Have Award Chart Devaluations Changed Your Travel Focus?

Reader Terence emailed me the other day to ask about a specific flight he was looking at booking, and in the email he mentioned something interesting as an afterthought:

I’m also starting to shift my focus from inflight experiences to the destinations thanks to the latest round of devaluations.

I thought that was oddly insightful. Now, I know some holier-than-though travelers will be along in the comments section shortly to proclaim that some people have been traveling “wrong” all along. In my opinion you’ve traveling right as long as you get enjoyment out of it, whatever form it may come in.

But I think Terence is onto something here. Over the years the relative values in award charts has greatly impacted how I travel, and I know that’s the case for many others as well.

Would many of us have been to Hong Kong or Dubai so often on a stopover if not for redeeming Alaska Mileage Plan miles with a stopover in those cities, while flying Cathay Pacific first class and Emirates first class? Would Abu Dhabi feel like a second home if not for the great value of redeeming American miles for Etihad first class?

Hong-Kong-Sunrise

Personally I think almost every place is worth seeing at least once, and certainly the relative “sweet spots” of various award charts have caused many of us to prioritize some cities ahead of others. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Airline award charts change over time, and I think maximizing points is all about taking advantage of the relative sweet spots of award charts as they exist.

It’s funny how over time these things change, though. The Lufthansa First Class Terminal used to feel like my second home. Now I visit there maybe once per year.

Lufthansa-FCT

I used to shower in Emirates first class as often as on the ground (okay, just kidding). Now I don’t know when I’ll next take Emirates, due to Alaska’s sudden Emirates devaluation.

Emirates-Shower

In a backwards way these award chart devaluations are quite liberating. Based on feedback I’m getting from readers, it seems like more than ever before people are now trying to make their miles work for the destinations they want to go to, rather than making their destinations work for the miles they want to redeem and products they want to experience.

Again, I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. If someone gets enjoyment out of their vacation time and has limited time off, there’s merit to making the journey as fun as the destination.

But based on my perception of things there has been an overall shift, and it’s an interesting one to watch…

Have award chart devaluations (and especially first class awards being hit the hardest) changed how you plan your travels? Has your focus shifted more on the destination than the journey as a result?

Comments

  1. The change doesn’t really impact me in this sense, because I always valued destination over routing/airline. I get precious little vacation time as it is, so I use it going exactly where I want to go.

    In a way, the devaluations might have helped me. While awards are more expensive, I go on international vacations infrequently enough (~2 times a year) that my wife and I still have enough miles to travel where we want comfortably. On top of that, the higher award costs seem to have resulted in increased award availability – at least in our situation. Our last 3 big vacations required very specific travel dates and we were still able to find 2 business class tickets every time. Obviously this is only one data point and maybe we’ve gotten very lucky, but in any case it’s been working out well.

  2. Ben, It’s not “holier than thou” to be somewhat bewildered and disappointed that you find the experience of choosing between Krug and Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon and overall first class onboard service experience equal to the cultural experience of travel. The former might stroke the ego, while the latter expands the mind.

  3. @Stuart Falk Bravo.. I’m one of those who have to work, so when I do get enough time off I’d rather focus on the destination then how I get there. But saying that it is nice to travel in F then Y, but I just use my miles and points more wisely today then before.

  4. @ Stuart — That’s not what I said, and that’s not the point. It’s not about choosing Krug over a “cultural experience.” For many it has been about possibly changing around the order of their travel bucket list a bit. For example, if it weren’t for Emirates or Etihad, would I ever have visited the UAE, Muscat, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.? Probably not. But I’m happy I did, and it was partly because of the relative advantages of various award charts.

  5. We’re sure as hell not going in coach…BUT, the first class experiences are “been there, done that” at this point, so the destinations are becoming more important. This will be even more so once I retire and can stay in one region for a month or two. Currently, with only a few days to a week for a long-haul trip, it is difficult to venture too far form hub cities. If we’re going to a major international hub, we might as well go in First Class, especially since it keeps the FCQ happy!

  6. Ben, Thanks for the clarification, Trumpian though it is. Of course, I understand that reviewing flights/hotels is your business and if it were not for that (and the business tax deductions it allows one to take) your travel patterns would be quite different, particularly the amount you stay in a given destination.

  7. I’ve got to agree with @Bert. I have limited vacation and travel with family so don’t have the ability to lock in Saver level tickets 11+ months in advance. It’s kind of irrelevant to me whether its 50K or 57.5K AA miles to go to Europe in business class, so long as I can get enough seats on the days I need with reasonable advance planning. With more mileage seats seemingly opening up and lower business class fares in general, I feel like we’re getting the best of both worlds.

    As for the journey vs the destination, to each his/her own. @Lucky, your shifting perspective on that may also be partly a function of getting older like the rest of us….

  8. Sorta. I’m with Gene — I don’t do longhaul coach if I can avoid it. I really am satisfied with a solid business class product. Every time I’ve flown F, I’ve just been slightly underwhelmed. Including the SQ’s F. Call me crazy. But part of it is that I don’t sleep well on planes, so I change between flat bed/recliner often. I’m not a fan of the products where you have to have the FA make the bed. While CX lets you pull out a tray table when the bed is down, SQ doesn’t.

    I get off a CX J flight content and happy. I really don’t get off the plane wishing for more.

  9. Devaluations have been informing my destinations for a while. South America has been at the top of our list for two years now, but first we booked Europe, ME, and Egypt because United was devaluing two years ago, then we booked Hong Kong, China and Japan last year because AA was devaluing, while NA to SA has largely been left alone. It looks like SA will finally get to the top of the list for 2017, although something to take advantage of the current United stopover rules may still preempt it.

  10. @Stuart Falk: “Lighten up, Francis.”

    I take maybe two major trips per year, so I’ve always been destination-focused. That said, I really love the in-flight experience too. The various devaluations haven’t altered my travel plans, as yet. However, I have started to look a lot more seriously at cashback and flexible currencies.

  11. A bit surprised that no one has mentioned hotels. I get good value from hotel loyalty programs so they definitely influence my travel. I was part of that crazy Hyatt weekend so planning to use up my eight DSUs before February 2017. I am Hilton Diamond through credit card spend and have enjoyed fifth night free and lounges at nice Hilton resorts along with paying the lowest rate and getting an impressive upgrade. I am also Marriott Platinum and have seen some very nice Marriott lounges as well (but sadly not at resorts). I will try to fly from long hall in J but I am retired now and while I might spend 16 hours on a plane, I might spend 16 DAYS in hotels. So, where those hotels are located will absolutely guide my travel plans.

  12. “In a backwards way these award chart devaluations are quite liberating.”

    This speaks to a key insight from decades of behavioral science research: people often prefer having their choice set constrained. They don’t want unlimited options. Among other things this helps minimize regret, and many people find regret to be very, very uncomfortable.

  13. I’m one of those (upper) middle class, middle aged wage slaves who reads your blog for tips. We will splurge for business class on a big trip maybe 2x/year because coach is too uncomfortable for our aging bones. Often we pay cash – so we want to maximize our experience given the spend. If I have many choices to go from LA to Asia or Melbourne, the blog is really helpful in sorting them out. (Our next trip is LAX-NRT-HKG-MEL and back in Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, thanks to these reviews.)

    Maybe we’ll use our accumulated points for first class once every five years, or do a nice Euro trip once every other year. I appreciate them. But of course for us, it’s always about the destination and the experience. The experience getting there and back is a nice perk.

  14. @Stuart Falk: of course he had to bring in the Trump card. I bet he feels so progressive and tolerant…..

  15. In my field of work, it is the working norm to miss the birthday, our anniversary, a graduation or even worse a funeral of someone who has touched our life. I too simply follow the pearls of wisdom that are being imparted by everyone here to help leverage what I have secured in miles / points / status by missing all of these events. My ability to make the experience of a destination vacation as wonderful as I can for my husband who hears the wheels of my suitcase rolling in and out every week is what matters most. It is through everything that all of you have shared we are flying to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and then onto the Maldives. That he will get to experience British Airways First and Etihad A380 with chauffeured services before it ends for a brief but incredible dream vacation getting our 4th night free using our Citi Prestige card. Yes I was using Skype to talk to AA in Australia to secure Etihad availability but we would never have been able to take this trip had I not learned from every one of you. Am I ticked about what the airlines are doing by devaluing the system, hell yeah, can we do anything about, hell no.. We can stamp our feet and say you owe us but they are a business and through every blog they read they too can see the opportunities to compress the gaps and availability for every action we undertake to extract the best opportunity available. The playing field has effectively become even across the major US carriers, and now it will become more about a personal decision and how deep and for how long you are prepared to search. My loyalty is becoming fragmented and it will come be destination driven moving forward. Thanks Lucky, and to all of you for sharing and looking forward to a phenomenal bucket list destination to celebrate our anniversary

  16. Sorry, I just didn’t know that flying TATL in a windowless window seat next to an overweight Irishman is both a cultutal experience and mind expanding. I feel so relieved.

  17. I think @Adam has an interesting point to make. The situation for me is I have a huge number of destinations I want to go to – like everywhere I haven’t been, and most places I have, because I want to go back to them to see more.

    So part of the selection process becomes – ‘What deal can I get?’ whether it be hotels of flights or both. Sometimes a good deal might alter the exact destination you end up in.

    Here’s an example. We wanted a winter break, but only had a week max to spend. So we were thinking somewhere in the South Pacific because most of those destinations are less than 4 hours away – and we weren’t keen on spending a day in the air.

    We ended up with a trip to Bali because of a fantastic less-than-half-price deal at the Four Seasons, and then lucked into a cheap day time economy fare on Garuda one way, and an OK priced business class overnight return flight due to the ingenuity of our travel Agent. (you can read all the gory details here: http://www.2paxfly.com/2016/08/qantas-holidays-honours-its-online-four.html).

    If I can project onto Ben’s thoughts – I think that’s what he means. Sometimes points availability determined the choice of destination – not forced him to go places he didn’t want to. Now, with points being more difficult to use or to get value from – the destination is becoming more of a priority, but the deal is still important.

  18. @2PAXFLY: Great post, and I actually think we’re making the same point:

    In the past the decision-making process might have included two major elements: {set of great points deals, set of great destinations}. (Yes, sometimes they were one and the same, but not always). People in the miles and points world may have felt like they should try to maximize both…after all, there were all these great points deals out there and so it would great to try to take advantage of them and not miss out! But, now, if there are far fewer points deals, then the decision-making process is much easier — people only have to think about the set of destinations.

    So, the decision is constrained, but people may actually end up happier (on average). At least that’s what the behavioral research on this would show.

    In fact, speaking of this, I wish that we could filter posts on the homepage of Ben’s blog (and others) so that I don’t see certain ones. For example, I mostly fly UA and *A, and my time for fun travel is limited, and so I almost don’t want to hear about the amazing BA business class fares to Europe, QR fares to Asia, and so on. To be sure, I can easily choose not to read the posts, but I almost don’t even want to see the headlines so that I don’t know what I’m missing out on. A simply filtering functionality would allow me to implement that restriction and, quite possibly, ultimately make me better off.

  19. Haven’t changed all that much for me. I luckily don’t have kids so my vacation time frame is not tied to summer months. So the flexible time helps a lot. Bottom line is I will never trade traveling to save a few bucks because traveling is my passion. Instead, if I have to work with a budget then I’ll find a cheaper hotel. I won’t use my points for first class for travel within the u.s. I’ll just stick with international travel. Also, it seems like business class fares are much more reasonable (though not cheap) so sometimes I’ll just pay for the ticket. In those cases I’ll definitely find a cheaper destination and cheaper hotel, use public transport instead of taxi etc. There are always ways to compensate. Though the last few years I just ask for more money at work as my solution lol.

  20. @WC,
    Yes, this blog is a great source of information, but some people have great difficulty in just extracting what is personally useful, rather than focussing on what irritates them. After a period of trying the great airline redemptions post retirement (Emirates still to come, bought pre-deval on AS), I am now back to destination travel, but less often.
    On the Etihad AA Australian call centre, we have supervisor, Joanne, to thank.
    I spoke to her over a year ago after agents there (and in the US) could not see availability on EK and LAN. She taught her staff HOW TO READ SCREENS!
    Lucky has passed on her success to many of us.
    Now if AA and AS could train their agents to read QF screens for partner availability!

  21. Changing my flying choices and patterns – absolutely. It’s been a cost-benefit analysis these past few years … trips to Hong Kong, Sydney, Johannesburg, all influenced by the miles and status acquisition … now that’s changed and all the economy low fares that are available to Europe, etc., don’t interest me much as the benefit part of the equation (miles accrual) just ain’t there. So there will be less travel, and a more discerning use of the miles in hand. Maybe one more year of some just for fun trips until the status runs out, which makes the long hauls a little less grueling if flying in the back. One thing for sure, I won’t feel at all sorry for the airlines if/when they have to fall back on some of the broad devaluations schemes they’ve put in play.

    All that being said, I booked with Delta just last week for the first time in years …what’s the point of loyalty to AA and their miles (in my case) when the return for actually flying them is now such a pittance.

  22. I’ve always been about finding great ways to travel where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to be on the “Best” plane or seat but only the best one which flies to my location. So the comparisons between airlines are helpful. I’d rather fly American business instead of BA Club World, etc.

    What points has done for travel has allowed me to add places I might not have gone to. We got the companion pass for SW (not glamorous but still valuable) and added trips to Carlsbad Caverns onto a Texas trip. I would have never paid the extra $400 in a cash ticket but only having to pay with miles for 1 person made it possible. We also tacked a trip to Japan onto an Australia trip flying in Thai Airlines 787 but checking for Singapore availability until last minute. I never could or would have pulled that trip off without miles.

    So it’s to each their own what is more important. None of those views are wrong I use reviews and comments to help me make the best decision for me. If someone is traveling solely because of something that was written but they have no interest in it otherwise, I think they are doing it wrong.

  23. I find it a matter of always checking what is value for “Us”. Points have enabled my immediate family & both sets of parents to travel in otherwise unaffordable airline classes or more frequently than we could have.
    I still chuckle to myself when I see long haul flights quoted when from here in Aus that means 24 hours of flying. 7 hours is a sinch. 🙂

  24. Nooooo, it’s always about the journey, not the destination! Would I have gone to Myanmar otherwise — twice, via KUL, BKK, HKG, ICN, LAX, IAH?? Would I have gone to Egypt but for $370 rt from the U.S? ditto AUH for $300? MXP for $200? OSL-KTM for 36,000 AA miles in Apt. Class?

  25. Is that Terence, as in Terence and Philip?
    @Gene: re your Trump comment, you don;t seem to understand Trump creates commerce. For example, a 30 foot wall will create a massive market for 31-foot ladders!

  26. For better or worse these points and miles blogs have turned a majority of readers, including myself, into value based miles users. You can’t tell me that someone who churns credit cards and books trips to no-name destinations suddenly will give up CPM and forget about value in favor of destination. Value will always be a consideration as its a methodology most of us use in our daily lives. The ability to go to the dream destination has always been there. The ability to travel in the best products in the sky was there. Liberation has a positive connotation, but I don’t see it as positive when your options are effectively reduced due to the value of the redemption. Soon when miles redemption is normalized to 1.0 CPM people are going to feel liberated that they can now book an economy trip from New York to Denver and get the same value as a trip from New York to Tokyo in first class.

    Summary: People who have always booked on value will still consider it when booking a trip and have not been liberated in my opinion. People who were focused on destination before devaluations are unfazed.

  27. Devaluations havent really changed my outlook – what they’ve changed is the maths.

    Once upon a time, I was a regular EXP because the job I worked required a good deal of international travel. As a consequence, I grew to learn the benefit of flying at least business when you are going long-haul – it does make a difference if you are supposed to get off an airplane after 12-14hrs of flying and go to work. Being able to use a lounge to clean up or hastily reschedule a flight after a weather or maintenance delay has been a godsend. I also generally enjoyed the airport and flying experience as I was doing much of it internationally. The occasional mileage run for the leaner years was, well, fun. Crazy to some, but fun for me.

    Devaluation means the mileage runs are harder to make because domestically elite status is revenue based. For the maths to really work, you need to work the mileage accrual charts for partner airlines more. The game for status changes from flying your airline to flying your airline’s partners as much as you can – or you spend money. The game becomes how to get status for the least amount of money. And while more of a pain now, its still fun (to me).

  28. I’ve always been about destination travel. I love visiting Australia, and I’m perfectly happy doing it in Y if need be.

    I’m traveling there next week in F; in order to take advantage of award miles, I have to fly via LAX, versus direct. This means a day of vacation “wasted” with a 24 hour layover in LA, but I figured it was worth it for the bucket list experience of flying F. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *