Over the past year, we’ve seen a number of changes to major frequent flier programs in the U.S. Carriers have increased mileage requirements, done away with the 500 minimum mileage reward (Continental even dropped and then reinstated the minimum), and in some cases carriers have just made it more difficult for members of loyalty programs to exchange their miles for actual flight rewards.
In a bid to make life a little easier for their frequent fliers, Virgin America has made it possible for their eleVAte members to book award flights online, on the phone, or at the airport using a dynamic pricing system. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve done away with black-out dates and are allowing members to “redeem points for any unsold seat – on any Virgin America flight, at any time.”
Even from its inception, Virgin America’s frequent flier program has differed from the programs of major U.S. carriers. Instead of racking up miles based on flight distances and possible double rewards, eleVate members receive five points for every dollar spent on published base fares. This means that as of now, you could potentially book a free flight after paying for as few as four roundtrip flights.
By granting faster reward earning potential and the ability to book on any flight at any time, Virgin America is hoping to put the “loyalty” back in loyalty programs:
“We wanted to create a next generation loyalty program with a Web-based, user-friendly interface that delivers actual rewards fast. Travelers shouldn’t have to try and rack up unachievable mile totals, and then when they do, struggle to find an open flight. Our dynamic pricing allows guests to book any unsold seat, making black-out dates a thing of the past…” (Virgin America President and CEO David Cush)
Virgin America has committed itself to “make flying good again.” So far, they’ve tried to achieve this goal by creating a different inflight experience involving moodlighting, personal entertainment, and customer service initiatives designed to set them apart from the norm. Now, I love moodlighting as much as the next person, but a practical frequent flier program that eliminates blackout dates and makes benefits easily attainable might be their smartest move yet. Of course, flying to anywhere in the middle of the country would be a pretty good move, too.