How Airline Loyalty is Like Dating

Perhaps I’ve been a little too focused on this subject lately, but it’s been on my mind. I’ve been loyal to two airlines over my flying lifetime, not at the same time. I like my current airline, but some recent missteps have had me reconsider our relationship. A friend of mine commented that it seemed like we were dating, which is pretty accurate actually. That created a germ of a thought and the following article is the result.

Phase 1
Nervous at first – It’s hard to give up the freewheeling days of hitting the search engines and taking home whoever looks best that night. Those times were fun, deals were to be had but it wasn’t smart or safe. Playing around with all of those different airlines was just reckless. In the back of my mind I knew it was better to just choose one and stay loyal. Intellectually I knew it would be better for me, upgrades, free trips, but it was hard. I was nervous I’d be missing out on the next great thing, but I took the plunge anyway. Why? Because I was in love, in love with Zone 1 seating and automatic upgrades.

Air New Zealand Business Class Lounge – LAX

Phase 2
When it’s good it’s great – Once a relationship really starts going, it can be a great thing. Everything is new and fun, perks are unexpected and always appreciated. You want to give me a 1,000 mile bonus for no reason? Sure, I’ll take it! Then I started accumulating miles, lots of them, and it was even better. Before I knew it, I had status, I was taking free trips in business class to far flung locales and I was being treated with a little more respect. Not a lot, but enough to convince me I had made the right choice. The fuzzy headed halcyon days of living the red carpet life of a frequent flyer are amazing, and at the time it seems like they’ll go on forever.

Lufthansa A380 Cabin

Phase 3
Start to get the wandering eye – Then, after a few years we start to get complacent. Nothing has gone wrong, not really, it’s just not as exciting as it used to be. Upgrades are expected and even the thrill of the airline miles chase has lost some of its pizzazz. This is the most dangerous time in a relationship, it’s when you start looking around at the other airlines and see how they treat their frequent fliers. Hmm, Delta is adding more flights to Europe? That means more award opportunities. Oh, they guarantee those upgrades? Wow, well that sounds nice. Even though your true love hasn’t cheated on you or abandoned you, it’s hard not to think about other choices.

Phase 4
Commit or bolt – Then, almost as suddenly as the complacency seemed to happen, so does the annoyance. Every minor issues is magnified and it is easier to find faults than ever before. Lost upgrades, delayed flights, problems with award travel and *gasp* not retaining the same level of status, all of these force us to make THE decision. To paraphrase The Clash, do I stay or do I go now. There comes a time in any airline loyalty program relationship when we have to decide if we are going to stay and enjoy the perks, or leave because of all of the fights and arguments.

The answer – Just like any relationship, living with your frequent flyer program takes work and creativity. You’ve invested a lot into making things work, and it should take a massive change to alter that balance. From the airline’s end, if they dramatically change their frequent flyer program then that may be enough to force a change. Similarly, circumstances change for us. If we’re visiting different places, traveling from different airports or even traveling less, then it might be time for us to consider a change.

From my point of view, I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve been in phase three for a few months and I need to realize that nothing has really changed with the airline, I’ve just been spoiled and a little too demanding. I’ve had a lot of great travel experience because of them, which is why I started being loyal in the first place.

Do you have any stories of loyalty program romance either gained or lost?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

7 thoughts on “How Airline Loyalty is Like Dating”

  1. Haha! So you decided to stick it out, huh? I wish you guys the best of luck in your future relationship. lol I’m not loyal to any airline. Maybe that is why I never get elite status with any of them. Maybe I should rethink my wandering ways.

  2. Matt, I love this post! As a dedicated Frequent Flier member (for mileage earning purposes…I’ve never gotten Elite status nor have I tried to get it) I can totally relate to this. United and I have had our ups and downs (did you see my post about how they screwed me on my way home from TBEX?) but I’m still with them…

  3. Great post. Love the comparison to dating. This is quite timely for me as I am considering an affair. United let me down big time in Asia. I think I’ll start seeing other airlines .

  4. I’ve always been a monogamous-relationship type of person, but I guess when it came to airlines I was a “player”. I had my main partner, but there were times when it was just more convenient to step out of the relationship and date others, maybe they were more accommodating to my needs (scheduling) at the time, maybe they were less demanding (lower pricing), or maybe my partner and I just had a disagreement (feeling like you’re being taken for granted and your loyalty is not appreciated). Hey, dating is tough!
    I don’t travel much these days and it seems the airline partners are a demanding bunch, always asking what have you done for me lately. And, if you’re not constantly attentive, they show their temperament by breaking up with you (cancelling all those frequent flyer miles you worked so hard to build) forcing you to start your relationship all over again. lol, nice post, Matt.

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