In 1972, United Airlines launched the world's first frequent flyer program. American Airlines, British Airways and Delta Air Lines soon followed, creating programs to incentivize loyalty and reward customers for frequent travel. These programs have become a major component of the travel industry, now implemented by hotels, rail providers and even Greyhound Bus Lines.
These loyalty schemes, in both the air travel and hotel industries, are a central component of my travel strategy. The rewards earned allow me to reduce the cost of travel and enjoy luxury experiences that would otherwise be out of reach. Each year, I redeem more than a million hotel points and frequent flyer miles for memorable experiences like my recent stay at the Park Hyatt New York, or first class international air travel.
In 1988, Randy Petersen, the "Godfather of Miles and Points" and founder of travel websites InsideFlyer and BoardingArea, launched the Freddie Awards. Each year, travelers vote to recognize brands for innovation an excellence in the development of travel loyalty programs. Last month, I had the honor of attending the Freddie Awards ceremony for the third year in a row, meeting and interacting with travel industry executives, writers and bloggers.
This year's event, held at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson, was the most impressive yet. More than 4.2 million votes were cast by consumers in 237 countries, with 223 different travel programs receiving votes.
While there were some repeat winners from the 2016 Freddie Awards, there were also many new brands taking home hardware this year. The 2017 winners for the North American region were:
Program of the Year — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
Best Elite Program — American Airlines – AAdvantage
Best Promotion — Avianca – LifeMiles
Best Customer Service — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
Best Redemption Ability — Southwest Airlines – Rapid Rewards
210 AWARD — Avianca – LifeMiles
Program of the Year — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Rewards
Best Elite Program — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Rewards
Best Promotion — MGM – M life Rewards
Best Customer Service — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Rewards
Best Redemption Ability — Marriott Hotels – Marriott Rewards
210 AWARD — AccorHotels – Le Club AccorHotels
Southwest Airlines cleaned up once again, earning three of the six airline awards. The category for Best Elite Program is especially important to me, due to the frequency of my own travel. American Airlines, my carrier of choice (and where I hold Executive Platinum status), won that category for the sixth year in a row. Noticeably absent from the list of winners are Delta and United, which have repeatedly devalued their SkyMiles and MileagePlus programs, respectively.
On the hotel side, Marriott Rewards took home four awards including Best Elite Program, which was previously held by Hyatt's Gold Passport (now World of Hyatt) program. As someone who holds top-tier status in both the Marriott and Hyatt loyalty schemes, you'll have noticed that the majority of my wheelchair accessible hotel reviews focus on those brands.
The Freddie Awards bring greater attention to loyalty in travel, and generate an additional basis for competition between travel providers. While these awards don't necessarily recognize things that matter to travelers with disabilities, they are useful in understanding how committed businesses are to customer satisfaction. And, even if you do not travel often, you should not pass up the opportunity to collect points and miles — over time, they will add up!