The 21st Annual Freddie Awards were held this past Thursday at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale, and I had the opportunity to attend. Randy Petersen generously invites FlyerTalkers to attend, so this was the second year in a row I took him up on the offer (last year was in Phoenix).
The Freddie Awards aren’t just a quick award show, but rather a whole evening and night of fun, starting at around 4:30PM and going well past midnight. This year the cocktail reception was out by the pool (starting in the afternoon), inhabited mostly by industry representatives. This is where I had the chance to speak with all the United representatives as well as the (very funny) Lufthansa representative. The Freddie Awards are one of the few opportunities we have as frequent flyers to make suggestions to the industry folks in such a direct way.
The cocktail reception was followed by dinner, which was followed by the awards ceremony. I always find the results to be interesting, since it’s not just a matter of getting the most votes, but rather a “value vote,” whereby voters rate how important certain categories/programs are to them.
Now, as far as the hotel programs go, I’m always surprised by how well Marriott performs. They have some of the highest elite qualification requirements and their elite benefits are fairly limited compared to most of the other programs. Nonetheless, if a program can offer relatively limited elite benefits and get such high marks from customers, more power to them. It will be interesting to see if there’s a shift in the results next year, given that Hyatt has introduced free internet for all elite members along with electronic suite upgrades for their Diamond members.
On the airline front, I think we see just how disgruntled frequent flyers are nowadays. This year, for example, AirTran scored higher in the “Best Elite-level Program” than United, Delta, and American, for example, which I can’t understand. It seems that a lot of people vote based on the progressions of the individual program over time, meaning they’re comparing their favorite elite program this year to the same program five years ago, instead of looking at the big picture. I certainly understand the frustration frequent travelers have with the legacy airlines, but I think they still have the best elite levels, no matter how you slice it.
As much as I’m frustrated by United raising award redemption levels, blocking some partner inventory, and limiting upgrade space, I think they still have a great frequent flyer program. The same goes for American, which hasn’t had such drastic cutbacks, yet only scored in seventh place in the “best elite level” category.
It just comes to show you that the best program isn’t necessarily the one that has the most benefits, but rather the program which does the best job managing customer expectations.