Saturday, July 12, 2008

So is it Frequent Flyer or Frequent Flier?

This silly digression probably took us more research time than anything else we’ve written in the last several months. (And if that isn’t a sad commentary on the quality of our journalism for those other articles, we don’t know what is.) So, the question: Which is it, Frequent Flyer or Frequent Flier?

Two well-respected FF websites take opposing views. and both have lots of good FF information. (The “Other-Spelling-of-FrequentFlier”.com goes to a shell website that is comprised of nothing but useless ads; please don’t visit it.) Various other travel writers come down on both sides of the question. Peter Greenberg likes flier; Gary Leff and Arthur Frommer (one new-school, one old) prefer flyer. ABC News recently used both spellings in one article.

So our first stop, of course, was that wise sage of the web. We did a Google search (this generation’s idea of quality research). Frequent flier returned 1,210,000 results, and frequent flyer 3,880,000. (Frequent flyer vs. frequent flier returned 135,000 results, yet none on the first 10 pages actually addressed this topic.)

Next, we went to airline websites. Surprisingly, many do not use either word, but use words like “program” or simply refer to their particular loyalty scheme (as our Brit friends say) by name: Mileage Plus, SkyMiles, OnePass, and many others (including the wonderfully creative Mileage Plan – guess the Alaska Airlines marketing department took that week off). In general, though, we found that most airlines used flyer.

Even the major Brit airlines – bmi and British Airways – side with flyer (we’d have thought it might be “flyour”).

Conversely, our old AP Stylebook (does anyone even know what that is anymore?) came down on the side of flier, saying: “Flier is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill. Flyer is the proper name for some trains and buses.”

Another of those seldom-used writing tools – our dictionary – has the main entry under flier, and under flyer says: “same as flier.”

So take your pick. In general, I think we’ll stick with flyer in our writing, but see nothing wrong with either spelling. What we do see wrong is that the FF programs are becoming more like the American meaning of the Brit word scheme. In UK-speak, scheme does not have negative connotations, it just means plan or program. Yet regarding airline FF programs, we sometimes think they’re reading our dictionary (there we go again) definition 1b of scheme: “a secret or underhanded plan; plot.”

May all your frequent flyer/flier plans/schemes/programs continue to bring you happiness.