Christopher Elliott is a great person, at least to me.
I knew his name since the TSA fiesco when the TSA served subpoena (Subpoena Duces Tecum to be exact) to 2 travel bloggers - Steven Frischling (from Flying With Fish) and him.
You can read the story in here:
TSA Threatens Blogger Who Posted New Screening Directive (With a nice picture on how the subpoena is served)
The Fallout From SD-1544-09-06 : The Feds At My Door
Full text of my subpoena from the Department of Homeland Security
(Bottom line - TSA backed off.)
I have even offered my help to Chris, although it did not seem to work out.
So why do I write about Chris for his right or wrong?
He is a excellent customer advocate, with no doubt about it. But as a travel critics, he may be seem to be a little bit too biased.
The Ground Zero begins when Chris publicly criticizes travel loyalty programs, as well as mile addicts from FlyerTalk and Boarding Area:
Should you play the loyalty game? – Sponsored by TripInsuranceStore.com
The Insider: Point of No Return
Then Gary (from View from the Wing) fires back against Chris:
Christopher Elliott Plays Fast and Loose with Some Facts, Leads to Bad Advice for Travelers
I am sure that this war will be spread over.
So is Chris right or wrong? Or simply Gary is too paranoid because of Chris's criticism?
If you are looking for an answer for me, then you are wrong. I don't have the definite answer this time.
It is simply because if I do give one out, the war will never stop.
But I can give you my insight on this, so you can determine what is the best word that you should take:
1. Bottom line - all loyalty programs are scams, not matter how they work.
Loyalty programs basically represent the basic theory of Economics 101 - Unlimited wants, Supply and Demand, as well as scarcity.
Let me make an example and you will understand.
A supermarket has a lot of different selection of products. Some are popular but some are not. Then how can that supermarket make profits with a loyalty program?
A loyalty program records each customer's purchases so that that supermarket knows the shopping pattern of its customers. Then the supermarket can provide promotion to its customers by driving its customers for products that have less demand by their price (supply-driven) while at the same time, maintain or even increase the price with popular products.
By this - you should know why ice cream and soda are cheapest in winner.
Also, since a lot of data is collected with loyalty program, companies tend to sell them for further promotion and profits.
So no doubt - loyalty programs are scams. But somehow both sides profits - companies make more money while customers can buy in cheaper prices.
2. In theory, it should not cost you anything if you join the loyalty programs.
Back to travel. In this case, I will use Southwest as the example (since I have explicited said I hate Southwest in here, so I will not be biased at all).
Southwest is known as low-cost carrier, although I don't agree.
So when a typical customer joins Southwest's Rapid Reward and flies with Southwest, what is the cost?
The ticket by itself.
So when a typical customer does not join Rapid Reward and flies with Southwest, will he or she save money?
So what's the harm of joining? None, in theory.
3. Your Mileage May Vary
Each person has his or her own story. Same as travel.
Not everyone has the same travel pattern. So basically you can't copycat someone's pattern and do so.
For instance, the reason why I fly with United in most of the time is San Francisco is a major hub for United.
Ryan Bingham (acted by George Clooney in Up In The Air) travels with American because of corporate agreement.
So you have to pick a program that fit you. Simply saying, if you live in San Francisco Bay Area, it will be a disaster if you pick Delta, which has more coverage in the East Coast.
Even a lot of people have criticize Delta SkyMiles, it does not mean that program won't fit your need.
4. No one ever told you to concentrate on one program.
In my life time, I have opened 6 frequent flyer programs.
At this moment, only 2 are active
(For such purpose, I have counted both United MileagePlus and Continental OnePass as one single program due to merger.)
Even I seem so "loyal" to United, I still have an active Cathay Pacific Macro Polo Club / Asia Miles account.
5. It is a matter if you know how the game is played.
The topic says it all - if you don't know how the system works, you are "worked" by the system.
6. Mileage Runs makes sense - only if you know what you are doing.
Mileage Runs do not hurt at all - if you know what you want. Otherwise, it will be a waste of money.
If you want to know if you need mileage run or not, see if you know the program well first.
My conclusion - regardless who gives the advice, it all depends upon the person who actually involves in the game and how they want to play it.
A smart consumer (not only traveler) need to know what advice is good for him or her, and what is not.