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23/09/2008 – Choosing A Frequent Flyer Program Pt-2 : Fish's Suggestions For Helping A Photographer Maximize His Miles
Last week I posed a question to the readers of Flying With Fish. I asked the readers to consider the flying habits of photographer Mark Rebilas' and offer up their opinions on the best frequent flyer program for him. I received a few e-mails from readers, oddly enough nearly all the replies involved moving from US Airways' Dividend Miles to United Airlines’ Mileage Plus. This a logical choice (and I like United, and am a former United Premier Executive frequent flyer) , but given the state of the industry not the best plan to maximize Mark's potential benefits from belonging to a frequent flyer program.
So what would I suggest to Mark when selecting a frequent flyer program given his 'home airport' and flying habits?
For a primary frequent flyer program, given that Mark's home airport is a Star Alliance hub, I would suggest signing up for Air Canada's AeroPlan and ditching his US Airways Dividend Miles program, despite Phoenix (PHX) being a US Airways fortress.
For a secondary frequent flyer program I would suggest looking into the Air France-KLM Flying Blue program
Why would I select Air Canada's AeroPlan rather than suggesting Mark put his miles in 'the other' United States based Star Alliance airline, United Airlines? I suggest this change for a few reasons.
I'll start with why I believe Mark should eliminate the US Airways Dividend Miles from his frequent flyer programs. US Airways has stripped out the benefits of the Dividend Miles program to the point that it has essentially no value to its loyal customers. There are no longer any elite bonuses; the reduction in first class seating has eliminated the upgrades for most frequent flyers; the lack of lounge access for US Airways' Star Gold flyers; and the lack of a significant difference between being a Gold and a Chairman, makes the program less than beneficial for anyone.
United Airlines may offer more things to its frequent flyers, however their system does not allow for complementary upgrades and like US Airways offers no complementary lounge access for their Star Gold flyers.
What can Air Canada's AeroPlan offer Mark? It can offer him Star Alliance Star Gold at 35,000 miles, or 50 flown segments, vs 50,000 miles, or 50 flown segments, required to reach Star Alliance Star Gold. What does saving 15,000 miles to get to Start Gold get Mark? It gets him Priority/Zone 1 boarding, priority baggage, elite bonuses to earn him additional miles and it gets him worldwide access to Star Alliance lounges, even when flying domestically, when he is flying on a Star Alliance flights.
As a secondary frequent flyer program for Mark is an unconventional move to skip out on Delta's SkyMiles program. As a former Delta Airlines Platinum frequent flyer (as well as a former US Airways Platinum frequent flyer, maintaining Platinum on both airlines simultaneously for two years) I can honestly say that Delta's SkyMiles program offers considerably more than US Airways' Dividend Miles program.
So why skip Delta? Why overlook Sky Team airline alliance partners Northwest Airlines and Continental Airlines? For quite a few reasons, the first reason is that upgrades on Delta Airlines on many of the transcontinental routes which Mark flies are very hard to get access to for those below the status of Platinum SkyMiles system. Delta also no longer offers complimentary membership to the Crown Room Club, even for its Platinum flyers (this is one reason I chose to depart the SkyMiles program)
Why skip Northwest's WorldPerks Program (which I am formerly a WorldPerks Gold for 2006 and 2007)? Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines have heavily been engaged in merger talks. Should the likely merger happen Northwest Airlines will cease to exist and the two airlines will merge into the single entity Delta Airlines. This merger will approximately double the number of Delta SkyMiles Elites and in the process the merged airline will most likely further slash the benefits available to their 'elite' flyers.
How come I have completely written of Continental Airline's OnePass program? The answer to this one is simple. Continental Airlines has entered into an extensive agreement with Star Alliance carrier United Airlines and they will be leaving SkyTeam to join the Star Alliance, along with United Airlines and US Airways.
So how does this bring us to joining Air France-KLM's Flying Blue frequent flyer program? There are a few reasons I arrived at the Flying Blue program (I am currently an Air France-KLM Flying Blue Gold and a member of KLM's Club China). The first reasoning behind the Flying Blue program is Mark can gain status with either miles or segments. The Delta SkyMiles program is based on miles only, not miles and segments. With just 40,000 miles or 30 segments Mark can reach Gold (25,000 miles or 15 segment will put him at Silver). Elite flyers in the Flying Blue program can get upgrades when flying domestically in the United States on Northwest Airlines as well. I know it sounds to good to be true, but while flying on Northwest Airlines as a Flying Blue Gold I have a nearly perfect track record in getting upgrades on most routes I fly, many of which are transcontinental routes. This upgrade system is in place because Air France-KLM is an owner of the Northwest Workperks program, and Northwest's long and heavily intertwined relationship with KLM. While a Delta Gold or a Northwest Gold has no lounge access (and neither do the Platinum flyers) Gold status flyers with Flying Blue have access to Air France and Northwest Airline lounges Worldwide. As a United States based Flying Blue member Mark would have access to all SkyTeam lounges Worldwide when flying on any SkyTeam flight.
.......as a 'bonus' Northwest elites also have access to upgrades while flying on Continental Airlines (while they are still a SkyTeam member until late 2009), so Gold status on Air France would allow Mark to access potential upgrades on two SkyTeam carriers, and earn qualifying miles while flying Delta while he earns status.
There you have it. My two likely candidate programs for Mark maximize his frequent flyer experience, while barely making any changes to his flying habits or preferred airlines and airline alliances.
So if Mark flies 80 segments a year, or 75,000 miles, which is likely based on his last two years of travel, he can achieve Gold/Elite status with two major global airline alliances and give himself more options, a greater earning on his butt-in-seat miles (BIS) and more comfort when stuck in airports around The World.