Sunday, June 06, 2010

Airline Non-Loyalty; Frequent-Flyer Agnosticism; United Economy Plus

I love all the wild speculation about what’s going to happen with the “new” United – the merger of the old United and Continental. The branding of the new company – with the United name, the Continental logo, and a mix of executives (headed by the Continental boss) – seems to indicate that the merged airline will take a similar approach in cherry-picking what parts of the old companies to retain and which to ditch. The blogs are humming with guesses about Starnet blocking, first-class cabins, Economy Plus, foreign vs. U.S. call centers, and more.

We haven’t flown Continental in several years (mostly because of our location and routings), but the last time we did we had an acceptable experience. We do fly United a fair amount, but the ONLY reason we’re United loyalists at all is because of Economy Plus. With it, we can put up with the surly flight attendants and the dehydrated food. We can compensate by bringing our own food; zoning out with our iPod and noise-canceling headphones; and mostly ignoring the “safety professionals” (especially since they mostly ignore us). Without E+, we have absolutely no reason to remain loyal to United (or to any of the U.S. legacy carriers).

As it is, with the exception of United, in the U.S. we try to fly Alaska and Frontier as much as possible. If JetBlue or Virgin America’s routes were more extensive for us, we’d be happy to give them business. And internationally, if we can’t get a decent United price (with E+), we do everything possible to fly on a foreign carrier.

Regarding miles for those or any airline, we are frequent-flyer agnostic. Sure, we pay a bit of attention to mileage bonuses (we recently got a Delta Amex with an exceptional initial-mileage bonus), and have mileage scattered around a few-too-many different frequent-flyer programs. Still, our mileage earning is mostly from credit cards, bonuses, and other activities rather than from flying. We do have enough sense to put as many flying miles into as few programs as possible – right now, primarily United for Star Alliance flights and Alaska for OneWorld or SkyTeam flights (whenever possible; Alaska partners with many OW and ST carriers, but not all).

Dog is my copilot