Sun Country Airlines Revamps Its Loyalty Program and Credit Card Benefits
The first word most people think about in relation to an ultra low-cost carrier (ULCC) like Sun Country Airlines is "cheap," as in cheap flights. For many years, the general assumption was that the loyalty programs for these airlines weren't worth a lot of time to participate in. After all, with tickets that cheap, how could they give us outsized benefits? But Frontier Airlines started changing that philosophy when it revamped its program earlier this year, and now Sun Country is rolling out a significant revamp to its loyalty program. There's a great deal of simplification in the new Sun Country Rewards, but it's also going to be much harder to earn a lot of points quickly.
Simplifying Redemptions in the New Program
The current Sun Country loyalty program, called UFly, officially goes away on Saturday, November 3. All members of UFly will be automatically enrolled in the new Sun Country Rewards program.
The old UFly program had a pretty complicated system for redeeming your points. Take a look:
The typical leisure traveler probably doesn't want to wade through that. According to Sun Country's Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Davis, the carrier doesn't see its customers as "frequent flyers," as the airline's customers are predominantly leisure travelers. So in the new program, the process is much simpler and more attractive for Sun Country Rewards members. Going forward, 100 Sun Country Rewards points will earn a member $1 off any fare. There are no blackout dates.
The good news is for existing UFly members, whose current point balances will transfer into the new program at a 1-to-1 ratio. This change will cost the company roughly $10 million, which goes directly to its loyalty members whose point balances are now worth more money. "We didn't want to move the goalposts on our current customers," Davis told TPG. Rereshing concept for an airline...
Earning Sun Country Rewards Points
Earning points is equally simple in the new program, though considerably more painful. Beginning Nov. 3, 2018, all Sun Country Rewards members will earn 2 points per dollar spent on SunCountry.com or with one of Sun Country’s reservation agents. Sun Country bookings made through any other travel booking service or website will earn 1 point per dollar spent.
The previous earning ratio in the UFly program was massively more generous at 10 points per $1 spent. To be fair, Sun Country will give you points for pretty much anything you spend on their website, including baggage fees and car rentals. But, wow, that's a killer drop in earning.
Another change is that members who don't hold the Sun Country Rewards Visa will now see their points expire three years after they were issued — the only way to extend the expiration date is with the airline's co-branded credit card. Note that this new expiration policy does not take effect until the start of 2019.
However, this new policy gets tricky with existing UFly point balances converted to the new program, as they will retroactively take on an expiration date based on when they were originally earned. This means that customers with current UFly points more than 3 years old will lose those points at the beginning of 2019. So if you have any UFly points earned before January 2016 (earning date is based on when you flew), you must redeem them by Dec. 31, 2018, or you'll lose them. The one bit of good news here is that you only need to redeem those points for a future ticket by the end of 2018, not actually fly by then. So you can book a ticket through the end of the 2019 schedule and still be safe as long as you book it before the end of this year.
Sun Country Rewards Visa
Beginning Jan. 3, 2019, existing Sun Country Rewards Visa cardholders will receive both new and changed benefits when they use their card, including:
- 3 points per dollar for all Sun Country spending
- 2 points per dollar on gas and groceries
- 1 point per dollar on everything else
- An anniversary bonus of 10,000 points when you spend $10,000 or more on the card every 12 billing cycles
- 50% off seat assignment and bag fees
- Early boarding
- One complimentary in-flight premium beverage per flight
- No foreign transaction fees
Additionally, as noted above, Sun Country Rewards Visa cardholders’ points will never expire, as long as your account is open and in good standing.
Overall, these are decent improvements in the earning rates on the Sun Country credit card — the current card earns 2x on Sun Country purchases and 1x on everything else, so there's a one point bump on Sun Country purchases, gas and groceries. That being said, with Sun Country points worth a fixed value of 1 cent each, in most cases, you'd do better with a top cash-back or travel rewards credit card.
On the flip side, the free check bag benefit is being replaced with a 50% discount on both bag fees and seat assignment fees. According to Davis, configuration of the standard Sun Country cabin has changed — the airline is removing all interiors and putting in a single-class with three different types of seats. So this change will be great for folks who have the card and want to pay for advance seat assignments, but not as good for cardholders who don't purchase seat assignments but do check bags.
One final change on the credit card involves the annual fee — it will remain at $69 per year, but will no longer be waived in the first year for new cardholders.
Family Pooling Going Away... and Then Coming Back?
As of Nov. 3, 2018, Sun Country will no longer allow new family pools, and two months later on Jan. 3, 2019, any remaining unexpired points in existing family pools will be returned to the original member's account. You will then have until December 30, 2019 to redeem those points for future travel.
But if you've taken advantage of pooling your Sun Country points in the past, all is not lost. "We intend in 2019 toward the end of the year to relaunch a new family pooling program that we think is consistent with our brand," Davis told TPG.
There's no question Sun Country has made the new program simpler with the elimination of tiers, charts and blackout dates, and current UFly members will definitely benefit from the conversion of their current point balances. But the drop in earnings is a painful one. Where Ufly members used to earn 10 points per dollar, they now earn as little as 1 point per dollar. While members in the new program will enjoy a better redemption price, decreasing from either 130 or 110 points per dollar on travel to 100 points per dollar, that doesn't come close to making up for the earning gap.
The decision to eliminate family pooling is a curious choice considering Sun Country plans to bring it back later this year. Pure and simple, family pooling costs the airline money because more points get redeemed instead of expiring. Eliminating it and bringing it back seems like a point of frustration for customers.
Sun Country does get major props in our book for one thing — advance notice of the biggest changes. There will be a full two months for existing members and cardholders to adjust to the new expiration policy and credit card changes, which should be plenty of time to make sure you're set up for the new system. "At every step along the way, we're trying to give the customer the benefit of the doubt," said Davis.