Which points and miles predictions came true in 2019?
Towards the end of the year, the TPG team puts their heads together to try and predict how the world of points and miles, loyalty and credit cards is going to change in the year ahead. Some years we do a better job than others, but in the interest of curiosity it's fun to look back and see how many of our predictions for the year 2019 actually came true.
Today we're going to score our points and miles predictions for 2019, though it's important to note that when we made these guesses the 737 MAX was still flying and Marriott Bonvoy hadn't launched yet. In other words, a lot has changed since then. So how did we do last year? Let's take a look.
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Basic/premium economy will disrupt award bookings
Ethan Steinberg, Senior Points and Miles Contributor
Last year I predicted that both basic and premium economy awards would shake up the conventional award charts we're used to, driving up the cost of booking regular economy awards or of upgrading from economy to business.
When it comes to basic economy, I'm very happy that my prediction did not pan out. Delta was already selling basic economy awards on select routes at the end of last year, but much to my surprise United and American Airlines did not copy that trend. This means you can book the cheapest level awards on those two carriers without worrying about seat selection or getting charged for carry on baggage.
Premium economy, on the other hand, was a bit more of a mixed bag. All three legacy carriers (Delta, United and American) now offer premium economy on many long-haul routes, and you can now redeem miles for premium economy seats on the major U.S. airlines.
The rollout has been much slower for international airlines and alliance partners. While many of them now offer premium economy products, you can't book most with U.S. airline miles. American Airlines has been doing a great job here, adding premium economy awards on Air Tahiti Nui recently, but things are going much slower with more conventional (and useful) alliance partners like British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France.
Alliance and partnerships shake-up
Nick Ewen, Senior Points Lab Editor
TPG Points Lab Senior Editor Nick Ewen hit the nail on the head with his prediction, and I expect this one to hold true through 2020 and beyond as well. One of the biggest and most unexpected developments of the year was when South American carrier LATAM entirely abandoned the Oneworld alliance in favor of an equity investment from Delta (not even a membership in the SkyTeam alliance).
Delta CEO Ed Bastian has gone on record saying he thinks that SkyTeam has failed its member airlines, which is why Delta has set out to build its own web of partnerships through joint ventures and direct investments. Unlike traditional airline alliances, these partnerships often focus on revenue tickets and don't always extend to reciprocal award redemptions or elite benefits. In this sense it often represents a net negative for award travelers.
I'm not sure how many dramatic mic-drop exits we'll see next year, but Delta isn't the only airline that feels limited by its current alliance membership and is looking at alternative growth options. In the coming years, expect to see many more airlines form one-off partnerships with airlines from different alliances, and yes, maybe a few more major LATAM style shakeups as well.
Enhanced elite recognition
Zach Honig, Editor-at-Large
Last year, Zach Honig predicted that Marriott would improve its recognition of top-tier elites by renaming "Platinum Premier" as "Titanium" status and removing confusion among staff about the difference between Platinum and Platinum Premier. On the whole this prediction panned out, and the level of service I received as a Titanium elite this year is enough to keep me loyal to Marriott for the near future.
Back in February, I arrived at the Al Maha resort in Dubai on the day that Marriott Bonvoy launched, and the staff who greeted me on arrival proudly thanked me "for being a Marriott Bonvoy." Things have come a long way since then and I'm routinely recognized correctly as a Titanium elite when I check in, which entitles me to some great benefits including suite upgrades (including at Ritz Carlton hotels which Platinum elites don't get) and a 75% points bonus. Between confirmable Suite Night Awards and upgrades at check-in I have gotten a suite upgrade about 85% of the time, though part of that is due to living in Asia where upgrades are much more generous.
So why does Zach only get a B+ for his prediction? The renaming of Titanium Elite status was part of the broader the broader rollout of Marriott Bonvoy, a launch that was plagued with IT problems and frustrating customer service. While many elites enjoyed the benefits of enhanced recognition, others were so frustrated by the changes to the program that they jumped ship and left Marriott entirely. Most of those kinks have been worked out at this point, but unfortunately there's still a wild variation in the customer service experience from one day to the next, and I've spent far too much time this year auditing my Marriott account to make sure I actually receive all the points I deserve.
More flexible award pricing options
JT Genter, Senior Points and Miles Writer
While JT's prediction last year of expanded dynamic award pricing was 100% spot on, he probably wishes it wasn't. On the hotel side of things, Marriott implemented peak and off-peak award pricing, though we had plenty of advance warning about that. Hyatt announced a similar change that will take effect in March, meaning almost every major hotel loyalty program now uses some degree of variable pricing.
In terms of airlines, Delta had been using dynamic award pricing for years now, but in 2019 United and American followed suit. United gave us several months of advance warning before the changes, which currently only affect United-operated flights, kicked in in November. American Airlines has taken a much more piecemeal approach, slowly expanding both its discounted economy web specials and its upper-end pricing.
We've recently seen prices soar as high as 480,000 miles for one-way business-class awards between the U.S. and Australia. Like it or not, dynamic pricing is here. In fairness though, I don't expect many readers to actually book awards at these astronomical rates, and finding sAAver level business-class award space on this route was nearly impossible before. If you're not booking the ticket anyways, does it really matter whether it costs 200,000 or 400,000 miles?
A hotel sweet spot might go sour
Richard Kerr, Loyalty and Engagement Editor
When a deal sounds too good to be true, you can be pretty certain it won't last forever. That's why when you see a crazy opportunity like the Cathay Pacific mistake fare that kicked off 2019, the motto is "book now, ask questions later."
Last year Richard Kerr predicted that Wyndham would abandon its flat rate of 15,000 points for a standard room at all hotels. He was right, as early in 2019 Wyndham introduced a three-tier award chart with prices ranging from 7,500 to 30,000 points per night. While this doubled the price for some of Wyndham's top hotels, it also created a number of cheaper redemption opportunities.
New Capital One transfer partners
Peter Rothbart, Senior Points and Miles Contributor
Capital One has been an upward trend for the last few years, including adding airline transfer partners to the Venture and Spark cards about a year ago. The transfer program was initially announced with 12 airlines, though that number has grown to 15 with the addition of Singapore, Emirates and JetBlue.
While JetBlue was the only new transfer option Capital One added since Peter made his prediction, he was right in that the world of transferable points continued to heat up this past year. Capital One launched a number of transfer bonuses, and Chase Ultimate Rewards launched its first ever, giving members a 30% bonus when transferring points to British Airways for a limited time. Chase added Emirates as a transfer partner and Amex added Qantas, giving customers two new exciting options for redeeming their transferable points.
Over the years we've seen an increase in the overlap of available transfer partners, especially with airlines like Air France-KLM and Singapore that partner with all five major transferable points currencies. In the coming years, I'd expect to see credit card issuers adding new transfer partners and offering more bonuses to help differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive landscape.
There were some hits and some misses, but overall TPG's points and miles predictions for 2019 covered most of the major events we saw this year. Some predictions might have been made a year or two too early, so keep an eye out in 2020 and beyond to see if these trends continue to appear.
If nothing else, take a beat at the end of the year to reflect on how the award travel industry is changing so that you'll be better prepared to capitalize on these trends in the coming decade.