The Freddie Awards signal the best of the best loyalty and frequent flyer programs. This year was full of surprises and point to a possible shift.
If you are considering booking travel or signing up for a new credit card please click here. Both support LiveAndLetsFly.com.
If you haven’t followed us on Facebook or Instagram, add us today.
Surprises Throughout The Evening
It was my pleasure to attend the 32nd Freddie Awards at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center in the Smithsonian Air & Space museum near Dulles International Airport just outside of Washington DC. Randy Petersen, the godfather of miles and points and arguably the reason that many of us have been able to travel the world was not only the host, but an incredible entertainer. He announced his retirement that evening from the Freddies in a somber close to the evening.
Matthew has an excellent post about the awards and Randy’s departure but I am going to focus on the surprises and what it tells us.
The last few times I have been to the Freddies, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines dominated the North American categories, Accor wins everywhere in the world outside of the Americas almost without a doubt, Marriott takes home all the awards for hotels.
This year, however, was full of susprises. Here are just some of the most interesting winners:
- Aeroplan won the Best Promotion of the year (status extension), Best Program, and Best Redeemability
- American’s sole award came in the Best Elite category
What’s particularly shocking is that Southwest, which flies more passengers, has a larger loyalty program of highly enthusiastic members, and offers last seat availability did not win the category for flights redeemed for free.
- Hyatt won Best Elite program in the United States, one of the only cateogires that Marriott did not for obvious reasons if you read this blog regularly.
In Europe, Norwegian and TAP split the categories. Norwegian winning Best Program, Best Promotion, and Best Customer Service beat out massive programs like British Airways, Air France/KLM, Lufthansa, and other behemoths. Norwegian is a discount carrier and while I’ve not flown the airline yet, Ultra Low Cost Carriers usually get a terrible wrap for customer service, yet Norwegian beat out all of the giant alliance network carriers.
IHG’s revised loyalty program won 3/6 in Asia/Middle East/Oceania and 4/6 in Europe. Dethroning Accor would be enough for a headline but a domination of that scale is shocking.
In Asia/Middle East/Oceania, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, ANA, Japan Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar were all missing from this year’s winners list. Indian carrier, Vistara, won three of six categories, with Singapore’s Best Elite program the only mainstay winner for the Star Alliance outside of North America. Garuda won Best Customer Service, Xiamen took home the 210 award for up-and-coming programs – the first winner from mainland China.
What Happened To The Big Programs?
The four finalists were shown for each category and I don’t recall United MileagePlus appearing in any of the top four. This means that at most, 7% of voters said United was the best. Delta made the top four in at least one travel loyalty category at the awards ceremony but didn’t otherwise sniff an award.
JetBlue boasts a reasonably large and passionate fan base. TrueBlue went through some major changes allowing milestone awards in between status levels which is a notable shift, American Airlines did something similar.
But even if not all Delta participants are happy with the carrier charging a nosebleed high number of miles for partner airline redemptions, there are so many members that it’s surprising it wasn’t able to make a dent. The same for Southwest, and United as well. American has the largest frequent flyer program (115 million) and it won just a single category, losing to Aeroplan which has just 5 million members. Granted, only 16-23 million of American Airlines AAdvantage program members are active, but Aeroplan has members without recent activity too and remains dwarfed 3-5:1 assuming every Aeroplan member is active and fully engaged.
Perhaps the desire to participate in rewards programs in a meaningful way has been lost in the big programs. More and more frequent flyer miles are required, to earn elite status many programs have transitioned to a revenue based approach over distance flown. It’s possible that some travelers have lost that loving feeling especially as the value of redeemable miles continues to drop. Still, Alaska’s program offers a remedy to many of these ails but may be too small to move the needle.
I recall pre-pandemic walking through airports across the United States and seeing idle screens at gates asking members to vote for them in the awards. The question is whether it’s a lack of programs asking members to vote or if something else is afoot.
Are Participants Turning?
Around 9 million voters made their selections this year. Barely over 50% of voters were from outside the United States (the largest air market in the world) which is a huge transition. That, to me, suggests apathy.
For most Marriott members, I believe it is a lack of experience with programs outside of Marriott that leads to acceptance that this is what a program should be and that they all have Bonvoyed their customers. Hyatt has long been the best elite program once Starwood was folded into Marriott, that was Hyatt’s only true competition for elite benefits. Despite that, Hyatt hasn’t won all that often so maybe some elites have had it with Bonvoy.
I liked United’s Airlines PlusPoints move a few years ago, but the program has done nothing as of late and I have dropped from 1K status to general member. American Airlines sent out a status challenge to members of the program (I received one like most others) and I didn’t even take them up on it, depsite the ease of which American has made achieving elite status through purchases.
I don’t hold status with Hilton or Hyatt (though I am on a challenge with Hyatt which I am unlikely to retain) but I am not every voting member. Hotel stays, car rentals, have dropped for me but maybe not for others.
It could also be a reflection of less business travelers and true road warriors than before the pandemic. Delta reported that business travel is back to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, but I suspect that’s 85% of pre-pandemic revenue (when fares were lower than they are today.) Highly frequent business travelers are most likely to pay close attention to the program than more casual business travelers. We know that the higher tiers of elite status have suffered to recover across the industry and these are the most engaged in programs.
I was pleasantly surprised to see new entrants this year into stalwart categories. I was less enchanted with IHG’s One program but maybe I need to give it another look. I would enthusiastically welcome some voter pushback against the major airline programs. It’s a shame that Randy is stepping down, but in his words, “it’s time.” I’m grateful for the work he has done to advance this hobby and collection of points or miles that have changed my family’s life.
What do you think? Are these results expected? Is there a program you thought should have won but didn’t?
The IHG loyalty program is lousy. I have been a member for 20 years. I am Platinum. Right now I have multiple IHG hotel stays booked and a huge amount of IHG points. Based on my experience it is almost worthless because I get the same perks as a Platinum at non-IHG hotels where I have no status. I get complimentary upgrades, late check out, special prices at hotels around the world etc simply by asking for it.
Southwest not winning anything should not be a surprise. It’s been a shit show there over the last several months.
Southwest won two awards. Delta, United and Alaska won none.
Best Customer Service — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
Best Loyalty Credit Card — Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
I found the linked Forbes article on AA interesting. Thanks for including that. Looks like yall had a nice time. Love the purple lighting.
It’s either the airlines’ data mining is not doing a good job to make these bad changes or we are wrong: airlines making more money with stricter requirements than before, probably due to a small fraction of the members. Either way, the time will tell. Since the pandemic I stopped being loyal to any airlines because it’s not rewarding but now I know being loyal is not as rewarding as I thought. Plus, many airlines unbundled the services so we could buy out the elite benefits now, which is cheaper than being loyal (which requires buying expensive fares for the airline of loyalty and going out of the way, like indirect flights etc) it is a lot easier to fly the best schedule without worrying about loyalty. I am not gonna go back unless the programs dramatically improve
Cutbacks at the large programs, they no longer hire students to spend all day clicking the vote for them. Though Bonvoy’s win was a little unexpected.
If TAP and Norwegian swept Europe, it’s pretty obvious those airlines were more aggressively encouraging their passengers to vote. If Miles & Go really is the best loyalty program in Europe, then bloggers aren’t doing their job, but we all know it isn’t really the best.
Comparatively, the fact that Bonvoy won best hotel program in the Americas shows that the voting system is flawed. Marriott might do a good job in Europe and Asia, but they don’t deserve recognition in the Americas. They haven’t earned it.
I cant get why ALL figures among the best. I been a loyal customer there and its crap, really crap what they offer, when they offer, compared to IHG or Hyatt for example. Congratulations to the new ones. Well deserved.
I agree most Marriott program members do not know what a loyalty program should be. I’m Lifetime Globalist with Hyatt and thought I try Marriott out. I made Titanium Elite for 2023, after 3 months of trying out my new Bonvoy status I found the loyalty recognition at Marriott to be insulting and cheap. Not only do I stay at hotels but I also hold large events there. The service and recognition at Hyatt properties is far superior to Marriott. Often when I’m at a Hyatt I can order what ever I want for breakfast, receive my upgrade 2 days before arrival. Hyatt takes good care of it’s loyal customers, it is by far my favorite program across the board, I don’t mind having to travel a bit father to get that Haytt Touch.
I cannot understand how “NORWEGIAN’ won anything after it screwed every US traveler and most foreign ones 2 years ago when the refused to give back money for flights they cancelled and awarded miles points in a program they the folded leaving everyone with total losses by filing for bankruptcy, look up the complaints …Facebook has 1000’s like this
Norwegian Air Shuttle has just revealed the results for Q4/22, and since it included the end of 2022, they reveal some interesting subjects. As many people on this site and similar sites have experienced that when Norwegian cancelled all their long haul routes in the middle of the pandemic around 500M NOK (€50M) of cancelled and paid tickets were transferred to cash point and no refund, with extended time of validity to end 2022. All those cashpoints have been a potential cost in their accounting, but are now taken as income for the company and the value for customers are zero. These are cashpoints from 2018, 19, 20 and 21. So a substantial sum. They are now taken as an income of around 400M NOK, and saves a shitty Q4 result to be just a loss of 80M NOK. SO NO MORE CHANCE TO SPEND OLD CASHPOINTS.
I must preface by saying I read the headline and rapidly skimmed the article for statistics. Shift in the industry? In my opinion, an award determined by solicited votes is nothing but a popularity contest. In some cases, certain services and programs are the only thing the voter knows and has nothing to compare what they know to in their own experience. I’ll even suggest that in some cases the voter isn’t even a consumer of the program or service, further bloating and lopsiding the statistics. Just sayin’. I hope I’m wrong.
I am no in league with the frequent travelers in this post. So I will post from a slightly different perspective. UA Platinum/hotel memberships. Hyatt is the best hotel program, no doubt. I like the entire main line Hyatt’s from the casual to the elite. And I don’t need the top of the line to have an exceptional experience.
As for United. My first flight was in the 1950’s. I have flown many airlines, but i really enjoy and (yes) admre United. I stuck with the line during the rough days of the merger, during which you could hear the staff complaints. But that is way in the past. The United team is upbeat and they are very good. The planes I fly in are in excellent condition. I like the vision of management and the spirit of UA.
I have gushed enough, and realize others have different takes on United. But I am a happy, loyal customer.
Norwegian Airlines Truth in reading
Check out Face Book group Norwegian Airline Experience