Here I sit in the United Club in Honolulu. I arrived from a weeklong senior leader seminar in rural West Virginia at noon and leave for a mileage run to Newark (EWR) in nine hours. Trying to get in all the miles I can before fares go up later in the year. No sense leaving the airport, I might as well sit here and tell you of my latest adventurers and how they may affect you.
I spent a great week attending an Army War College seminar meant for senior strategic thinkers which included lectures from GEN Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, and other key leaders. Obviously, the key topic was what will happen with the coming sequestration talks which were delayed by two months. I was glad they were delayed otherwise I would likely not be attending this key training! Anyway, the basic message was that the Army, and by extention the other services, do not know how much they will have to cut in thier budgets, but expect to take some cuts in addition to the $457 billion already agreed to.
As a result, the SEC ARMY issued a letter with specific required cuts unless the various commands can justify the expenditure. So what does this have to do with military frequent flyers? Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) – expect much less travel for the remainder of the FY. Conferences? Good luck with that. Your unit is going to the National Training Center (NTC)? Yeah, plan on getting miles to go to Ontario, CA. Staff Assistance Visits and other trips that we (the Army) can take a risk on not performing are very likely to get cut or severely curtailed. Should be the same for the other services and the other government agencies. I get it, we all need to feel the pain and be good sheperds of the taxpayers’ dollars. However, we frequent flyers may all need to reassess our goals for the year and figure on less paid flights to add to our FF accounts. If you are a Government contractor, you are likely even more vulnerable to these cuts.
What can you do? Well, first justify your trips to your Commander, but do that on the basis of mission readiness, not getting miles. However, you can still look into getting in a quick mileage run or vacation while rates are still low in the first quarter of the calendar year. I outlined several ways to boost your Elite Qualifying Miles or EQM (goes by different names on some airlines) in my recent posts, but there are fewer than there used to be. Several credit cards help, but only add up if you have money to spend so are not the right answer for everyone. You just may have to be more realistic on your goals this year and scale back on the status that you will try to achieve. If you thought you could get to the 75,000 level, but now it only looks like you will make 62,000, make the decision now on whether the benefits will be worth spending money to make up the deficit or save your money and settle for a good, but lower status. Try not to get caught in between levels; you get no extra credit for trying. If you think you will be real close and the airline will give it to you, experience has shown they almost never do that.
If the flying public really cuts back on thier flying, and that may occur with full sequestrain cuts, then we can hold out the hope that airlines will offer a double EQM period. The airlines hold their frequent flying programs to the Goldilocks theory. They don’t want too high of a percentage of flyers or it won’t seem special. They also don’t want too low of a percentage of flyers or not enough customers will talk well about thier program and may steer their business to another airline. They are looking for “just right”.
I just returned from a trip to DC where I got lucky and the Army put me on a Y fare so I got 50% bonus EQM for a total of ~14,000 and will fly to EWR and back on a mileage run for another 10,000 that only cost me $417 (including the 5% discount on UA for the Veterans Advantage Card) and found out Friday that I need to go back to DC later this month. So I will be looking good by the end of Jan., but haven’t got a good feeling about the rest of the year. As we were told over and over again at the seminar, DoD is entering a period of uncertainty. Do the best you can as early as you can with your flying!
Chime in and let me know if you think all of this will affect your amount of flying…