You’re being manipulated. You already know that. Still, it doesn’t make it any less attractive. You’re going to fly that airline because you’ve built up the points. You need to get the value out of it. That’s the most important thing. Or is it?
Life doesn’t go on forever. Not to get existential, but you don’t get a do over. If you don’t live your life on your own terms, you will regret it. But your rewards program isn’t interested in maximizing the value of your investment. If you doubt it, watch what they do now, when they should be most concerned about keeping your business.
The virus has gutted the airline industry. Air travel has declined 80% since March 2020. In any business not sure of their hold over customers, now would be the time to make concessions, so what is your airline doing? Are they making it easier for you to cash in your points? Are they rewarding your loyalty by offering you choice flights for popular destinations? Are they acknowledging that it’s a buyer’s market? Not so much.
They’re confident they’ve got you hooked. Their reward programs are designed around a shallow psychological gambit that, unfortunately, is only too effective.
Offering points in exchange for completing specific actions motivates you to stay engaged with their brand. They’ve had you running on this hamster wheel for years. They’re working the theory of Goal Gradient Effect which says we tend to work harder towards a goal the closer we get to achieving it. We’re influenced by the perception of progress: if we feel we’re moving closer, we feel the goal is attainable, and as a result we keep working so we can say we’ve achieved it. Then they change the rules.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
Have you noticed it’s gotten harder and harder to cash in your points? The available flights are at inconvenient times or require multiple connections that require you to stay awake for hours. The rewards are worth less and less, even while they cost more and more, and transparency vanishes. Once upon a time the airlines were upfront about what your loyalty points would buy you. Not anymore. They’re like pushers who offer their drugs for free until they’ve got you hooked, then they demand an unreasonable price.
They think they’ve got you figured. They’re calculating you’ll commit the sunk cost fallacy, that you’ll keep chasing the points even if you realize the costs no longer outweigh the benefits, because you’ve already invested so much. Will you?
Millions of Americans are hooked on loyalty programs. Hundreds of websites have cropped up to encourage this behavior, monitoring loyalty programs like they’re betting lines at Las Vegas casinos. Outwitting loyalty programs provides a rush, if only temporarily. But this has nothing to do with enjoying the experience of travel.
Why You Should Dump Your Travel Rewards Program Now
You have to ask yourself a question. If you’re chasing loyalty points, are you having the travel experiences you really want? Travel is about having a memorable experience that enriches you. If you’re going where they want you to at the times they’ve permitted you, getting there bleary-eyed and cranky, you’re not. And it’s only going to get worse.
If the airline industry is not willing to make concessions to their most loyal customers during their worst economic downturn ever, what are they going to do when travel picks up again? As of this writing, there’s a huge pent up demand for travel as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. When the lid comes off, demand is going to skyrocket, black out dates will proliferate, and the cost in points will be prohibitive. Now is the time to cut your losses and get out.
Take back control of your travel life. There are plenty of ways to reduce the cost of travel by being shrewd about how you spend your money. This website will help you with information and guidance in the months ahead, but the first step is to stop playing the airlines’ game. Dump your travel rewards program now and be a happier traveler.
Burkhard, Kristin. “The Psychology Behind a Loyalty Points Program.” the smile.io blog, 19 January 2018, Website
Jolly, Jasper (29 April 2020). “Airlines may not recover from Covid-19 crisis for five years, says Airbus”. The Guardian. 29 April 2020, Website
Dholakia, Uptal. “Why Using Coupons is Bad for Your Wallet.” Psychology Today, 5 August 2015, Website
Man on a hamster wheel, by Leeanne Friesan
All other images by Malcolm Logan