taxes. When you have miles accumulating, and saved over years, ahould they be taxed?

  20. I just don’t get it. I have signed up for ALL the FF programs and hotel and rental car programs because I travel for work. I am required to choose the lowest fare and the “preferred” hotel, etc… so, if I’m lucky, I’ll eventually have some miles to redeem, some free nights, etc… BUT it does NOT affect my choices. I collect miles on every flight I take, and they may never add up to much. But, if they do, yay me; maybe I can fly my daughter or son home for a visit. If they don’t; no harm no foul because I flew the flight I was going to take regardless. Why do people contort themselves to gain miles or points or whatever…. Geez.

  21. Beware of unintended consequences. For those who use frequent flyer programs, one of the advantages is that their value (in free or discounted tickets) isn’t subject to income tax. It’s not hard to imagine that once they become a regulated program, they’d become viewed as a taxable benefit by our friendly Congressional representaties.

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