The Critical Points: I hope these 9 things happen in 2020

Dec 27, 2019

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Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

Christmas is over, and that means it’s time to turn our attention to 2020. The last several years in the loyalty space have given us plenty of things to cheer, but they’ve also included plenty of things at which to grimace.

While I’m a natural skeptic, this time of year I like to reflect on what happened over the last 12 months and try to take an optimistic outlook for the coming year. During this reflection, I often have conversations with friends and family and always end up playing travel Q&A at family events. These chats lead me to create a wish list for the coming 12 months.

Here are the nine things I hope will happen in 2020.

1. Resort fees die

There are already two lawsuits by state attorneys general against Hilton and Marriott (on behalf of Nebraska and D.C. residents). There is now legislation introduced in the House of Representatives to make it federal law that all advertised pricing must include the resort fee. Las Vegas has seen a decrease in visitors, partly attributed to the resort fees there which can often be more than the advertised room rate. There are class-action lawsuits against the Great Wolf Lodge for how it previously (didn’t) disclose its resort fee and against Marriott in California.

Consumer tolerance for whatever you want to call the illegal second room rates has reached fever pitch, and I hope we see the downfall of opaque pricing policies meant to lure customers with fees that provide no benefits, despite what that card says at the check-in desk.

2. Marriott removes resort fees on award stays

This is technically a corollary on #1, but it deserves its own spot on the list. I have built up a sizable stash of points and free night certificates with Marriott over the years. This goes against my personal philosophy of not creating loyalty currency stockpiles, but every time I want to go to a leisure destination, a “free” stay with a Marriott beach or urban property would end up costing me hundreds of dollars in resort fees — not to mention on-property parking fees.

Hyatt and Hilton do not charge resort fees on award stays, and because I am a Hyatt Globalist, I even get free parking on Hyatt award stays. At least 90% of the time, I find my Hilton or Hyatt points as better options for any desirable location. Here’s hoping that 2020 is the year Marriott stops penalizing guests for using their hard-earned Bonvoy points.

3. Hyatt updates award search results

When you search a city for Hyatt award stays on the desktop version of their site and mobile app, you are shown what a property costs in both points and dollars.

The above search results makes you think all of the properties have points availability for your specific date(s). However, you still have to click on each individual property to see whether that date actually has award space or not.

Unfortunately, readers often send me the first screen shot above for their travel dates, asking if it is a good redemption value. I then ask if they’ve clicked through to see if availability actually exists. They routinely come back disappointed. Because the search results showed both the award rate and paid rate, they (naturally) assumed the date had availability for both. Hyatt needs to update this initial search result screen to accurately state whether award availability exists or not.

4. Hyatt tactfully applies peak and off-peak pricing

Beginning in March 2020, Hyatt will introduce three tiers of awards (off-peak, standard and peak) for all redemption types, including standard rooms, club-access rooms and premium rooms/suite awards. Points + Cash awards — which were significantly devalued late last year — will also utilize this tiered pricing, requiring 50% of the standard cash rate and 50% of the points required for a free night.

We later learned that Hyatt will set these dates centrally, but we didn’t get much clarification on how the different rates will be applied.

“There are no minimum or maximum number of nights that a property can designate as Peak or Off-Peak point redemption periods. However, the majority of days will be set to Standard each year.”

We can only hope that Hyatt tactfully applies these dates and doesn’t set the most desirable properties to charge peak pricing the majority of the time.

5. Delta and American do not follow United

United made 2019 a memorable one for Mileage Plus members. There are no more award charts, an entirely new status qualification program and a fresh approach to upgrades (for the better). What’s left is really a loyalty program that has nothing to do with miles and places a question mark on how many miles you’ll need for a given award flight. While these changes are largely negative at face value, I understand the business case that led United to take these steps. Perhaps the only real axe I have to grind is that the program got rid of the $75 close-in booking fee but now charges a punitive additional cost of up to 3,500 miles per person when booking an award within 21 days of departure, an especially galling change for elite members.

While I still highly value United miles and keep plenty of Chase Ultimate Rewards points in hand to transfer to United, the new elite status program doesn’t entice me to become a loyal United flyer. I hope Delta and American do not follow these footsteps where the mileage you fly has no bearing on the status you earn.

6. Alaska clearly delineates mixed-cabin awards

I’ve lobbied for this for over two years now, and it needs to be fixed. When you search for premium-class awards on Alaska’s website, the search results seem to show availability when only the domestic, short-haul connection is in first or business class. An inexperienced flyer (or one booking quickly) might overlook that the long-haul segment is in economy. These mixed-cabin awards should either be shown in the economy column with a slightly higher price or in their own column on the search results page.

Experienced flyers know what the little recliner seat next to the search results mean, and there is a warning screen before you book, but why is an airline still charging first-class prices when Sydney (SYD) to Los Angeles (LAX) is in coach?

7. No more airlines go out of business

2019 saw a whopping 23 airlines go out of business worldwide, with the floundering of low-cost carriers like WOW and perhaps the largest airline to cease business, Thomas Cook. Other airlines continue to operate with major financial issues — including South African Airways and Alitalia — so I hope 2020 isn’t a repeat of what we saw this year.

(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Besides all of the jobs lost when 23 airlines shutter their doors, it means passengers have less options and could be seen as a poor economic outlook for global air travel — despite any management or strategic decisions that impacted an airline’s fate.

8. No more domestic airline mergers

Competition and choice is good for the U.S. domestic air market, driving down costs and incentivizing airlines to offer a good passenger experience to win over customers — rather than cramming in as many seats as possible to boost revenue. We’ve seen too many domestic carriers merge over the last 20 years, and I have no appetite to lose additional choices or see an airline earn a larger market share and flex its fares upward as a result.

Rumors briefly popped up this past fall that Southwest could merge with Alaska or JetBlue to help solve its 737 MAX headaches. By the end of 2020 (and 2025 for that matter), I only want to see more airlines in business in the U.S. — in addition to all of our current carriers flourishing.

9. The 737 MAX re-enters service

I believe the 737 MAX will be the safest airplane in service when regulators give it the green light to begin flying again. I also believe the pilots in charge will be the most well-trained on a single-type model series. At this point, the airlines need the aircraft in their fleet (Southwest) to avoid further financial hardship the grounding has caused, and we need to avoid those costs being passed on to passengers.

TPG Seniors Points and Miles writer JT Genter trying to open his laptop in an Oasis economy seat.
TPG Senior Points and Miles writer JT Genter trying to open his laptop in an Oasis economy seat.

Thousands of Boeing employees’ jobs also rely on the continued production of the aircraft (which was just halted), and Airbus cannot come up with a substitute in any viable timeline. The aircraft needs to re-enter service — but it wouldn’t hurt if American stopped installing the much maligned Oasis interior on the MAX that has been met with resounding negative reviews.

Bottom Line

There’s a lot of potential in 2020 for the hotel customer and airline passenger experience take turns for the positive, but an air of lingering change that programs could continue to shift the entire landscape of how the loyalty business was done in the past. I am optimistic that companies are listening hard to their customers and taking feedback into account. Regardless of what happens, I am 100% positive that I’ll still be traveling on points and miles for all of 2020 and far beyond.

Featured photo by Brett HemmingsCity of Sydney/Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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