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On Hold for 45 Minutes? It Might Be Your Secret Customer Score (wsj.com)
310 points by ramzyo 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 418 comments

The most obvious example of this in daily life is through airlines, where the difference is pretty transparent and you get night-and-day better service by being a loyal customer.

With top status with AA and UA (EXP and 1K), you connected to U.S.-based very senior phone agents right away, who always make sure to take care of any issue that arises. 50min delay on your AA flight? No problem, sir, we are rebooking you on Alaska so you don't miss your dinner meeting. (Real example from last weekend)

Customers are put in different levels in the loyalty program, with the top level getting to pre-board the flight, getting free upgrades to any empty seat in business, getting many other extra perks that make flying a joy. You get a smile, a thank you, and a free drink when flying in the back. Within a status level, customers are oftentimes ranked by how much revenue they bring to the airline. (On AA, upgrades are ordered by Elite Qualifying Dollars the flyer has spent in the prior year)

Contrast that with the experience the vast majority of people have flying the very same airlines: say the words United Airlines to your average flyer and it brings back memories of Dr. Dao, of cramped seats in the back middle row, of not being able to bring a carry-on because they're in basic economy, of having to gate-check your bags, etc.

At the end of the day, frequent flyers bring the vast majority of profits to airlines, so it makes sense to focus all efforts on catering to them vs. the average person. The cheap seats have very low margins, oftentimes negative… so it just infeasible economically to give everyone good service.

Tangent: Are there other people here who just refuse to sign up for any of these programs?

I have family members who are super into frequent flyer programs, credit card points, etc, etc. But I don't like the cognitive load they introduce, and I don't like having to figure out how much I'm being manipulated in any given interaction.

I get that I'm missing out on goodies, but they're paying for those goodies somehow, so I figure I'm doing ok once I account for the cost of my time and for situations where they'd get me to pay more.

Also: does anyone see these programs and think wow, this airline UX is so awful I want to show them my loyalty so that eventually they'll stop trying so hard to make me unhappy?

I'm pretty convinced this all boils down to a sort of low-grade white collar corruption: people who travel a lot for business sometimes can get away with favoring one airline over another, where this decision costs the shareholders a little bit but only the employee who's traveling will notice. Then it makes perfect sense: the employee directs a little extra money from the treasury to the airline, the airline provides a kickback to the employee in the form of a little comfort or attention, and that explains the whole miles phenomenon.

Yup! The dead giveaway - airline miles follow the passenger, not the purchaser.

My mom used to travel constantly for a Sales Engineer job, and in her telling the opportunity to arrange your air travel for optimal frequent flyer miles was an acknowledged piece of compensation for the hellish travel schedule.

>I'm pretty convinced this all boils down to a sort of low-grade white collar corruption: people who travel a lot for business sometimes can get away with favoring one airline over another,

I suppose it depends on the business but at my Fortune 50 we're required to use "lowest logical airfare". You can force a choice of Southwest over United by choosing one airport over another, and there's enough wiggle room to let you fly at your preferred times but overall it's designed to prevent gaming and escalates things for review if you try.

But unless you're a highly placed executive no one travels on the company dime often enough to bother with air miles anyway; airlines require far too much travel for even the bottom-most loyalty tier.

> But unless you're a highly placed executive no one travels on the company dime often enough to bother with air miles anyway

This isn't really a true statement. Marketing and enterprise sales folks travel a lot on the company dime. I'm on the engineering and consulting staff in my company, and I travel a decent amount, mostly domestic. Most of our engineers do frequent on-sites. One might not be able to get status, but the air miles definitely add up. I've been able to get more than a few free flights and upgrades. I would say it's worth bothering about.

> Marketing and enterprise sales folks travel a lot on the company dime

Yes, my bad. I just meant at my employer; we've invested heavily in telepresence, so only the bigwigs here get to travel with any regularity. And I was really trying to say without regular travel you won't end up with a meaningful status. For example United has a raft of tiers so unless you're [1] 1K or Global Services [2] you're literally not at the front of the queue for anything. Even their "Group 1" / "Group 2" boarding system meant to speed things up has a giant asterisk that reads "except 1K/GS, they go before anyone else."

[1] I'm using the colloquial "you" here to really mean "one" which sounds very stiff and formal to me. I don't literally mean you.

[2] https://thepointsguy.com/2017/08/united-global-services-in-2...

I understand now. My apologies for misunderstanding. Thank you for clarifying.

> This isn't really a true statement.

I'm pretty sure he was talking about the company he works at, not the company you work at.

Fair enough. I read that as a generalized statement. My bad.

Not necessarily. Two round trip in economy to Asia in a year will get you bottom tier status. Quarterly trips in business (not uncommon if you work at some big company) would get you top-tier status.

Two RT trips to Asia might barely meet the minimum tier for miles, but most (all?) airlines now have a minimum in dollars spent, as well. For example, for the first status level, United requires 25,000 miles and $3000 spent with United (this means code-share partner airline flights don't count).

One year, I flew RT SFO-Singapore (16,000 miles RT) and SFO-Tel-Aviv (10,200 miles RT). Due to getting a really good deal on economy tickets, those two tickets were less than $3,000 total and thus I didn't get even the most basic status level.

Not all airlines have spend requirements. (Alaska doesn't, and neither do most foreign programs). You can waive United spend requirement by using their credit card, too. Also, Star Alliance partner flights do earn PQDs on United as long as you fly on a United ticket (# starting in 016).

I have quite a few friends who fly primarily United but credit flights to other partner airlines where the requirements aren't as high. Aegean used to be a very popular way to easily get Star Alliance Gold status, and you were able to earn it purely by flying United.

Yes, you're right on Alaska, although since they don't fly internationally, it's much harder to rack up the miles with 2 trips (as parent was suggesting). Incidentally, Alaska is my favorite carrier for many reasons, but only for domestic flights.

As for spending with the credit card, unfortunately that isn't an option for me since my company pays for many of my tickets. And they will purchase the cheapest ticket, which often means buying it on the partner airline (e.g. Lufthansa plane but cheaper if booked as an Air Canada).

Thanks for the tip on Aegean. I checked it out and looks like 24,000 miles on partner airlines without any other restrictions to get Star Alliance Silver! Looks like a winner!

Status programs are really in a sad state on airlines. They are supposed to be a reward to customers but many times end up feeling punitive. For the airlines like United that have the minimum dollars spent requirement, I wish they would just make that the sole criterion, which would at least simply things!

On what airline?

2 Asia trips won't even meet the minimum number of flights, let alone qualify you for any status.

4 trips on Star Alliance from the US to Asia might get you the lowest status, which does essentially nothing for you. You probably would need another 8 trips to make it to Gold which is where it actually means something.

Your math is way off. Did you check the distance on a map? SFO-HKG 2x will earn you 27k miles [1].

Most programs have their status levels at 25k miles for lowest and 100k for highest. So, ignoring spend, 2 round-trips to HKG will earn you Silver status on United.

4 trips in business class (double miles) will earn you 110k miles, enough for 1K status.

[1]: http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=SFO-HKG-SFO;SFO-HKG-SFO

What? There’s a whole cottage industry of helping business travelers accumulate miles and award tiers. And the vast majority of heavy business travelers are just rank and file employees. It’s definitely not only highly placed executives.

I'm just talking about where I work; we've heavily invested in telepresence, to the point most everyone has a desk phone with a camera, a camera attached to their pc or both plus dedicated telepresence rooms integrated into outlook's meeting calendar. Almost every conference call is now video with the exception of really large calls like incident management.

I had 3 trips from North America to South America in the space of a year for recruiting, hiring and training and it nudged me into United's bottom tier, Silver. One more trip might have pushed me into Gold. Considering there's three tiers above that when you include 1K and Global Services and you can see other than possibly boarding in Group 2 there's not much point in the frequent flyer program. I requested upgrade on a flight from SFO to IAH recently just to see what would happen. I was something like number 58 on a 70+ person list. Again - all just anecdata.

Could someone jumpstart the process by getting some status tier via credit card? No doubt. Can they push it further using mileage runs? Of course! There's a flyertalk forum dedicated to it. But airlines are on to those shenanigans and the days of mileage running yourself into top tier status without a great deal of effort including getting one's employer to book flights that aren't the bottom-most fare classes as those yield the least in rewards. In fact there is at least one fare class (N) that gives no mileage or points at all.

Just look at Kenny Tarmac :)

> But unless you're a highly placed executive no one travels on the company dime often enough to bother with air miles anyway; airlines require far too much travel for even the bottom-most loyalty tier.

People working in hardware manufacturing do!

I was able to book myself a free business class trip to Europe on miles from flying just a couple of times a year, coach, non-flex fares, on the company dime, as a working schlub. I know plenty of folks who fly business class to China half a dozen or a dozen times a year and have more upgrades than they could ever possibly use. Hardly executives.

You get the same thing from parts suppliers. I regularly get emails announcing "spend $2000 with us in the next month and receive a FREE GIFT (rc helicopter / iPad / swanky wallet / DVD player / other nice thing)". It seems pretty blatant bribery to get employees (who probably don't care much either way where their gear comes from) to buy from one supplier over another.

That seems like an incredibly petty policy to me. You can't chose the direct flight that's $20 more expensive over the 2 layover flight at the bottom of the price list that tacks an additional 6 hours on the trip? Your charged hours would totally destroy that savings.

It can usually work out to a 3-6% return if you don’t think too much and just buy gift cards with the miles.

It’ll be hard to earn enough on domestic flights, but I eeck out a $50 gift card every couple years for my annual trans-Atlantic flights.

The person I knew with the most miles and status was a middling-level admissions counselor for a university.

That's literally the entire business model...

That and devaluation.

Don’t forget the “Air Canada” model of IPOing your frequent flyer program, nearly bankrupting it, and then buying it back for a fraction.

Frequent business travel kind of sucks. A lot of employers are willing to look the other way as long as it keeps their people happy. Especially in fields like sales with high turnover.

This is exactly what it is. Same for hotels.

There's something about air travel that makes it a uniquely terrible experience and drives me to participate in these programs.

There is nothing I do in my life regularly where I'm more restricted, or more closely related to a rigid caste system than air travel.

Every time you take a flight, for somewhere between 3 and 20 hours, you're told exactly where to stand, where to sit, what you can and can't wear, what you can and can't carry.

Almost everything about frequent flyer status is about making these limitations slightly less terrible. You're still going to be stuck in a shitty seat for several hours, but your seat might have slightly more legroom. You're still told when you can get on the plane, but you'll be at the front of the line. You still have to go through an invasive security process, but you'll go quicker, and it'll be slightly less invasive.

Most of these are stupid little things (and there are other much more objectively valuable perks, like waived change fees, improved options in the event of cancellations or delays, free checked baggage and the like), but in the artificial, restrictive and status-driven world of air travel, they're so nice to have.

All that said, I still think Southwest is the best domestic airline to travel and not be treated like a complete peon, assuming you don't fly enough to earn status with a traditional carrier.

Every time you take a flight, for somewhere between 3 and 20 hours, you're told exactly where to stand, where to sit, what you can and can't wear, what you can and can't carry.

On the other hand, it no longer takes months to travel West and half your family generally doesn't die of dysentery on the way there.

Yes but you were not expected to travel.

Most people were merely moving from house to house, sometime town to town. It was not frequent, and everybody knew it would take time so there was not that much time pressure.

Today, a lot of people are expected to be able to travel hundreds of miles, regularly, in short period of times, with not that much rest between those times, and be on schedule. Schedule that is precise to a few hours.

Appart from nomads and a few merchants (again traveling a way slower pace, frequency and lower expectations), most people just stayed put.

> On the other hand, it no longer takes months to travel West and half your family generally doesn't die of dysentery on the way there.

And yet the state of modern air travel is such that it's a still a toss-up which is worse.

I believe car travel provides that same benefit without the dehumanization.

You for a cross continental trip you lose days of your life confined to the interior of your car. I'd rather suck it up for a few hours and kick my feet up at the destination.

You are only confined when the car is at speed. There are ample opportunities to stop, exit, walk around freely, relieve yourself in a full-sized, accessible bathroom, buy food and drink at normal market prices, and even visit points of interest. Pets tend to be more comfortable, and you don't require a specific carrier to travel with them. Seats recline to a comfortable angle, and there is usually more legroom in a car.

While you are moving, the speeds are far lower--70 mph rather than 350-550 knots. The safety factor is lower; you're more likely to die in a car wreck than a plane wreck per distance unit.

But there's also no security queue or baggage check for a road trip. There's no airport ground transportation. There is a form of check-in for seat determination, but online and other early check-ins are specifically disallowed by the "shotgun rules". You save a fixed amount of time per trip with car travel, while airliners save time based on total trip distance.

So for me, airline travel beats car travel only beyond a certain distance threshold, which more or less directly equates to the travel time. I now set my threshold at two days. If I can't drive there within two travel days, I fly, or just don't go. Which means I'm now potentially adding hotel room charges to mileage expenses. That's about a 1000 mile radius for "easy" driving days and 1600 miles for "hard" driving days, which require relief drivers.

This is directly driven by my perceived worsening of the air travel experience. Sorting the customers out into service tiers based on how much they spend does not encourage me to spend more or to be loyal to a specific airline. It encourages me to pursue alternatives to the bad service that I know I will get.

This makes sense, but my reaction is the exact opposite. If they're going to structure it to be shitty so I do what they want, then I'm for damned sure not going to do what they want.

One of my big life rules is "don't feed pigeons." I mean it metaphorically, of course. Pigeons are machines for turning food into pigeon shit and more pigeons, and I'm not a big fan of either. A clearer version is something like, "don't reward something creating a problem in a way that deepens the problem."

So you've persuaded me that I should never join one of these things.

> If they're going to structure it to be shitty so I do what they want

They've structured it to be shitty because that's what the market wants: the lowest cost product. When I fly the major carriers, I often still see the "premium economy" seats available for purchase at check-in. Those cost an extra $50-100 to get extra legroom, early boarding, etc. These are the same perks that they provide for free to their entry-level frequent fliers.

It turns out that most people just aren't willing to pay 10-20% extra for a better experience. They'd rather buy the cheapest ticket, suck it up for a couple hours, and grouse about how bad air travel is afterwards.

By not joining a frequent flyer program, you're not stymieing them or anything. Non-loyalty customers looking for the lowest price is their bread and butter for filling up the back half of the plane. The service will be perfunctory and the experience will be marginal, because that's what most people are willing to pay for.

> They'd rather buy the cheapest ticket, suck it up for a couple hours, and grouse about how bad air travel is afterwards.

Truer words were never spoken. I had to book a Spirit flight home unexpectedly, and while I'd heard nothing but bad things about them, I found it a perfectly acceptable experience. Of course they charge for everything -- the ticket was $100 cheaper than United. Where do people think that discount comes from?

> They've structured it to be shitty because that's what the market wants

Kind of. It's what the current market wants. But through anticompetitive mergers and deregulation, the airlines have lobbied and gamed the laws to create a market tilted heavily towards their own preferences, that the public overwhelmingly hates.

Same. This is also why I avoid credit cards.

Same, this is why I'm an Amish subsistence farmer.

Please do a Show HN for your networked home computer powered by compressed air.

/not related to this thread, but interesting experience ahead:

The Amish around me were allowed to have electricity, but it could not be inside the house.

So they built a porch, turned it into a greenhouse looking room, and put all their electronics out on it. I have seen a refrigerator, laptop, and even a TV on their porch.

They also had electricity doing some stuff in their barn. I think it was mainly lights but I never went in there, just saw lights on 24/7. They milked the cows by hand (so I was told), plowed the fields with horses (unless they were harassing a local farmer to use their tractor and equipment), and lived like the textbook amish family.

They came from Pennsylvania right before buying the farmland. So I have no idea if they came from a particular sect that allows that, or what. I just know from talking with them (being neighbors and all), they were allowed to have certain stuff, just not allowed to have it in specific places.

I had several amish neighbors like this too. Nice people though except when they assumed they could use your farming equipment without asking and would get extremely defensive if you said no. That was just the fathers though. The wives and children were really great.

I like basic Southwest but would also include JetBlue in that set. Neither comes close to having status on Delta, though.

Southwest, JetBlue or Alaska.

But yeah, status, PreCheck, Clear, etc. are all "Can I remove this friction in my life?"

But with southwest you have the cattle drive to get on the plane and the need to check-in (ASAP!) 24 hours before the flight to get a good spot in the queue. I check southwest when planning trips because of other benefits, but I don't feel less stressed with Southwest.

Tangent: Are there other people here who just refuse to sign up for any of these programs?

Right here. I was asked the other day if I had a rewards number at 7/11 and if I wanted to sign up for one, if I was "really sure" after I said no twice. 7/11. I buy coffee there getting off the train. It's a convenience store. This....is getting ridiculous IMO. Amazon is getting their tentacles wrapped around so much (mild sarc), but the retail experience out in the world lately is just as awful.

I'm either bothered endlessly to "hey go get one more of those things it's only 2/$4" when I only want one, I'm asked to sign up for a rewards program, or calling support means I'm hounded for a "customer feedback survey" when all I wanted was a dang cup of coffee.

Rewards programs are basically the buy 9 coffees get the 10th free program. Grocery stores do gas rewards to favor certain purchases (presumably the more profitable ones or the ones they need to move) in lieu of discounting and then they also get to track everything you buy!

Loyalty programs do a bit more than the conventional punch card as they also track everything they can about you.

I signed up for the BA frequent flyer program and "cognitive load" really didn't ring true for me.

Basically, I add my frequent flier number to the booking form online and that's it. When I hit Bronze (it's a couple of long flights or so) I don't need to do anything, I just get to skip the queue at checkin and (airport depending) security.

There's no sales, no emails, no upsell, my (travelling) life is just better after a couple of flights.

It's especially not cognitive-load building if you live at a hub (or a place with only one carrier).

Live in Pullman, WA? You're flying Alaska anyway. Salt Lake City, UT? Get yourself a Delta number.

The tricky places are where there are lots of competing carriers. San Francisco with it's...pseudo-hubness for a number of airlines, Washington DC, etc.

Near Manchester, UK. Most of the flights I get are to the US, so BA or AA and I can use my BA number on both airlines.

That said, when I need to get a flight somewhere else and there's no BA or AA flight convenient I just get the flight I want to get and don't sweat the loss of status building.

SF is definitely a hub with about 50% market share to United. It's also a hub for the smaller Alaska (mostly via their acquisition of SFO-based Virgin America).

As a SFO-based frequent flyer, if you fly to numerous destination (instead of doing the same commute each trip), your choices are likely: fly United or take an extra connection.

SFO is weird, because it's a United hub, but there's just enough competition from Alaska nee Virgina America and Southwest that I could see being tempted off United.

Unlike say, Denver or Salt Lake for United and Delta respectively.

I'd also put SEA in this category, especially with Alaska and Delta no longer playing nice in the sandbox.

Try to actually use your points on a flight or upgrade and you'll see problems - it can be extremely difficult to find availability, even if you are prepared to book a year in advance, and the BA tools for searching are buggy as hell.

I guess I just treat Airmiles/Avios as irellevant compared to the actual benefits which are skipping queues/extra bag if I need it/lounge access at silver.

Maybe one day I'll book a flight with Avios, and when I do I'll have enough for sure, but I don't treat them like a perk.

Agree with the BA tools/site being terrible, it seems to be pretty consistent that this is the case across airlines.

The lounges are the main benefit for me - especially at LHR where there is hardly any seating in the main concourse!

Another thing though about Avios is BA's constant errorsion of benefits. Every year or so they send out an email saying 'we asked our customers and they said they wanted more choice', followed by saying they're removing free drinks and meals, reducing the hours hot food is available in lounges etc. I'd respect these decisions much more if they were honest and said 'our shareholders want us to cut costs!

Avios is extremely useful for getting cheap domestic flights last minute. SFO-LAX day of departure starts at $180, but costs 7,500 Avios only. PUS-KIX or HKG-TPE cost a measly 4,500 Avios. They can be a real life-saver.

I refuse all such games. It’s like Thoreau said: you judge your wealth based on what you can afford not to worry about. It means giving up money, but on principle these “points” are disgusting to me. Especially credit cards, which are also frequently rationalized based on their security benefits over debit cards- security benefits which IMO there is no reason debit cards shouldn’t also have.

The essential difference is in the name! A debit card creates a debit from your account. It is your money that is used to complete the transaction. A credit card creates a credit to a revolving loan account. It is the bank's money that is used to complete the transaction (and you repay the bank separately). The bank cares a hell of a lot more about its money than it does about your money. Sure, regulations come into play as well but they're not enough to bridge that essential difference.

For what it's worth, I split the difference and use a charge card. The American Express card I have needs to be paid off at the end of every month. I pay them an annual fee, and in return for that plus credit card fees, they try to keep me happy. They have been very good for me with things like dubious charges and bad vendors.

Ultimately we are talking about a feature whereby someone steals my card and buys something, and then I contest the purchase and don’t have to pay for it. So abstractly, is there really a difference?

Edit- Is the crucial difference that the vendor ends up losing the money rather than the bank in the case of credit cards?

Economics. If you only view flights as getting from point A to point B, then the rewards programs aren't worth it. For some people, there's more at stake than getting from point A to point B... eventually.

Comfort and less time wasted are very valuable for the wealthy (in terms of $ they're willing to spend without monetary return, since it ends up being a smaller percentage of their disposable income).

For business travellers, it's efficiency, fewer missed meetings, and psychological comfort, allowing maximum focus on business concerns.

Yeah, traveling for business, it's about reducing cognitive load.

You're giving up a 5%+ (minimum) return on your money spent by declining to participate. For me the return is closer to 20–30%. Declining to participate has a non-trivial opportunity cost.

It's not free to participate.

It's only like 5 minutes of your time (if that), unless you have difficulties following basic account sign up processes on a website.

And you get that time back with interest in how easy it makes the check-in process.

Push notification 24hrs in advance, check in and automatically download boarding pass.

Phone has your boarding pass at the airport, as well as push notifications for gate changes.

Phone has the baggage carousel information and terminal maps with food and restrooms called out.

Yeah....I get all that on all but the cheapest of discount airlines just by downloading their apps. This is not a "loyalty perk".

Why would you have the app and not sign up for the program?? It's no extra work, and it's not like you're avoiding being tracked. Especially with an airline.

That's a totally different game. Of course I have individual airline accounts, and of course I accumulate those points. Hell, half the time the points and website account are the same thing now.

But that's peanuts and will never add up to much because I only fly a few times a year and it's usually on different airlines. The real miles game is accumulating points from other purchases, and churning those into free travel and such. Both generating and redeeming points in those volumes is a lot of work -- I've done it and eventually decided it wasn't worth my time.

Because I just fly with whomever is cheaper/more convenient flight time. I don't fly often enough to get anything useful out of these rewards programs, and I delete the airline's app as soon as my trip is done; the cognitive overhead of creating yet-another-login and tracking these points with a half-dozen different airlines just so I might or might not get some sort of reward in five years is in no way an appealing value prop to me.

Though I have seen airlines start offering 0 miles or a fraction of miles on the cheapest seats unless you pay more.

"Pay $20 to double your bonus miles!" is the airline equivalent of buying in-game currency.

Except that as this person explains, it's a huge time suck to do well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18359808

Well there's different levels to it. He went full bore and did a lot of first class travel (which is harder to get due to low availability). If you just take a couple of hours getting familiarized with the different frequent traveler miles program and chose the right one for your travel pattern, plus make sure to get a credit card with a decent mile accumulation rate, you can already get a couple of business class long haul flights out of it.

I avoid store programs, but for travel it’s a no brainer.

Ditto for credit cards. Given the model of credit cards, it doesn’t make sense to leave money on the table. If you shop at Amazon or Target, leaving 5% of you business on the table doesn’t make sense.

I get the sentiment, but for air travel it's totally worth it for me at least. I travel a fair bit at work, and we just use one main airline (and by extension, alliance) by default. The cognitive load is just giving them an eight digit number when we book - that's literally it. And in return I get extra baggage allowance, lounge access with free food, more choice of seat selection, etc. Sure, if you don't do enough travel or have to use multiple different airlines it doesn't make sense, but for a lot of people it really does.

For me, if I just refused to participate then I would do the same flying with the same airline and just wouldn't get any of the free benefits... That's before free flights and upgrades that I can then purchase with the points.

So it makes a lot of sense then to get a credit card that earns extra points into the same account for purchases I would have made anyway. I'm now starting to think about my next trip, which will be business class to five countries in Europe (from Australia). Would cost about $10-15K in airfares (which I would never have paid myself) but I'll have to pay probably about a grand in taxes and most of the points I've gathered over about two years of work travel and credit card purchases I would have done anyway.

At the end of the day, the cost of this is already baked into the services, so you're paying for it whether you participate or not!

Yeah, that was me before. Then I got super into it and earned a ton of miles, and used them on some some really cool experiences. Like 25+ int'l business class flights, 6 int'l first class and some more. UK x 3, Finland, Middle East, Japan x 2, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia over a few years.

Did what would have cost like $300k in flights and hotels for maybe a few grand across 5 vacations and still have like a million miles left over.

It was a huge time suck though, keeping up with blogs, subreddits, secret Slack groups etc. Booking the really outrageous first class flights is hard to do unless you are constantly checking availability and can take a vacation like anytime you want.

Would do again, a little too busy to now though.

What's the best starting point in your opinion to get "into it"?

I read somewhere that (maybe just one?) airlines had tightened up the rules around this sort of thing and it's much harder to do now, but maybe I misread…

/r/churning and /r/awardtravel

Plenty of people. My grandma used to stay at the same hotel every week, didn't want the loyality program, never signed up for the credit card.

Extra cognitive load is real.

I'm the same. I've skipped out on maybe a dozen flights of points. I don't have an account. I just don't want to be bothered. I have plenty of wealth and don't need your point system.

I extend this everywhere. I don't have enough a single points card anywhere.

The only thing I use is Canadian Tire money because it's fun and stupid but they're even replacing that with a stupid points card.

This is my logic. I don’t feel like wasting my single life reading blogs and watching YouTube videos about points/benefits. Would much rather buy out directly. I also value not dealing with the frustrations/loopholes/asterisks that come with these programs.

There seems to be two different discussions going in this thread. Frequent-flyer programs don't require to do any of reading blogs, watching YouTube or whatever. You just input your number at booking time (or later if you forgot or someone else booked for you). That's literally all there is to it. After a number of flights this gives you extra baggage allowance and line skipping and preferred treatment.

> Are there other people here who just refuse to sign up for any of these programs?

I don't bother with the rewards programs I'd hardly use or with rewards programs which have "burned" me in the past.

Example 1: If I don't go to your movie theatre chain very often, I'm not signing up for your "CineGreat Program" or whatever you call yours this year. I'm also not a Frequent Flyer -- and airlines buy and sell each other in and out of bankruptcy so often that who knows that rats nest of points anyway on top of that. But the grocery store I shop at regularly down the street? Sure thing sign me up.

Example 2: AAA hotel discounts might be nice, but when you can't help me on the side of the road at midnight when that was the exact reason why I signed up then you can nevermind that renewal for the rest of my life.

I think you can find a happy medium.

I have a JetBlue card that I use for everything non-food spending. That gets me a free flight a year.

I have a capital one card I use for food. I get rewards. Every few months I get $25 back. I could hyper optimize, but nah, I'm happy with the system.

I have friends who do the whole shebang and I agree, it's too much: the focus is to keep you focused on pulling out that card because that's what CC co's want. More spending.

I am traveling a lot more for work, and I'm considering switching to a different card, but I still have no plans of going "all out" and card hopping.

I pay cash for coffee at Starbucks at least once a day and coworkers can't believe I don't have the app and collect stars.

Yet somehow I'm the sucker who doesn't get it.

What value are you getting for the discount and convenience you're giving up?

I don't think you're a sucker, but I will say Starbucks is one of the few that I'm actually signed up for; mostly because the app lets me just run in and grab my coffee instead of worrying about a line and waiting for it to be made. The 'free' coffee from stars is just a bonus.

One of my buddies took about a business credit card with great airline miles features before entering college. He had the money to pay for college due to his employment during school, so he paid for tuition, rent, etc all with the card and paid it off at the end of every month and racked up a hell of a lot of airline miles. He took many, many trips to Asia (from California) on the miles he got. I kinda wish I did the same...

Absolutely, yes. I refuse 1) because loyalty programs are generally designed to increase income rather than save customers money, and 2) I loathe the way the airline programs play to snobbery.

I tend toward cattle class seats to avoid being on the wrong side of the class system, even though my knees complain.

I've never signed up for a frequent flyer program. They're obviously just trying to get me to use their airline more often than I otherwise would. Seems to me I'm better off just keeping them all at a distance and picking whichever airline makes sense for each specific trip.

I think there's probably a dramatic difference in attitudes about this between those people flying for personal reasons and trying to play the points game to maximize the goodies and those being paid to fly for work and just letting things accumulate and reaping some personal benefits from it when they fly for themselves.

I fly for work a bit and other than the initial sign up for the programs and giving my various reward account numbers to my company travel agent once, there's no cognitive load to me. I don't go out of my way to maximize the goodies, but I've received enough perks here and there that the whopping 10 minutes I've invested into each signup process has more than paid for itself.

>I have family members who are super into frequent flyer programs, credit card points, etc, etc. But I don't like the cognitive load they introduce, and I don't like having to figure out how much I'm being manipulated in any given interaction.

You can't handle the cognitive load of attaching a unique identifier to your account? You don't need to pick an airline or game credit cards - just sign up next time you book a flight with a major airline and you will build up points in the background.

Different flights and tickets give you a different number of miles. If you are serious about accumulating miles you can spend a great deal of time and effort attempting to optimising how many miles you earn.

If you just 'attach a unique identifier to your account' you aren't going to get much out of a frequent flyer programme.

>If you just 'attach a unique identifier to your account' you aren't going to get much out of a frequent flyer programme.

If you're on a consistent route (ex: SF to NYC or London) picking an airline and sticking with it when you fly in every week/month will absolutely rack up points.

Acquiring points is simple. Redeeming them requires a non-trivial amount of work.

Personally, I wouldn't even call acquiring points simple. Right now when I fly it's complicated enough to pick a flight. But one of the points of a frequent flyer program from an airline's perspective is to encourage me to fly their airline more often. So if I belonged to one of the programs, I'd also have to be doing the calculation of, "Oh, if I fly X instead of Y, I'd get enough miles to level up in status and/or get a free goodie." Which means having to learn and keep up with the rules, balances, and rewards of the various programs.

Do not want.

All rewards programs and cards are the same thing -- accumulating virtual currency. The token ancillary perks the airline gives you for playing along aren't worth it.

I only do cashback. I currently get anywhere from 1.5 to 5% off of anything I buy via cash back. I don't think about it until I go to pay my credit card bill, then I just use the points to take the balance down the 5%

that's credit cards vs frequent flier programs. Two different things. you can double up on FF by having the 'right' credit card, yes. But that's not the only way to get miles.

Parent comment mentioned credit card points. I technically get points, but I just immediately convert them into money.

I was lucky enough to fly Global Services on United through my old boss' account at my old company.

Flew internationally a couple of times and the level of attention was insane.

Get to airport and they walk you to the lounge, past security, and then come grab you when you're ready to pre-board (before everyone including military).

My connecting flight was delayed by 20 minutes, cutting down my connection time to 50 minutes. No problem, concierge called me and let me know they had proactively booked me on the next available flight just in case.

I would always buy economy seats and there wasn't a single time I wasn't upgraded to first.

Whole experience was insane, wish I could qualify for GS ever in my life.

Global Services is insane. Qualification requirements are insane, too. It's invite-only, based on unpublished criteria. It's speculated that when based at a hub airport like SFO, it takes about $75k in annual spend on full-fare United first of business tickets. There are a few other ways to qualify: fly 4 million miles with United, marry a million-miler who has GS, pre-pay $250k towards airfare for your company, or $50k personally.

As a lowly 1K who only spends the minimum $12k annually of my own dime (and earns around 125k UA PQM on top of 100k over at AA), I would never dream of qualifying for GS myself… but one can dream.

1K here (12th year now). Fly about 200K miles / year, about $20K / yr expenditure. ENgineering consultant FWIW.

One time I was upgraded to First Class (domestic, US) and I sat next to the guy (at that time, literally a guy, a man) who essentially runs/administers the GS program.

He was extremely friendly, and as the drinks & flight continued, I pulled a /small/ amount of info from him about GS.

BASICALLY, it comes down to profit. Every year the bar changes, but if you are something like the 0.1% most profitable customer, you are in GS. Every year the amount varies, but typically you need to buy $50K - $75K of high-profit airfare (read: full class airfare, usually highest class of service, often international)

If you saw me (small business owner, consultant) you'd think I'm either a schlub or an athlete, but not a "CEO type". I am CEO of a one-person company. I do very well, but I don't work for Google / Bain / McKinsey / etc. So I book inexpensive airfares (it's my company, my money) and I accept that there are employees who just travel a lot and get treated like royalty.

I would love to have others jump in and tell me this next statement is flat-out wrong, but IMO the GS folks aren't entrepreneurs and small business owners, they work for BigCo and are treated like royalty. Not jealous at all, from my informal survey the divorce rate of GS is way higher than average. Also many GS folks on the "fringe" are stressed out b/c once they've had it, they don't know exactly what they did to get it, and what it will take next year.

I sleep well at night.

Yeah it's totally nuts. To be honest, I regret seeing the other side and knowing I'll never taste that again ;)

If your dream includes spending that much time on an airplane, I guess I understand why this "elite status" is a dream of yours!

Personally, I'd rather never have to get on a plane - unless I'd like to.

> pre-pay $250k towards airfare for your company, or $50k personally

I’ve never heard of the prepayment for GS option, and those numbers seem low. Do you have a source for that?

Yes, it's called the PassPlus program [1]. I don't believe United publishes the status perks online, but you can see the full terms on the FlyerTalk thread wiki [2].

    Investment Levels
    Individual Plans
    Minimum $25,000 - Complimentary Premier Gold
    $35,000 - Complimentary Premier Platinum
    $45,000 - Complimentary Premier 1K
    $50,000 - Complimentary Global Services
    Corporate Plans
    Minimum $50,000 - 1x Premier Gold, 1x Premier Silver, 4x United Club Annual Memberships
    $100,000 - 1x Premier Platinum, 2x Premier Gold, 3x United Club Annual Memberships
    $300,000 - 1x Premier 1K, 1x Premier Platinum, 3 Premier Gold, 6x United Club Annual Memberships
(Looks like they've changed the corporate options since last I looked at it. I am sure that there is still a level of corporate spend that comes with GS memberships but it may more closer to $500k than $250k.)

[1]: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/products/business/passp...

[2]: https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-airlines-mileageplus/...

In my experiece the exact opposite is done by telecoms, insurance and banks. New customers are enticed with offers not available to existing customers, and great things are offered to them. Being a customer for decades doesn’t have rewards with that group of businesses.

This is so true. You can be a customer for over a decade but you still need to continually phone and threaten to change providers in order to get the same deal they offer people who switch every 6 months.

I used to work at shaw on the data team, so I'm aware the problem is perverse incentives for selling to new clients over existing, but the cost of win-backs is so high (re-signing a previous subscriber) that you can usually streamline the affair by just asking for customer retention right at the start. The generally offer you the best deal they can right away because the goal now is to keep the subscriber in any form.

Still a massive pain in the butt.

The typical client of telecoms, insurance and banks probably does not change much. So ones signed up, it does not make sense to spend money on them. Airlines might be different because each flight is bought separately. You want ff to keep coming back (to stay ff).

I have been with my current bank since I was 3 months. I needed a loan to pay deposite for my first after college apartment -- nearly couldn't get it, had to provide a budget, etc even though it was a very reasonable amount.

The thing I don't get is, do they expect me to ask them should the time come to get a loan for a house?

Mortgages are tricky.. consumers either shop around for the best deal or they use a broker to do so (who may not work in your best interest per se)... Then the loans get bought and sold all the time and your servicer will change.. There are some perks with having a mortgage with your bank though..

You're not wrong, but I feel like they're chasing diminishing returns.

Every other segment of the economy has shown us that people are willing to pay a premium (20%? 50%?) to be treated like a human and get a better service/product.

On airlines, you have to pay 100% more just to get a refundable fare. 300% for premium economy (a slightly wider seat with slightly more legroom). 500% for business class. It's insane, and it makes everyone hate airlines.

Nobody gets upgraded out of goodwill because it's their honeymoon, not anymore. They're chasing the 0.01% of the flying public. Those perks are too valuable to just make ordinary people have a good experience.

I think it's short sighted and it will bite them in the ass. No "normal" person can justify paying 3x as much to have a slightly more comfortable seat for 16 hours. But I CAN afford 20% more to have the latest laptop.

Something about the business traveler spending someone else's money. But it feels shortsighted and I don't think it can last.

The price differences are not as stark as you say. Business class in particular has gotten quite cheap these days. In the past few months, I flew round-trip California to Beijing 3 times for $1,900 in business class. That's affordable to many people, and quite reasonable.

There are a lot of perks even when you don't get an upgrade. The intangibles (being taken care of when issues arise — I've received amazing service, even when the issues were my fault) are invaluable.

Most people aren't flying international to begin with, and certainly not people trying to stay affordable. In that price range, 1900 per ticket is out of reach and certainly insane tonthink 'affordable' to an average customer of airline service.

Agreed. I just paid $270 to get to China from California.

Can you get a great fare? Absolutely; I flew business on miles from SFO to VIE for 127,500, roundtrip, all in. Is it common? Absolutely not. I check business fares every time I book a ticket and it's virtually always 5x for international. I've seen it edge down towards 3x on airlines that don't have Premium Economy, but what gets me is that Premium Economy is never less than DOUBLE what economy is. Absolutely insane.

Domestically, business is usually 3x. I just booked my first ever paid-for-with-real-money business class domestic flight SFO-CLE for thanksgiving; it's not that it's cheap, it's just that thanksgiving demand drove coach fares up so much that business starts to look reasonable -- 1500 vs 750.

The perks are invaluable? No, I think they can be valued, and I don't think hardly anyone paying their own dollars values them at even the price the airlines ask for, let alone infinite.

My friends who travel to China on company business brag about "only" paying $3000 of company money for Business because they have such discounted fares through their employer, where it would normally cost $5k. $1900 is virtually unheard of, congrats to you, but it's far from normal.


Take your pick of dates on the calendar: $1,900 to $2,200 is available pretty much any days.

Sure, it takes a bit of knowledge and research to find the good deals, but there's almost always a way to cross an ocean round-trip at around $2k.

This just isn’t true. In the modern era, and presumably thanks to computers and revenue modeling and so on, business is often quite reasonable in comparison.

It all depends on the route and situation but it’s common for business to be only 25% more than coach on many routes where it’s very much worth it.

So if you aren't in the top tier, fly Southwest as much as you can. I do. All the same seats with minor differentiation possible. There are many reasons they have been the only airline to be profitable for decades, but having good service for everyone is definitelty one of the reasons.

Also, Southwest's no-questions-asked-no-limits policy on cancelling and rebooking tickets makes them my favorite. They recently put a limit of one year on the rebooked ticket, however. You can do this right up until boarding has already begun and there are no penalties. Nobody else does this.

They're polite, they're generally well run, seats are reasonable, maintenance seems to be good, they have good routes, cheap tickets, good baggage policy, and don't fee you to death. On top of that, they have responsive customer service on the phone, or via DM Twitter, which is way better than sitting on the phone!

Whatever they're doing is the right way and all other airlines should just copy them.

As a "normal" flyer, Southwest was the only airline I flew with in the US which didn't seem to make it its MO to have me be as miserable as possible through the entire experience. The budget pay-extra-for-everything airlines in Australia and SEA consistently provide a better experience than what I got from Delta, United or American.

Strongly disagree. Southwest is hugely overrated imo. It’s one of those companies that maybe used to be better or something, so they have a whole class of fans who are blind to how lame they currently are. I’m probably that way about Apple :)

Not that any of the other major carriers is much better. But I don’t love the lining up and then hoping for a good seat, they’re often not the cheapest, and letting everyone check two bags for “free” is a cost drag on everyone. Unbundling is better. So is having different classes of service so that people who want to subsidize the entire cost of the flight for a lie flat seat can do so.

I’ve also had multiple shitty customer service experiences with them, including one where they wouldn’t let me board an earlier half-full flight instead of the one I was ticketed on without trying to charge me 2x the cost of my ticket as an upgrade fee. Now, I obviously wasn’t entitled to anything beyond what I paid for, but I’ve been treated much better by many airlines and they were just rude about it. They owed me nothing, and they weren’t about to let me forget it.

I still fly them every now and then but it’s a pretty mediocre brand that people are irrationally excited about.

Southwest, at least as of 2 years ago when I stopped flying. Of course being partial to them just means I'd check their prices first, before Matrix.

1. Experienced pilots on all legs, rather than eg Corporate Liability Shield #73 dba United Express.

2. No change fees. Sure, fellating surveillance programs on other airlines can probably get you this too, but why bother?

3. As you've referenced, two free bags. Most of the time "unbundling" means paying the same fare plus the fees.

4. Hot chocolate (yes, this really deserves its own bullet point).

If any airline actually stopped enabling the blue shirted molesters, I would switch in a heartbeat. Until then, they're really all just cattle cars.

My feelings on unbundling: it's less about the product, and more about product-market fit.

Air travel was a premium market product for many Americans well within living memory. The old regulated-pricing model helped to reinforce this: airlines used to sometimes advertise "we're the same cost as the other guys, but our food is better/planes are faster/experience is superior." So people traditionally expect a certain degree of basic services and features.

The market pivoted quite quickly towards "we're promoting the lowest price we legally can by means of unbundling features", and obviously, they're not going to trumpet the second half of that premise.

Either cnnsumers aren't quite ready to adjust their expectations that far downward, or the product is now so hollowed out that even the new lower price feels too high for what it is.

Economy airline travel is insanely cheap now, often quite a bit cheaper for two round trip tickets than driving the same distance in a personally owned car would cost.

> letting everyone check two bags for “free” is a cost drag on everyone

Not necessarily. More checked bags -> fewer carry-ons -> faster boarding as people aren't trying to cram their bags into the overhead and giving up and gate-checking -> shorter turnaround time -> higher aircraft utilization, cheaper airport fees -> cheaper tickets

> faster boarding as people aren't trying to cram their bags

Checking and loading baggage takes way longer, not to mention the unloading and waiting at the other end.

but it happens at a point where time is less critical. After a plane lands and the passengers depart, there is a race to clean, restock, and and board customers for the next flight, so the plane can get back in the air. Any part of that process that can be made more efficient benefits airlines. Checking luggage likely reduces complexity during that narrow window, and adds it before and after the flight

Not with containerised baggage

i suspect people's opinions about airlines are severely skewed by their home airport and choice of route. i mainly fly between two southwest hubs, and only occasionally is there a delay of 30-60 minutes. when i fly the same route on united, it is delayed more often than not, sometimes by hours or even cancelled entirely.

On the other hand if you’re flying with another person and you want to sit together, you’re more or less forced to pay for a seat upgrade. I’ve flown on Southwest with my girlfriend 5 times this year and only 1 time did we get to sit together even when I checked in exactly 24 hours beforehand. It’s infuriating. I imagine if you’re traveling with children it’s completely unacceptable.

There’s a lot of things I like about Southwest Airlines, but the lack of assigned seats negates them all.

They have special family boarding. My wife and I just pay for a single seat upgrade, and then hold a second for the late boarder. Would want to be up front anyway.

i honestly have a hard time believing this. i've flown southwest multiple times a year with my family for over a decade. we never pay for early check-in and we're always able to sit together in pairs, often no more than a couple rows apart. i can't remember the last time i checked in within an hour of check-in being unlocked and didn't get a B or even a high A. maybe it depends on the route?

Definitely depends on the route. I used to live in Indiana and flying out of Indy was as you described. I now live in Denver and I always need to upgrade if I want to guarantee sitting next to my wife.

Absolutely not. Not ever. Their service is fine, but the last thing I want to do is have to pay extra or race to checkin at the exact right time to get the right boarding group to stand in the right place to fight for a seat.

I want my seat to be there, waiting for me, when I feel like getting on the plane.

I don't even go to movie theaters that force me to have seat anxiety. I'm sure not gonna do it on an airline.

You prefer climbing over people and/or being climbed over? I like assigned seats, too, but they make me time anxious.

I've never once felt obligated to get on the plane earlier just because I had a window. The person on the aisle knows someone will be getting into the empty seats, so they leave their seatbelt undone and get up when I arrive. I do the same if I have the aisle. Maybe this makes me an asshole, but I don't think this is one of those "common courtesy" things; after all, airlines are far from standard in boarding process; I don't think boarding groups usually favor window first; if anything they're random or start from the back of the plane first, or something like that.

I wouldn't worry about it so much if you can help it; I think it's just normal to have to get in to a window seat. If it bothers you, perhaps select the aisle and comfort yourself that you're being nice by boarding last :)

I used to wait to be the very last person to board the plane. I saw no reason to board early and then wait around while everyone else boards. Unfortunately the recent move to charge for checked baggage has made that approach problematic because far more people are bringing full sized carryons, making overhead space precious. However if you have minimal carryons, I'd recommend being the very last person to board--it is far less stressful.

These days, I just don't fly unless I absolutely have to.

> There are many reasons they have been the only airline to be profitable for decades

As of roughly a decade ago, according to Philip Greenspun, airline profitability was mostly determined by management's negotiating leverage with unions: http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/unions-and-airlines

> Federal aviation regulations, on the other hand, require an airline to operate with pilots who have specific training for and experience at that airline.... An airline whose pilots go out on strike is therefore shut down.

> A competent pilot union negotiator will present the airline with a plan to transfer essentially all expected future profits into the paychecks of pilots. It does not make sense to accept less because the pilots always have the power to strike and shut the airline down. The only real point of discussion would concern the best estimate of what the airline's profits are likely to be during the term of the contract.

> ...Should the economy turn down during the contract period, the pilots, having expected to collect 95 percent of the airline's profits, will in fact be entitled to 115 percent of the airline's profits. As the airlines tend to operate with fairly small reserves, paying out 115 percent of profits results in the airline seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and a federal judge adjusts the pilot union contract so that the pilots are back to collecting 95 percent of the new estimated profit figure.


> How does Southwest survive and prosper? Since they are constantly growing they don't have as high a percentage of senior pilots as their competitors. Also, their union may be taking a longer/smarter/more realistic view about maximizing its compensation. A union does have an incentive to avoid bankrupting an airline: if the airline goes Chapter 7 (liquidation) rather than Chapter 11 (reorganization), the senior pilots may have to start over at another airline at 1/10th of their former hourly compensation.

Southwest has historically done a lot of things very, very well, but airlines are also a weird business where "profitability" and "not going bankrupt" are strange concerns.

I don't know what about this has changed or if we've just been lucky not to have any high-profile airline bankruptcies since then. Perhaps pilots unions have followed the example of the NBA players' union and have negotiated for a specific revenue share rather than (or in addition to) a hard salary floor.

the fact that they only fly one kind of plane must help at least a little. maybe this gives them a little more leverage with the union, since the pilots are individually interchangeable?

as an aside, when i fly, i usually travel with my dad, who is a big general aviation enthusiast. he often remarks that the southwest pilots make by far the smoothest landings.

Ugh, with the stupid online checkin asap to get the lining up order, I prefer United Basic Economy over Southwest. I even prefer Ryanair over Southwest.

I haven't found this to be a problem. Worst case with Southwest, I get a bad position in line, leaving only seats I don't like. Any other airline could assign me a seat I don't like earlier in the process, and it's not always possible to change especially without paying extra.

Except that airlines still get the bulk of their revenue from economy class. The average margin may be higher per business/1st class ticket but the bulk of total sales and profit comes from economy.

The airlines' discriminatory marketing actions are buffeted by disparate nature of their customer base (a group of strangers who'll typically never meet again after sharing a flight) as travellers don't have enough interest in and means of organizing. Otherwise, if economy class customers boycotted en masse, that airline would suffer more than if a handful of 1st class fliers did. United Airlines' scrambling after the Dr Dao debacle was driven by desire to stem the potential financial loss, not just PR crisis.

> Except that airlines still get the bulk of their revenue from economy class.

That's exactly backwards from anything I've ever read about airline economics. Do you have any references to support?


suggests that on a given BA LHR<->IAD flight, the 122 economy seats total about $107K, the 40 premium economy seats about $106K, the 48 business class seats about $322K, and the 14 first class $122K. The 14 first class seats out-rev (and out-profit) the entire economy cabin.

No references off head but I stumbled upon it while working on airline related project some years back. The key thing being proper cost accounting showed it wasn't lucrative as portrayed.

Citations on premium class margins don't account for the higher costs of servicing such customers (ground/airborne food and entertainment, lounges, transportation, exclusive services, etc).

While some may have a few planes with higher #s of premium seats, many fleets (especially N. American ones), are comprised of mainly economy class seats. This is obviously less true for newer airlines or those upgrading most/all of their fleets. The invention of more seating groups like premium economy (same cabin, almost no difference in service offered and cost to do so) has made one of the biggest differences to date.

Sales also extend to business and 1st class seats - this and frequent flier upgrades show that premium tickets are often sold at less than full markup.

You really need references to support that claim because it's also the complete opposite of everything I've ever heard.

While it's true that simply multiplying seat numbers by advertised prices is not giving the whole picture, and running lounges isn't free, the extra costs are absolutely outweighed by the far higher cost of the ticket. Full service airlines would fill the whole plane with business if they have the demand (and sometimes do).

Economy can still be profitable, of course, and there's far more passengers of that class - so airlines will obviously still run all-economy flights if the business class demand is already satisfied on a route. There's no question they're less profitable, though.

Isn't the latest Singapore to New York flight entirely business class?

Yes they do, although I'd be surprised if they fill it every day or even most days. J is notoriously choppy as it doesn't have the price discrimination carriers can use to smooth Y pax around to fill up the days. Simultaneously its strength and its weakness from an airline revenue perspective. Singapore has tried and failed in this product before; maybe this time the market is ready - still, it's probably not the license to print money one might imagine.

I think quite a few financial/corporate centre city pairs support a business-only flight, though even with this famously rich city pair, BA1 from london city to NY is flown on an a320! It's a difficult product to make work.

Upon further reflection I believe what the grandparent commenter was trying to say is that airlines, as a whole, get more revenue from economy pax, which is probably true for most airlines. On a route that supports a decent J component, though, they can rake in the cash.

Business and premium economy

> The cheap seats have very low margins, oftentimes negative… so it just infeasible economically to give everyone good service.

An empty seat costs the airline more than a paid ticket. They can’t exactly fly just 189/233rds of the plane.

An empty seat costs the airline more than a paid ticket.

As stated, you seem to be implying that selling a ticket for 1 cent is better than flying an empty seat. But that's not guaranteed to be true. If they put someone in that seat at a ticket cost of 1 cent, does it cost more than 1 extra cent in fuel to move the now-increased weight of the aircraft? If there's a free soda or something offered, does the extra one they serve cost more than 1 cent? Does the extra time it takes to board that passenger cost more than 1 cent? Does the sum of all of those things cost more than 1 cent?

There absolutely are circumstances in which flying the empty seat is better than selling that seat at the price the market would have borne. And we know this, because we know that airlines routinely fly planes that aren't full, instead of going to extreme lengths to auction off ever-cheaper tickets in hopes of getting someone in every seat on every flight.

(and that's without getting into the fact that not all seats, tickets, aircraft and routes are equal in terms of what they cost to operate and how much money they can make, and all the other things that go into the arcane art of airline yield management)

>airlines routinely fly planes that aren't full, instead of going to extreme lengths to auction off ever-cheaper tickets in hopes of getting someone in every seat on every flight.

Though I agree with your broader point, if airlines regularly auctioned off seats right before a flight it would encourage customers to wait until such time to make their ticket purchase. Even if the actioned seat still net them some profit, the overall effect could cause a psychological devaluation of regular tickets.

I wonder why the last-minute-inventory auction model is so popular for hotels and not for flights.

I get that not every flight is equal, but nor are hotels, yet they have systems for blind comparisons.

i don't actually know the answer, but here's a guess. imagine you are going on a trip and you are planning your outbound flight and first night's accommodations. you suspect that the price will go down at the last minute so you put off making reservations as long as possible. which are you more willing to risk, having a place to sleep when you get there, or getting there on the day that you planned? i suspect most people are more comfortable risking a late arrival than arriving with no place to stay.

Also, people go through some pretty extreme lengths to cut costs on the traveling (airfare) part of a trip compared to the accommodations (hotel) part.

For a plane ride, people are willing to put up with zero leg room, multiple hour layovers, red eyes, zero free bags, etc. just to save a few bucks. I think it's because the plane ride is seen as a means to an end, rather than part of the actual vacation or trip, so suffering for a few hours is palatable to most people.

Some airlines do this.. like Wow.. or Ryanair. They usually start the other way with cheap first then really expensive but sometimes you can find them still at the cheap level.

I’m running on the assumption that an airline only ever sells a paid ticket for at least its operational costs of that extra pax.

The 1 cent paid ticket simply doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist.

But if the plane crashes, even the $2k last-minute 1st-class short-haul ticket will be a massive loss after all lawsuits are settled.

If the marginal expense of a seat is $200, and you paid $1000, you may sit next to a discount flyer that paid only $250. And because of that, the flight may be net-profitable instead of net-loss.

Again: airline yield management is a deep and arcane art. We get glimpses of it through their public policies and pricing, and we can guess at some things through public financial statements that disclose or let us calculate their CASM/PRASM/etc.

But the moral of the story is it's not as simple as "selling the seat is always better".

My response was to the statement that the “cheap seats” are very low margin or money losers.

The airline and first class ticket buyers needs the economy passengers just as much as vice versa.

With the existence of economy-only planes and lack of 1st-class only planes, I’d argue that the “cheap seats” are what makes aviation viable, rather than being a money-loser.

> With the existence of economy-only planes and lack of 1st-class only planes, I’d argue that the “cheap seats” are what makes aviation viable, rather than being a money-loser.

On a typical flight, the revenue probably follows a Pareto distribution--20% of the passengers (first class) provide 80% of the revenue--but at the paper-thin margins of an airline, you still need the other 20%.

Economy-only flights are usually from economy-only carriers, which trade even thinner margins for not having to worry about the annoyances of catering to first class passengers.

Economy conditions are increasingly terrible because cost-sensitivity and easy-to-verify sources of pain (nonstop vs. layover flights) have a greater effect on consumer behavior than seat size and other creature comforts. With these conditions getting increasingly worse, economy flights become increasingly more cost-effective, and perhaps it becomes increasingly harder to keep the pampered first class passengers on the same airline or even the same plane as the economy passengers.

Also, first-class tickets aren't even at the very top of the market any more than Audi and Lexus are at the top of the automobile market. The top of the market is in charters and private jets. An airline that flies planes only for first class passengers is close enough to a charter airline that they might as well become a charter airline and bypass TSA and the other associated miseries of air travel.

Low-cost carriers have very different businesses too focused on lowering costs. The "low-cost" in the name refers to the carrier's costs, not the customers. They typically have all-economy planes and use a single aircraft model (e.g. easyJet exclusively flies the Airbus A320 family), which dramatically lowers crew and maintenance costs. They also offer little flexibility, have no interline agreements, and have no additional services (meals, etc.).

Yeah; low cost carriers are like IKEA or Walmart or (old) Amazon strategically, they deliver a known quantity at a competitive price and shave their margin out of the cost side rather than growing it on the revenue side. But they are also often low-cost for the customers, particularly the more notorious examples (e.g. Ryanair). Companies whose profitability comes from penny-pinching usually fit best with customers who are themselves penny-pinching.

(Oddly, it occurs to me that European companies do a really good job of settling in the niche of "penny-pinching to the point of being kind of terrible, but such an amazing bargain you can't complain"--IKEA, Ryanair, Aldi, Lidl. Walmart felt bad about being terrible and tried to get a little nicer to compete with Target; Amazon felt bad about being cheap and terrible and decided to chase a membership model and set up a cloud computing business on the side. Maybe it's because America has a deep inborn cultural fiction of not having social classes and companies feel embarrassed about obviously not catering to the quintessential middle class American family?)

lack of 1st-class only planes

There are a few airlines that fly all-premium configurations on certain routes. Singapore does that on the Singapore-Newark route. British Airways does it on London City to New York. SAS used to on the Houston to Stavanger route.

Things are much more complicated than that.

Ticket prices are often high shortly before a flight.

That's because those tickets are usually bought by business travelers who don't want to wait and are willing to pay the higher fare.

So it can make sense to have 5 empty seats if you sold a few more for a premium.

There's a lot of math going into optimizing ticket prices.

And they can also backfill standby passengers or flight crews for other flights into those capacity gaps at the last minute if they still exist.

Yes, but you can still be a negative margin flyer. They're just losing a smaller amount money than they would have if you weren't there at all.

I once flew on a 767 with 6 passengers. The flight had been canceled due to snow but was able to make it out and obviously the airline wanted the plane at its destination for the next day.

Are you imagining fuel usage is independent of aircraft occupancy?

It is. That is, the difference between a full airplane and an empty airplane in terms of fuel burn is quite marginal, maybe even less than 1% net fuel burn. This is because how heavily an airplane is loaded does not change its drag coefficient. A heavily loaded aircraft will not climb as quickly as a lightly loaded aircraft, but for the airliner, that just means it gets to cruise altitude a minute or two later than it otherwise would.

It does change the drag, actually.

More weight = need more lift.

The way to generate more lift is by increasing the wing's angle of attack on the wing (i.e. point the nose up). In addition to increased lift this also increases drag.

Actual numbers are hard to find, but considering the weight of a commercial aircraft can vary by as much as 50% between empty weight and maximum weight, I'd wager it is well over 1%.


Says that a 737 flies on average 4300 miles per day, and that 7lb digital entertainment console costs $216 to carry per year.

That's .000019 dollars per lb-mile. JFK-SFO is 2586 miles. That's $10 in fuel for carrying an extra 200lbs.

But less passengers could mean more cargo...

$10/flight * thousands of flights per day * 365 days per year = real money. Airline margins can be ruthless.

$10/flight < ticket price

Yeah, the service... I have been on Air Canada more than once as an economy class passenger and when they are late, all you get is an empty apology, if that. More likely nothing. But this summer, I was flying back from Europe to the 40th birthday of my best friend (no pressure!). And the flight to Abbotsford was late (boo) so I walked to the desk and asked whether they could put me on the Vancover flight. And since I had a paid business ticket they did without blinking an eye. Which is funny because the YVR flight is much, much more expensive than YXX. Another funny: the business check in agent in Toronto thanked me for providing the airport code, she said she never checked anyone in before to YXX...

Not to mention but high status flyers make up like 80% of the airline's revenue.

Everyone else who flies once in a while, once every couple of years, who's trying to get the cheapest economy class ticket possible really doesn't amount to much individually. And it doesn't matter if you get mad and are never flying X airline again because you really don't make the airline enough money to worry about you. And someone else is never flying Y airline again and they'll fly X airline instead.

When I worked for an airline I heard every combination of I'm not flying A Airline for B reason you can think of. They're all the same. Just luck of the draw who you have a crummy experience with.

Makes sense. Limited $ to spend on staff and staff have limited time so you want to allocate your best people and talent to your top-producing customers.

Although, what's interesting about this, is that they might do themselves a favor if they target customers who have the most potential to bring them more of their business if they give them even better treatment, as opposed to giving the best treatment to only your already-existing top customers. Attraction v. Retention

I never buy "Basic Economy" anymore. The new Premium Economy classes (the ones with extra legroom) being offered by most airlines these days are pretty reasonably priced and SO worth the extra money.

Even when my employer is sending me somewhere (and they only pay for basic economy - they don't care if I arrive at my destination exhausted, sore, and angry at the world), I'll purchase the upgrade myself.

I’m not sure the thing being rewarded is loyalty. I take 3-4 personal trips a year; that’s nowhere near enough to earn status on any airline, even if I used the same one on 100% of my trips for a decade. (Eligibility thresholds are per year).

Status mainly seems to be a minor perk built into any job requiring frequent travel.

> frequent flyers bring the vast majority of profits to airlines

I wouldn't say that's true at all. But even if the majority of profits comes from infrequent flyers, the cost of losing one of them may be multiple orders of magnitude less expensive than losing a frequent flyer.

I wonder about this. If they're giving you that level of service, aren't you paying too much? Who really wins here?

Frequent flyers are usually not footing the bill themselves.

Giving them frequent flyer points or free lounge access is like a tax-free bonus to the employee and incentivizes them to convince their employer to not switch airlines.

The programs are full of loopholes. So yes, business flyers paying on company dime are footing the bill, but the clever travel hacker can often get a great deal in the process.

> it just infeasible economically to give everyone good service

Sounds like their problem, not mine. I've experienced, again and again, needlessly obnoxious, abusive behavior from airline employees. Would it be economically infeasible for them to be polite and professional? As someone pointed out, Southwest provides pretty good service.

> Would it be economically infeasible for them to be polite and professional?

Maybe not infeasible, but irrelevant.

95% of flyers will use a shitty carrier to save $5, or to get on a flight that departs 30 minutes sooner.

> Zeta Global, whose clients include wireless carriers, generates scores using data points such as the number of times a customer has dialed a call center and whether that person has browsed a competitor’s website or searched certain keywords in the past few days.

Wait, so this means I dial a number and they link my identity to my browser to tell whether I've browsed a competitor's website in the past few days? Is this really how far tracking has come?

>they link my identity to my browser

They link your phone number to a session/user along with ad networks who have stored cookies on your machine and use predictive modeling to guess at who you are/what you do.

It doesn't work on 90% of the HN crowd, people who block ads/disable javascript, or just don't do a lot of traditional "browsing", but yeah.

You know, I'm quickly reaching a point where I want the default browser to work in Incognito mode, and the browser should only switch to regular mode when I explicitly whitelist the domain.

On Android I browse by default with Firefox Focus and only to use sessions like posting this response I copy the URL to chrome and make the post. Than I'll go back to Focus. It's crude but Firefox Focus beats all browsers privacy and responsiveness on Android imo.

Once I started using Firefox Focus, I was surprised at just how much of my browsing didn't need to be logged in. I don't need to keep session state when I'm just reading Wikipedia, news sites, or blogs.

Same, Focus is great. Also a very warm mention for what I think became one of my favourite features while browsing - one single tab.

Same. My one wish for Focus is that I could open another tab. Even just one more tab during an active session would make life easier.

You can open more than one tab with Focus. I did it accedentally a few times. The bin action button changes to a number if you have more than one tab open.


you can, hold the link and click open in a new tab

TIL that yes, that's true, but only on Android. iOS only lets you Open, which uses the same window.

+1 for Focus, but I don't generally interact with HN through a browser on mobile. There's an app for that.

I think apps can track your hardware I'd. I'm not saying hn does that, but other apps might track you even better with an app.

It's getting to the point where porn goes on the regular browser, legit stuff needs incognito.

There are extensions like "Cookie AutoDelete" where you can explicitly whitelist what coookies are not supposed to be delete. I think it does not automatically clear localstorage, though. But if you combine this with a blocker extension to remove the usual suspects when it comes to tracking, you are mostly there already.

Firefox supports the whitelisting natively.

The only thing it doesn't have is a way to auto delete cookies without restarting (which expires session cookies, which is a native option).

That's how I use it, cookies default to session only and a few sites get saved across sessions.

I’ve been running my browsers like this for years. Not being logged in to Amazon et al also prevents buying cheap crap by adding one layer of friction.

Another easy tip is to separate out anything that requires persistent login (ex: gmail) to a separate dedicated browser.

Chrome/Chromium's --user-data-dir is great for this

Or Firefox's containers

Does Incognito mode solve this problem? I thought it mostly prevented data from being stored on your local computer; I did not think it was effective against tracking.

You can still track someone in incognito. Things like your system installed fonts, installed plugins, and canvas fingerprint give you away.

It improves tracking by fisabling your ad blocker.

As someone who has used chromium incognito as a crutch, 100% this.

Browsers need to be seriously redesigned with privacy (aka security) in mind. The javascript execution environment needs to be gutted to remove security leaks like screen/window size. And incompetently (/maliciously) designed APIs like websockets need to be thrown right out.

The main browser makers get huge incomes from advertising. That's not going to make them want to spend a lot on protecting users from advertising.

Maybe in Chrom*, but not in Firefox.

My IOS devices are set to Incognito mode by default and I use a Fire Focus as an add on for blocking with Safari. Been that way for ever. On my laptop Safari is in Incognito mode for all but a few sites. I clear the browsing history on the one that is not after the browsing session.

Disable cookies by default. If a website can't function without enabling cookies open it in incognito

Care to ELI5?

Analytics javascript can assign you an Unique Identifier string that can be passed along in a form where you fill out your phone number. They then tie your "session" or "user" (depending on how they have it set up) to a cookie they have placed on your machine.

They then leverage a partnership with a large ad network, to see where they found that cookie, as well as other cookies, from other sites in their network. They then correlate where they have seen essentially your user footprint (collection of cookies and other identifiers from your machine) stored throughout their network, to put you in some kind of demographic or intent-based bucket.

When you include data from mobile apps that are tracking your location, this can get very scary. There is a small leap required in tying a mobile ID (your phone's unique identifier) to web traffic, but it happens. Obviously all depending on the level of data you "share."

They then run every user in these buckets through a machine learning algo, that tries to predict things. Income, gender, spending habits, life events, etc. They can determine where you live easily, zip codes, compare that to census data, etc. It's all a part of predictive modeling.

That is the tracking portion.

The other portion is just tying a simple customer service rating to your phone number.

So imagine you piss of several customer service reps, live in a low income part of town, and rarely spend money. You might be on hold for quite some time...

Thank you for this, that's a very nice summary, pitched at a very understandable level.

It doesn't work on 90% of the HN crowd



Please don't do this here, regardless of the 'HN crowd'.


I'm sorry.

You're right, not 90%. But predictive modeling requires a bunch of data points. This is probably one of the most privacy aware crowds on the internet.

If you go to the extremes, sure, everyone is trackable. I don't work for any of these companies, so I don't know what I don't know.

Feel free to elaborate.

The more you try to obfuscate your online sessions (eg: by disabling browser features, disabling JS, removing fonts, removing WebRTC, using the privacy-aware browser-of-the-day, etc. thus making your fingerprint even more unique), the more you stand out from the regular users crowd, the more automated tracking machines/algos get interested in you as an abnormal datapoint, the more you are paradoxically at risk of being tracked.

I've never been sure what to make of this argument.

There are definitely lots of 'tells' that someone is restricting their visibility, most obviously disabled JS. And I'm acutely aware that those things mark a person as interesting to corporate tracking, in the same way that searching for Tor and Tails flags people for government tracking. But it's hard for me to believe that the tradeoff isn't worth it.

First, because automated surveillance happens in bulk: not standing out from the crowd is no longer proof against observation. (The Panopticon metaphor is if anything behind the times; that only created the fear of constant visibility, not the reality of it.)

Second, because it's not clear to me that corporations take more interest in obfuscated users. Not only do they take more effort and overhead to fingerprint, they're quite likely to be worse business prospects. Using a VPN tells governments you're up to something interesting, but using uBlock tells ad networks that... I hate ads and am unlikely to click on them. In general, I expect that obfuscation signals that someone is a bad target for advertising and provides minimal information about their value as a customer service recipient.

That said, I've been expecting for years now that somebody will get cute and start profiling privacy-aware users for separate targeting. If they've got JS disabled and Firefox up to date and sending DNT, maybe it'd be more profitable to replace tracked JS ads with text-only TripleByte ads or something?

How exactly do they intend on fingerprinting me with no JS? They get my IP and referrer - that's it.

Just one example of CSS-only tracking. Does not require JS: https://github.com/jbtronics/CrookedStyleSheets

Other data that leak: User-Agent, Accept or Accept-Language, Accept-Encoding headers...

Browser user agent. Mine is unique for example. With sufficiently vast DBs they can match you or anyone with anything.

Also some 3rd party software may request to spy on you in the browser, e.g. Red Shell so called "analytics" used by many legitimate big video games on PC. It will spy on you in the browser and you agree to it in a kilometer long user agreement they shove in your face upon first launch.

Let’s flip it and make a browser plugin that sets it so you have all the traits of a user that needs to be responded to immediately

That's not nearly how far it's gone, but yes, this is an implementation of it.

You mean it's gone much farther than this? Would you have any examples?

A classic example from several years ago:


That was several years ago.

That's using all of her purchasing history. Knowing your customer has visited a competitor's website appears more difficult to me.

DNS providers often know all the websites an IP visited.

If you're a telco this is trivial for your customers.

Sorry, a day late. This kind of link (phone/IP to profile) is getting much easier, speculatively there must be much more sophisticated connections out there that aren't as immediately obvious.

Political campaigns track voters on an individual level, correlating third party data with public voter rolls and using the data for microtargeting and analytics.

Any yet I've somehow been bombarded all week with spam sms from only the party who's candidates I do not intend to vote for. Anyone that could tie the website I visit to my phone number should be able to guess that easily enough.

Why would a party you do intend to vote for need to bombard you with advertising? Surely you're only going to get deluged with advertising of you're known not to vote for that party.

Or is reverse psychology!

Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line ...

It's so strange to me, because they're not trying to change my mind or present their side. The assumption in the texts is that Im definitely on their side and just needed to be reminded 6 times a day where my polling place is and when the election is.

It shouldnt take a cambridge analytica person to tell you that people who have bought Friend of the Pod shirts likely aren't conservative voters. They clearly need more of my data lol.

Elections are won and lost on turnout, not changes in opinion.

This stuff is still so expensive that it mostly only happens for Presidential campaigns, but this was a huge part of Obama's campaigns and I think all four of the last general election campaigns used those techniques. (Obviously these techniques weren't perfect, given that both 2016 campaigns were very surprised at the result.)

Did you think they weren't going to leverage your phone number in other ways when you furnished it for "improved security"?

It's even crazier than that. The phone companies have data-sharing agreements with data-providers that (for a fee) sell your subscriber data through a phone number based API (this includes name, address and other information valuable to a sales funnel, KYC, or customer verification process). Check your wireless service EULA to see that you have agreed to this.

To make the best out of a bad situation, you could perhaps use this to your advantage in the following way: If you are about to call support for some reason, spend a couple of minutes browsing competitor sites first and then make the call. The queuing system should then prioritize your call because they think you are considering leaving them for someone else.

I distinctly remember reading "and we'll never use this number for other purposes than security".

Everybody (including HN) was pushing for 2FA. People followed.

Pushing for 2FA != pushing for SMS codes. TOTP (Google Authenticator and friends) doesn't reveal any personal data.

Agreed, 2FA is a good idea but it was never in the users' best interest to attain it via phone numbers. But when all these organizations saw an opportunity to couple a reliable phone number with what was otherwise in most cases, an account having just an email address, they jumped on it.

Personal Capital does this. They require your cell phone number for 2FA, but they call you to try to sell you financial advisors (and they know how much money you have because you've links your accounts).

I still use it though, it's valuable enough to me to put up with it.

Time to start spoofing my wealthier friend’s phone numbers.

No, but that doesn't imply they've also pulled off the above.

local area code + 867-5309

Thanks, it's stuck in my head now.

Jenny I got your number I need to make you mine Jenny don't change your number...


Also at grocery stores for those member-only discounts.

Whenever I look for airline tickets, I always use several different browsers (and VPNs when needed) for this exact reason.

I don't have proof that any airlines were tracking how many times i refreshed or went to a competitors web site, but this has happened each time I went to look up airline tickets. So I'm not surprised that they track the number of calls, or anything anymore.

There's been a few different times that I saved $150+ just by using a different browser to order the tickets. Even if I never logged in, or even had an account to begin with.

One of the more recent examples is a few years ago, I was looking at tickets for a trip overseas. I would go to the first site, look at flights, then go to a competitors site, do same thing, go back and see my price went up $25 in a few minutes. Then I would check the competitors, and see their price went up some. I then changed to a different web browser, and it drops back down to the original price. That was 6+ years ago though, so maybe it's changed....? Probably not as much as I would like.

The tracking stuff is beyond ridiculous for those types of purchases.

every time i hear about tracking like this, i start to get paranoid and think about trying to restrict my trackability. But then i remember that if i search for (to give last week's example) a new travel mug on amazon, and then buy a new travel mug on amazon, i continue getting "retargeting" ads from amazon for the exact same product for two weeks after purchasing it.

If amazon can't figure out whether or not to advertise something to me after i've already bought the thing they're advertising while i'm signed in to their website, i don't have much faith in anybody's ability to fingerprint me from unauthenticated sessions across multiple mediums and multiple companies. I can believe somebody is trying to sell a service that claims to do this, but i don't beleive they actually can.

They're going for repeat purchasers with those ads, someone explained it here on HN a while ago. It also makes them look silly / harmless which is a double win.

Looks to me that Amazon outsmarted you by so much, it overflowed and now you think you're outsmarting them :)

That description seems exaggerated. It implies they've got your full browsing and search history, which is a bit unlikely.

Honestly, if you're calling some support number they usually already have your name, home address, and so forth. There's plenty of information you can link to that.


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