Why Airline Loyalty Matters
Some say that the golden age of commercial flight has come and gone. I would argue that that age is still alive and well! I mean sure, we no longer have commercial supersonic flight, but look at the Etihad First Class Apartment. The level of service you receive in first class on an airline like Etihad or Singapore Airlines was unheard of in the days of the Concorde. So what does all that have to do with airline loyalty?
While there are some co-branded credit cards that will offer you elite qualifying mileage (EQM) for certain levels of credit card spend, none of these cards will get you to any level of elite status with the 3 major airlines. Even if they get you close, the real perks don’t really kick in until you have more than 50,000 EQMs in a given year.
The real benefits start when you fly 100,000 EQMs on an airline (or one of their alliance partners) each year. Before this year’s AA program changes you received 8 system wide upgrades (SWUs) for reaching that mark. These upgrades allow you to upgrade to the next class of service on any paid ticket when flying on American Airlines metal. These 8 (now 4) upgrades can save you a boat load of money! My trip to Singapore cost $420 and 2 SWUs to fly in business class. Otherwise the ticket would have cost close to $5000.
Delta offers its highest level of elite member a different set of benefits for flying 125,000 EQMs in a year including a Sky Club Membership, 4 golbal upgrades, and a CLEAR membership.
Let’s face it, if you live and work in the United States it’s likely that most of your air travel will be within the US and Canada. If you’re flying different airlines for each trip you take you’ll have little banks of miles with each of those airline loyalty programs leaving you with no enough miles to go on that life changing trip you want to book (unless you have one of these three credit cards).
Why Airline Loyalty Doesn’t Matter
Travel Credit Cards
As I mentioned above if you have a credit cards in the Chase Ultimate Rewards, AMEX Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou programs you can transfer the points earned through normal everyday spending to 25 different airline partners between all of the programs. This wide array of transfer partners would allow you to fly nearly any airline you wanted making the need for loyalty to one airline irrelevant. Some of the fantastic airlines you can transfer points to include Singapore Airlines (who I think has the best business class in the sky), Etihad, and Emirates.
By being able to transfer points to any of these airlines allows you to choose where you would get the best value from your hard earned points! Singapore Airlines First Class from New York to Frankfurt would cost you 110,000 Chase Ultimate rewards points each way if you transferred points to United, but only 57,350 each way if you transfer directly to Singapore Airlines!
Better Business Class Deals
In the past business class was almost reserved for just that, business travelers whose company was footing the bill for their travel. With the global economy recovering and more people willing to pay a bit more for a comfortable ride we have seen airlines start to discount their business and first class cabins. We have seen business class deals to Europe and Asia in recent months, and you never know when the next great deal will pop up. The fourms over at FlyerTalk are a great place to search for economy and premium cabin deals.
Airline Alliances and Partnerships
I think the need to be loyal to one particular airline is much less important than choosing one of the three alliances. I am partial to OneWorld, but after flying Singapore Airlines and writing this aboard an Air Canada Rouge flight, I may be checking out more Star Alliance airlines. Being able to earn EQMs by flying abroad on a different carrier does help a great deal toward earning status on the domestic airlines. If I didn’t have the miles from the Qatar Airways flights from earlier this year, I wouldn’t be even close to re-qualifying for AA Executive Platinum.
So Does Airline Loyalty Matter?
Yes and no. With the right credit cards you can fly anywhere in the world for pennies. If you do a lot of traveling domestically, I would say yes definitely try and stick with one airline to reap the benefits of the airline loyalty programs. If a lot of your travel is international then I would recommend sticking with carriers that belong to one of the alliances and that way you earn EQMs toward one of the domestic airlines to use the benefits if you do fly domestically.
What do you think? Does airline loyalty matter anymore? Let me know in the comments below!
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