CFR Traveller Tips vol. V – on SAS Eurobonus and loss of loyalty

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Let me say it as it is: this is going to be a disappointing post in terms of valuable traveller tips – at least if you are based in an SAS country. The point of the article was – because it is a very relevant topic for business travellers – on choosing a good frequent flyer programme. But that has become a lot harder lately, I am sorry to say.

I reckon that the only advice I feel qualified to give at this point is –

  • Pick, after all, the airline / frequent flyer programme that gives you most options out of the place where you are based
  • Look up the programmes on Flyer Talk – always loads of first hand experience to find there.

If you think I sound a bit dishearted, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The SAS Eurobonus programme that I have been a member of for 23 years has experienced a dramatic devaluation. One that has been widely communicated by SAS as “improvements” (save for one article, where the manager of the programme, Niels Lindhe, admits that it was necessary for the economically pressed SAS to put in effect savings – link, in Danish).

But also one that shows a complete … either lack of understanding about their customers’ travel reality or a, maybe financially needed, complete disregard of that reality. The SAS line on annoucing the programme was this (a.o.):

We will lower the points you earn on the least expensive tickets in SAS Go and SAS Plus from January 1, 2015. In return, you will earn more points than before when you travel to/from the US and Asia in SAS Business and we will make it easier to reach Gold/Diamond status.

A travel industry write-up of the changes (SAS’ own announcement page seems to have been taken down again) can be found here. As you can see, calling the cuts drastic is not out of touch with reality.

This, to me, seems to suggest that SAS believes it is possible for travellers to choose booking classes and fly business class at whim on long travels. Dear SAS: this is not your customers’ reality. I know many people flying for their jobs and unless you have a C-level position, you’re subject to a travel policy – and in 98%+ of the cases I know of, those say “flights within Europe: cheapest possible, end of story!” Some may even say “if you can get it significantly cheaper (read: lower scoring booking class) by accepting a stopover and not add more than 2-4 hours to your travel time, you must do so”. And if you book more expensively than that, you must explain yourself in writing – and if that is not deemed acceptable, you may well have to cough up with the difference out of your own pocket.

Similarily for long-haul – many companies flat out state “economy”. Where I am, we have an option to fly Economy Plus or Business – from the third long haul trip in a year, if “circumstances” merits it and the price difference is “acceptable”.

Summa summarum: SAS’ plea to us to fly more expensive tickets necessarily must fall on deaf ears – we are simply not allowed to. And the result? 37+ flights on SAS and Star Alliance in my Eurobonus year ending May 31, same amount as last year – and a point total that is 30%+ below last year and 25%+ below the new lower Gold requirement, even if the new rules only were in effect the last five months of my bonus year. Talk about a loyalty point revenue loss!

I predict that the new rules will make it more or less impossible for me to ever get back to Gold. Probably saving SAS some money that they are in desperate need of on the expense side – but as far as I can tell, the lounge access costs they will no longer incur on me will be more than cancelled by the revenue loss on the first long haul flight to Asia/Pacific that I book on Emirates instead of Star Alliance. And believe me, I will.

As a bittersweet last  comment, I had a mail from SAS today:

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The text paragraph below the image starts: “You are one of our most loyal customers. That means a lot to us …” Well, sorry, with your changes you are signalling that it really doesn’t. Maybe you have to – but then why did I have to look long and hard for the explanation that it was about savings? Why didn’t you write me – “one of your most loyal customers” – and explained to me that you were aware that this would affect me and that you were sorry for any ill effects but the reality of the company financials made it necessary for your survival and you hoped for my understanding? Did you really hope that I wouldn’t figure it out – or that I would accept 4 long-distance flights for nothing or turn the other cheek to 20, 40, 75% point reductions? Is that the way you really value your most loyal customers?

In the business I am in, we cannot expect to keep customers for long if we send them a sunny song and dance communication with one hand and slashes their benefits of being our customers dramatically with the other.

So, dear ex-favourite frequent flyer programme: It was a good time, we almost reached our silver anniversary. But all I have left for you when you have that little left for me is the scraps – the trips that I have to give you because you are, after all, the airline of my home airport.

As always: Happy flying – take care out there!

Photo by me
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