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If you live in Minneapolis, you are probably familiar with Sun Country airlines. This unique MSP-based low-cost carrier flies to 35 destinations in the US, Caribbean, Mexico and as of June 2010, seasonal service to London Stansted. Sun Country has a similar operating model to Southwest in that it only has a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft, but differs in many ways, such as servicing international destinations and having a first class cabin on all flights. Sun Country’s 737’s are all relatively new and have spacious cabins and leather seats. Sun Country was a byproduct of Braniff Airlines and went bankrupt in 2007, but has since re-emerged and seems to be doing well.
I’ve seen Sun Country planes before, but never knew much about them. After some research, it seems like they have a small, but dedicated following (similar to Southwest) and generally very strong customer service. They don’t have an Elite Status program, but they do have a Ufly Plus program that, for the sake of this score card, I will treat as their Elite program.
Currency= Ufly Points (Sign up link here)
100 points= domestic coach award. 150= first class domestic award or coach award to Mexico, 200= Coach to Alaska/Caribbean or First to Mexico, 250= First to Alaska/Caribbean, 400= Coach to Europe, 500= First to Europe
Flights: 5 credits per flight for coach, 7 credits for first.
Credit Cards: None
Partners: Hertz, Wyndham, 1-800 Flowers.
Buy: Buy up to 40 points/year for $160.
+ Unrestricted award availability (no black-out/capacity controls)
+ 3 year expiration policy- any activity keeps the entire account active
- Limited international presence (no ability to redeem for Asia/South America/ Australia and limited Europe)
– Steep change fees for London awards ($200)
– Lack of earning partners (especially no credit card)
– Flying Sun Country is a risk- if their flight is canceled, you have to wait until the next Sun Country flight, which can be days away
– They are very Minneapolis focused
Elite Status a.k.a. Ufly Plus
This is an “elite” program where you simply buy membership and in turn receive a flat price schedule for tickets- including first class, as ell as priority boarding and cheap first class upgrades. Cost: $99 initiation fee and $12/month charge. Once a member, you simply pay $39 (domestic) or $69 (international) plus 10 cents per mile for any flight. Click here for a list of Ufly plus fares. In addition, these fares can be purchased up to a day in advance and can be changed up to 3 times free of charge.
+ Relatively cheap fares
+ Ability to upgrade on any flight with space avaialble ($99 domestic, $
- Expensive membership
The Sun Country Ufly program is definitely better than nothing, but it does not have enough earning or redeeming partners to make it a real competitive program. However, for MSP based flyers, especially small business owners who need to keep an eye on travel expenses, I could really see switching to Sun Country if it served the destinations I needed. The last minute fares through the Ufly Plus are incredibly cost effective- especially considering legacy airlines often charge thousands for last minute or walk-up fares. With the money I saved on airfare, I’d be able to buy enough international tickets without having to worry about points.
However, for the leisure traveler, one free flight for every 10 isn’t bad- in line with Jet Blue and behind Southwest. This program beats Southwest in that the miles don’t expire as easily and there are more “fun” destinations.
Elite Program: D (though I won’t really count it because Ufly Plus isn’t really an Elite status program)
Overall Grade: C
First steps for UFly to get the overall score moving towards an A:
1) Acquire more partners who offer Ufly points (i.e. launch a branded credit card)
2) Implement an elite status program for loyal flyers
3) Increase route network
4) Bring down award redemption levels. It currently takes 40 roundtrips to get a coach ticket to London. On Delta (primary competitor out of MSP), it would only take 20 round-trips MSP-LAX to get the 60k miles needed for a saver coach ticket (that number goes down to 10 trips for elite flyers). With no elite program bonus and limited partners, really driving value out of this program is hard to do.