Ever since American Airlines became the first major airline to introduce an airline loyalty program back in 1981, fliers have been hoarding miles. Within about a year, all of American’s biggest competitors, including Delta, United and British Airways, had rolled out programs of their own. And ever since then, most have been intrinsically flawed.
Originally the goal was to accrue free travel (American even considered lower fares for frequent fliers) but that has changed dramatically in today’s aviation landscape, and most frequent fliers these days are more interested in status than the occasional free ticket. Making an elite tier of most airline programs frees travelers from the increasingly onerous and divisive “us versus them” model that airlines have taken towards their passengers. “Regular passengers,” meaning occasional fliers in coach, are subject to all sorts of fees and annoyances, from checked bag fees (and in some cases even carry-on bag fees) to potato chips.