These should be good times for frequent flyer program members.
The airlines have plenty of empty seats, which potentially has a doubly beneficial effect for consumers. First, there should be more seats available for travelers redeeming their frequent flyer miles. And second, the airlines, hurting for business, should be highly motivated to offer bonus miles to sell more tickets.
Or there isn't among U.S. carriers. Elsewhere in the world, there are some encouraging signs of life.
- Australian airline Qantas has launched the Great Qantas Classic Award Seat Release—a 50 percent increase in international coach award seats, and an additional 1 million coach and business-class award seats on its intra-Australia flights. The increase applies to award bookings made through March 31, for travel between May 1 and June 30.
- Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways is reducing the number of miles required for award travel on select routes between April 6 and May 31. During the promotion period, a round-trip coach ticket between the U.S. and Japan that normally requires as much as 65,000 miles can be had for just 40,000 miles.
- And just across the U.S. border to the north, the Aeroplan program, affiliated with Air Canada, is offering members a $25 dining credit when they use their miles for stays at participating Westin, Sheraton, or Le Meridien hotels in Canada, through April 30.
The disproportionate activity among non-U.S. programs is not just disappointing, it's perplexing. Because historically, U.S. frequent flyer programs have led the world in just about every respect. They've been more innovative; more sensitive to consumer needs; more generous. So far, however, their response to the global travel meltdown has been none of those things.