Does It Pay to be Loyal to an Airline?
Why, YES. It does!
It makes a great deal of sense to chase travel deals and find the lowest prices on flights. There is no doubt benefit to this. But, as airlines merge, flight prices rise, and air crafts compete there many reasons to find yourself loyal to one alliance.
Let's explore this further:
1. The benefits.
During a return flight from Anchorage, AL to Los Angeles, CA there was a lengthy delay, resulting in missing the connecting flight in San Francisco. The line for customer service was lengthy and it was easy to see the agents were feeling fatigued. When I made my way to the counter and asked what my options were for getting to LA, I was informed the next available flight would be first thing the next morning and I could find my way to a hotel or sleep in the airport. And the airline was willing to offer me a bottle of water for the inconvenience. I had to quickly explain that I am a 1K with United and if that changed my offers and he immediately changed his tune. I got all kinds of 'thank you's for your loyalty" and a complimentary hotel nearby the airport. as well as a meal voucher. Because I look young my travel experience is often underestimated, but by having been loyal I found out quickly what it was like to be on each side of loyalty.
2. You are prioritized.
How awful is traveling to someplace important during seasons of inclement weather and having a flight completely cancelled or delayed. Did you know if you have status with an airline you are often automatically re-booked on the next available flight, prioritized ahead of other customers? On a trip from Costa Rica back to Los Angeles, CA I had a long delay and again, missed my connecting flight in Houston, TX. But as soon as I opened my United app to find contact info for the airline, I noticed that I was already re-booked in an aisle seat for the next available flight. Unfortunately, that flight was for the next morning, so I went to a customer service counter and got myself on standby for the last flight out of Houston to LA that evening. Not only were other international flights into Houston delayed, but with my priority I was moved to the top of the stand-by list, resulting in getting on the plane that night and making it home as planned.
3. The upgrades.
The more you fly and earn, the higher your status. Right? After my 12 years of corporate business travel and flights around the world for pleasure I have been able to maintain the highest status with United. This puts me higher on the list for upgrades to first or business class. Instead of sleeping upright on many long distance flights across the country or from foreign lands, I often have the opportunity for a lie-flat bed in Business. And now that United is trying to up its game with Polaris, its new business class, flying in the front of the plan is better than ever.
4. Free flights.
This one is a biggie. Want to travel to an expensive destination, but not spend any more money to get there? Find an airline you love, and earn those miles! The same can apply with hotels. I had a friend get married in Italy and had to make a game time decision about being able to go. With my hotel points and airline miles racked up, not only did I have a round-trip ticket to Italy available via points, but also a 4 night stay at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel. You never know when you have the spontaneous urge to get away or have emergency travel plans. Loyalty and mileage helps in a pinch.
5. Free meals (and checked bags and priority boarding).
As airlines continue to compete for loyalty they will throw in some additional perks here and there. And as a 1K with United I am offered a free meal and free alcohol on all of my flights. Granted airplane food isn't highly desirable, but if I find myself running to make a connection and don't have time to grab food or eat at all, knowing it is taken care of when I get on my long flight helps me rest easy.
One note, in no way am I exclusively endorsing United Airlines as the airline for you. Things like upgrades are getting tougher and programs are less generous than they once were. This airline has its share of issues too and I still take issue with their former CEO, Jeff Smisek. But for all of the reasons above plus being 140,000 miles away from 1,000,000 miles and getting permanent Gold status, complimentary Gold status for a fellow traveler, entry into lounges, access to the Star Alliance partners around the world, and a few more, it makes sense for me to stick around and continue getting the perks.
I hope your loyalty serves you well. As always keep me posted on how it goes!