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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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  1K or Global Services  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."
 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.
I'm pretty sure he was talking about the company he works at, not the company you work at.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
People working in hardware manufacturing do!
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.
Don’t forget the “Air Canada” model of IPOing your frequent flyer program, nearly bankrupting it, and then buying it back for a fraction.
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.
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.
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.
And yet the state of modern air travel is such that it's a still a toss-up which is worse.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
But yeah, status, PreCheck, Clear, etc. are all "Can I remove this friction in my life?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Edit- Is the crucial difference that the vendor ends up losing the money rather than the bank in the case of credit cards?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Extra cognitive load is real.
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.
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 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.
Yet somehow I'm the sucker who doesn't get it.
I tend toward cattle class seats to avoid being on the wrong side of the class system, even though my knees complain.
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.
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.
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.
Do not want.
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.
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.
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.
Personally, I'd rather never have to get on a plane - unless I'd like to.
I’ve never heard of the prepayment for GS option, and those numbers seem low. Do you have a source for that?
Minimum $25,000 - Complimentary Premier Gold
$35,000 - Complimentary Premier Platinum
$45,000 - Complimentary Premier 1K
$50,000 - Complimentary Global Services
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
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 thing I don't get is, do they expect me to ask them should the time come to get a loan for a house?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Checking and loading baggage takes way longer, not to mention the unloading and waiting at the other end.
There’s a lot of things I like about Southwest Airlines, but the lack of assigned seats negates them all.
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.
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 :)
These days, I just don't fly unless I absolutely have to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An empty seat costs the airline more than a paid ticket. They can’t exactly fly just 189/233rds of the plane.
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)
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 get that not every flight is equal, but nor are hotels, yet they have systems for blind comparisons.
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.
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.
But the moral of the story is it's not as simple as "selling the seat is always better".
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.
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.
(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?)
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.
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.
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...
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.
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
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.
Status mainly seems to be a minor perk built into any job requiring frequent travel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Another easy tip is to separate out anything that requires persistent login (ex: gmail) to a separate dedicated browser.
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...
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.
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?
Other data that leak: User-Agent, Accept or Accept-Language, Accept-Encoding headers...
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.
That was several years ago.
Or is reverse psychology!
Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line ...
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.
Everybody (including HN) was pushing for 2FA. People followed.
I still use it though, it's valuable enough to me to put up with it.
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.
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.
Looks to me that Amazon outsmarted you by so much, it overflowed and now you think you're outsmarting them :)
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.