Perverse incentives: Loyalty programs seducing you to be disloyal

by Marieke on February 6, 2017

Like most frequent travellers, I am part of a loyalty program. Actually, I am part of several. Although I have my preferred Frequent Flyer program (and for those who know me it won’t be a surprise which one that is), I also have loyalty cards with other airlines. Sometimes my preferred airlines have inconvenient flight schedules and sometimes the companies and/or organisations I work for buy the tickets (and I am not rockstar enough to demand they buy the tickets with my preferred airline). And there’s another reason, I will get into below.

By early October last year, I had achieved Gold status in my preferred Frequent Flyer program. Gold is awesome; it let’s me skip most of security lines (whoohooo no more waiting!), let’s me skip the queue at the gate and gives me lounge access (whoohooo free drinks and foods!). Ah and yes, I can bring extra suitcases and collect frequent flyer miles faster.

But then I had a few months and a few trips to go. Flying with my preferred airline would have me collect frequent flyer miles (and faster than with my other frequent flyer programs because of the Gold status bonus), but it would not do anything for my status. I would not fly enough to achieve Platinum status and the flights I collected would not be transferred to the next year (so it would be easier for me the next year to keep my Gold status).

So there you are as a frequent flyer: do you choose points or do you collect flights to achieve a higher status with another frequent flyer program? For quite some, it will be the latter. For me as well. As it is increasingly difficult to redeem your miles in a way that makes any sense, the trade-off of a higher status at another airline’s frequent flyer program is higher.

As airlines, we really need to rethink loyalty programs; reward systems like these don’t promote loyalty, they seduce customers to be disloyal.

By the way: I write about my travel experience on my other blog Omakases.

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