Thursday, November 20, 2014

The trouble with airlines: They want to go steady without a real commitment

Airfarewatchdog and I were talking today about the old days, when we used to love Frontier Airlines. Here was this great, new airline that seemed to care about its customers. There was decent legroom. There was free seatback entertainment. There were no fees, but, then, in those days nobody had fees.

I won't even fly Frontier today. It's too much like Spirit and Allegiant -- a subclass airline that packs on fees for absolutely everything and provides a minimal flying experience. I've learned over the years not to get too attached to an airline.

Every now and then, though, I fall in love. Regular readers know how deeply I fell for JetBlue and how disappointed I was with a recent customer service experience. Now, we learn -- and this is no surprise, given stockholder pressure -- that JetBlue is about to give us less legroom and start charging for checked bags if you buy the cheapest ticket. And for those of us who pay for our own tickets, the cheapest tickets are what we buy.

Like most failed relationships, mine with JetBlue carries baggage. I still have a ton of JetBlue miles. I'll try to book trips before the bag fee kicks in early next year and the more cramped seats (although JetBlue swears they'll still offer more room than "the other guys," which wouldn't be hard) arrive in 2016, but I might not be able to use the miles up that fast.

Like many of you, I've been throwing out disgruntled posts about the changes on social media. Will our posts change JetBlue's mind? They will not. Because JetBlue, like every other airline, wants to go steady -- wants us to be loyal, join their club, get their credit card, accrue miles, then buy more tickets to accrue more miles  -- but has absolutely no intention of every getting married. As far as airlines are concerned, we passengers are fun to take along on the occasional trip, but, hey: They never said they'd take us home to meet Mom. Their commitment is to increasing income. This, too, is no surprise. Airlines are businesses. Businesses don't exist to love and honor; they exist to make money.

So, your favorite airline might be a really good boyfriend, but it's never going to marry you. What's your best ploy? Refuse to go steady. Shop around to all the airlines for the very best fare that offers the best experience. Get every single credit card of every single airline, and use these strategically.  But don't go making too much of a commitment to any one airline. Be a player. Because they are.

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