As we ready for the big event on Thursday April 30 when the winners are announced, let us take you back to January 1989, when the results of the very first Freddie Awards were announced in the magazine Frequent (precursor to InsideFlyer). No ceremony, no press release, no international categories, no trophies—just a careful compilation of the results of who 1,000 frequent flyers had indicated were the best frequent traveler programs in the land.
Here’s the very first Freddie Awards results (circa 1989):
OUR FIRST ANNUAL FREDDIE AWARDS
The Best of 1988
Forget about triple mileage for moment, or that luggage that got lost in Atlanta, the upgrade only good from a Y fare, the blackout and sold out dates for your honeymoon hotel choice or the idea of ever flying to Hawaii for free. Yes, that was all part of your year and you’ll always remember it but there is another side to the frequent traveler programs. The side that has progressed from 1981 to what we know it as today.
Thus, we are proud to announce what we and our readers have found to be the unabashed personal and entirely official best of 1988. The Freddies are named in honor of that legend in travel – Sir Freddie Laker who in the late 70’s and early 80’s made travel something that was marketed. It is that spirit that we’ve made our choices for our First Annual Freddie Awards.
The awards were based upon over 1,000 responses from our readers as well as input from the editorial staff here at Frequent. Although we were quite surprised with some of the choices, the fact that our readers are a unique mixture of the top frequent flyers (people with millions of miles and points) as well as those new to the programs seeking suggestions and help in maximizing their travel decisions makes these choices very much from the flyers point-of-view.
BEST OVERALL AWARD
The choice here is for TWA 50,000 mile Europe Award. In fact, it was the most lopsided decision by our readers and was heartily endorsed by the staff of Frequent. For those who haven’t been exposed to this award, it consists of one free TWA First Class ticket and a First Class upgrade for the price of Coach for a traveling companion, or for use by the member at a later date plus, hotel and car rental bonuses from Marriott, Hilton (US) and Hertz.
BEST PROGRAM PREMIER LEVEL
This was one of the biggest surprises. We figured that either American’s AAdvantage Gold or the OnePass Elite would take it, but Marriott’s Club Marquis Black and Platinum Levels are the winners here. Although it was a close decision with the airline levels, it seems that the Concierge Level upgrades are something that most Marriott members become addicted to and since they don’t have to worry about the price of the hotel room to earn the benefits of this membership, it edges the airline program levels which seem to stumble over the full-fare restriction.
MOST SIGNIFICANT TREND
Although we feel a bit foolish in even having to mention the winner of this award, not because they don’t deserve it, but because of it being so obvious. Delta is the winner here for introducing Triple Mileage as a marketing trend during 1988. We would love to see someone win this same award next year for the same thing but we’re sure that something else will come along for 1989.
BEST PROGRAM NEWSLETTER
The winner… Marriott’s Honored Guest Program. The choices for this were scattered among the many programs and Marriott emerged the winner not by just the number of votes, but also the comments that accompanied the vote. Seems that their newsletter draws raves for reviews of new and existing properties as well as promotions involving awards. They also send as part of the newsletter their award chart and that was very important to the people that voted for Marriott.
BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
This one award was based on the quality of the comments that we solicited from frequent travelers. Although almost every program received votes, we were surprised at the number of negative choices regarding customer service for most programs. It seems that the program member has a very long memory when he/she has a problem with their “favorite” program. The program cited most often for their customer service and they were also the only one voted for that did not receive any negative comments is Alaska Airlines. We noticed that people actually go out of their way to mention the customer service from this program which is unusual for busy travelers to do. They have some features in that program that are very much customer service oriented – the ability to get missing credit on your statement with a phone call rather than having to write several letters and hunt down a copy machine. Their service on board is one of the most noted benefits of their Gold Coast Travel Program.
BEST AFFINITY CREDIT CARD
This award was based on comparing benefits and ability to get awards based upon spending with the card only. There was a tie. The two winners of this award are the Ramada Visa and the Diners Club Club Rewards program. The Ramada Visa offers a low interest rate on credit purchases – 15.90 percent. They also offer 12 months of free card use before the yearly fee of only $18.00. You earn 5 points for each dollar charged which is among the highest ratio of any card and offer you the ability in their award structure to chose from a variety of awards that include air and hotel trips as well as merchandise. This combined with their car rental insurance and additional lost luggage provision make it an affinity card that stands out. The Club Rewards program from Diners Club seems to a favorite for those at the higher end of business expenses. The unique benefit of this affinity card is it’s ability to transfer dollars spent into your choice of 11 programs (with 2 new choices in 1989). In most cases you only get 1 bonus miles per $2.00 charged, the ability to make your choice of which program to convert miles or points into is the key to this award winner. If you’ve ever wondered how to get that extra 4300 miles in Mileage Plus or 700 points in the Hilton HHonors program as well as have the ability choose from a catalog of outstanding merchandise, then this is your card. The insurance benefits are also the highest of any affinity card. Of course since it is considered a T&E card, there is no revolving credit line.
BEST FREQUENT GUEST PROGRAM
Our readers confirm that the Marriott Honored Guest Program is the best. Although 2 others were mentioned as possible challengers to the title if they changed just a bit, Marriott was the overwhelming choice. It seems to be the combination of properties in business locations, a world-wide assortment of resort properties and a continual variety of promotional benefits. We note that they also won the Best Premier Level with the Black and Platinum Level benefits and Best Newsletter. They always seem to have some sort of promotion enabling you to earn additional bonus points and who could forget their very successful scratch card promotion. I think one of the real keys to their receiving this award is that if you stay with any regularity at Marriott and are a member of their program, you’ll be well taken care of via your mailbox. They make sure that you are constantly reminded of the name Marriott.
BEST FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAM
This one really surprised us until we reviewed our readers comments about the program.
The Continental and Eastern OnePass Program is the winner of the 1988 Freddie Award. A number of factors went into this decision. The variety of partners and mileage earning potential with them, as well as the destinations one could earn free travel to. OnePass seems to cover the globe and the variety of hotel and car rental partners is among the largest. They offer 3 levels of their Elite program for their best customers and were the first (Eastern) to react to the Triple Mileage promotion of Delta. They also offer several times a year the ability to earn free tickets via flight segments without losing miles from your account and have a history of unique promotions including Super Bowl Tickets award in December. Perhaps the most deciding factor was their decision to not change their program for 1989. Not only did they announce they were not changing the rules and you would still be able to accumulate miles from previous years but they are not raising award levels for miles earned in any of 1989. This decision plus the overall satisfaction level their members many mean many new members in the future.
EDITOR’S CHOICE AWARD
The people here at Frequent decided to look at all of the programs and events that occurred in 1988 and make note of their significance or lack of and acknowledge their part of the history of 1988. We’ve decided that United Mileage Plus and The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) deserve our choice for 1988, and for different reasons. United’s choice comes first and not for the reasons you think. It would be very easy to criticize them for starting the wave to change and control the liability of frequent flyer programs. Our Editor’s Choice is for their bravery. We still feel that they have made a poor choice in dealing with current miles that members earned and the ‘use it or lost it’ date in 1994 but that’s their matter. We’re sure it is going to cost them flyers and we have hear from many, but the that they had the guts to actually make the first move deserves our recognition of that fact. The second Editor’s Choice Award goes to the NAAG who adopted several guidelines for the frequent traveler programs in 1988 and followed thru on their wishes that the members of these program do indeed have rights. They have been instrumental in other factors relating to the traveler but at least now the programs are less inclined to change the programs on a moment’s notice as they to do back in 1987 (remember the Hawaii award non-incident?). They protected the rights of OnePass members and the lowering of the minimum miles per flights for Continental flyers. We applaud and welcome their interest.