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Last night the Freddie Awards were held at the CR Smith Aviation Museum in Dallas Fort Worth and it was a night on which we got to find out how 7.1 million frequent travelers feel about the various loyalty programs they belong to, the airlines they fly and the hotel chains they stay with.
It was an eye-opening occasion.
As we know all too well, you can never be too sure of how a fair election will pan out and there’s often no legislating for how voters will vote (we’ve seen examples of this in political elections a number of times in the past few years) so it probably shouldn’t have been a big surprise that the Freddies voters made some incredibly ‘interesting’ decisions.
Bearing in mind that voting for the Freddies took place in February and March this year the fact that Marriott Bonvoy took home the award for 2019 hotel program of the year (Americas) is staggering.
The fact that it also took home the award for best hotel elite program for the Europe/Africa region is unbelievable.
This is the program whose name has been co-opted into meaning something bad, whose database leaked hundreds of thousands of people’s personal details, whose integration of SPG has been a shambles and whose terms and conditions allow multiple brands to avoid honoring numerous elite benefits (like complimentary breakfast and suite upgrades).
How on earth can anyone in their right mind possibly look at the voting choices offered by the Freddies and think that Marriott Bonvoy deserved their vote?
If you think the craziness with Bonvoy ended there you’d be wrong….it also won the award for best hotel promotion for the Americas region thanks to its MegaBonus promotion.
The only thing you really need to know about Marriott’s ‘MegaBonus’ promotion is that the word ‘mega’ has no business being in the title.
The actual promotion offered 2,000 bonus points on every stay of two or more nights (after the first stay) and 1,000 bonus points per brand, starting with the second brand – how is that the best hotel promotion of the year?!
The Freddies were a great opportunity for frequent travelers to send a message to Marriott (who, incidentally, has now won ‘hotel program of the year’ 12 years in a row) that they won’t put up with shocking levels of customer service, a devalued currency and elite benefits that properties can choose not to offer….but that’s not what happened.
The Freddies voters took a look at the mess that Marriott has been over the past few months and still voted for Bonvoy in numbers.
The only conclusion one can reach from this is that a large number of Freddies voters are either incredibly poorly informed or incredibly dumb – there really aren’t any other options.
Marriott wasn’t the only beneficiary of strange voter decision making at the Freddies – IHG walked off with a whole host of awards and one of those was the award for best hotel redemption ability in the Europe/Africa region.
How did that happen?
Yes, I know that redeeming IHG Rewards points isn’t exactly tough but this is a loyalty program that has devalued its awards regularly and frequently and which has gutted the once great PointBreaks promotions.
Having great availability means absolutely nothing if the awards themselves are expensive to book and IHG Rewards awards are undoubtably a lot more expensive today than they were this time last year.
Award costs at top-tier aspirational properties have increased by over 40% in the past few years and the PointBreaks properties that people actually want to stay at now cost 3x as much as they did just 18 months ago so it’s not really all that surprising that it’s relatively easy to find IHG award availability – fewer people can afford the rates!
This was a great opportunity for Freddies voters to say enough is enough….but they didn’t. Instead they patted IHG on the back and moved on.
It wasn’t just in the hotel categories where Freddies voters made some bizarre decisions – the biggest ‘are you kidding me?’ moment came when the award for best airline elite program for the Americas was announced – the American Airlines AAdvantage Program took home the prize.
This is the program which has been cutting benefits, making it harder to earn top-tier elite status and making awards harder to find year after year (to the point where it’s now next to impossible for most people to find premium cabin saver awards) and yet here we have the Freddies voters making it their ‘best airline program of the year’.
It’s almost inexplicable!
I actually feel sorry for Alaska’s Mileage Plan which has resolutely stuck to offering members redeemable miles based on the distance they fly (rather than the price they pay) and whose award charts are reasonable and whose award rules are decidedly flyer-friendly.
Mileage Plan must be wondering why they even bother trying to be different.
A lot of the odd results we saw are probably down to ill-informed voters voting and tribalism (some people are dumb enough to love an airline/hotel chain/loyalty program regardless of what those entities are actually like) but I think a lot of it is also down to how the voting for the Freddies works.
Voters are invited to select their top 3 airlines/hotels/loyalty programs in each category but it’s not just people’s #1 choices which go on to determine the final winners – there’s a complicated equation used to decide the winners and the equation takes into account voters’ second and third choices too.
What I don’t think a lot of people realise is that you don’t have to make three choices for each award so it’s possible to, for example, just vote for Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan in the ‘best airline program (Americas) category and leave the other options blank.
Not only would this ensure that Alaska’s loyalty program gets a significant vote but it would also ensure that none of its competitors would be given a leg up in the voting – essentially this would be a double bonus for Alaska Mileage Plan and would give it a far better chance of winning the award.
I suspect that, although a lot of people clearly voted for Marriott Bonvoy and AAdvantage as their favorite programs, a substantial number also placed these programs in either second or third place and that boosted their scores significantly.
Programs like Marriott Bonvoy are already emailing out the news of their successes at the Freddies and, like it or not, what voters have done is given these programs every reason to believe they can carry on offering poor service, ignoring elite benefits and devaluing their award offerings because apparently everyone still loves them.
The Freddies should have been used to give a number of airlines, hotel chains and loyalty programs a good hard kicking and a short, sharp reminder that we’re not idiots and that we won’t stand by applauding as they make our experiences worse and take our business for granted.
Instead, the message sent out to the likes of Marriott, IHG and AAdvantage was loud and clear – continue doing whatever you feel like doing because, when all is said and done, we’re not going to do a damn thing.