Each year, frequent (and even not so frequent) travelers have an opportunity to recognize the top airlines and hotels in a variety of categories. To keep from comparing apples and oranges, the world is divided into three regions: the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Middle East / Asia / Oceania. Winners in each category in each region receive a “Freddie” award.
In the most recent awards, some 19 million folks apparently participated since that is how many hits the voting page received during the voting period. And the winners are…
In the Americas, Southwest (my favorite American airline) won “Best Customer Service” and “Best Affinity Credit Card.” Without a doubt, Southwest deserved the customer service award. When I worked, I did a lot of business travel and no airline I flew can compete with Southwest for customer service. Their staff goes the extra mile to accommodate you.
And their pre-departure announcements are often entertaining…
Until last year, I also had their Visa credit card, and always received a free flight each year just from charging everyday expenses, hotel stays, and car rentals. I had that card longer (15 years) than any other of my credit cards but I did pay an annual fee and now that I’m retired I don’t travel as much so I cancelled it. (Many of the expenses I used to charge to that card I now charge to an American Express Blue card with no annual fee that gives me 3% back on groceries and 2% back on gas and department store purchases.)
Best “Elite” Program and “Program of the Year” awards went to American Airlines, which I’ve never flown. USAirways, which is a contender for worst American airline, is merging with American Airlines. When USAirways took over Piedmont Airlines, which had good customer service, service suffered.
What may have been my last flight on USAirways (in 2006 to Spain, using award miles) ended on an unpleasant note. The flight to Spain wasn’t too bad, even though the food was questionable. And the return flight from Spain was also acceptable.
But the final leg from Philadelphia to Florida was delayed, then delayed again, and then cancelled over a six hour period. I suspect they “delayed” the flight rather than cancel it immediately to avoid compensation (meals and/or hotel). We were finally put on a commuter flight around 8 AM. There was only a handful of us, which is why I suspect they cancelled the flight.
I still have a bit over 50,000 miles on USAirways. If I ever use them, it will be on the merged airline and hopefully it will take on American Airlines’ culture. But I’m not betting on it…
In the hotel awards, Marriott won Best Customer Service, Best Redemption Ability, and Program of the Year. I normally stay at La Quinta, Choice, or Country Inn so I can’t evaluate Marriott. But I found it…interesting…that Hilton did not receive any awards. Hyatt received the “Best Elite” program award.
I belong to three airline programs (but am pretty much inactive now), four car rental programs and four hotel programs. Of all those programs, I’ve found the hotel programs to be the most… rewarding. I don’t always fly or rent a car when vacationing, but I always stay at a hotel unless it’s a day trip so those hotel perks are nice.
When I stay at a Choice hotel, where I have Gold status and their credit card, I’m usually given a complimentary upgrade to the next room category. And participation in the hotel program usually includes complimentary late check out, which is nice if I’m in no hurry to be on my way.
For Europe, Best Customer Service went to SAS. The only European airline I’ve flown internationally is British Airways, in 1988, and their on board service was magnificent. The dinner meal to London is still the best airline meal I’ve ever had (although Korean Air’s dinner was very good too.) On the return flight, which was in the day, there was a nice tea service which included Scottish butter.
I did fly Iberia within Spain, from Barcelona to Granada via Madrid. The Madrid leg was delayed over an hour because the pilots were MIA. And you have to pay for even a Coke. The flight attendants were stand offish.
For the Mideast / Asia /Oceania, I was surprised that Virgin Australia took all five of the awards. The airline also won three of the five categories in the previous year. And I’d never heard of them before. (I went to their website and see that they fly to over 30 U.S. destinations.)
There was a time when the Southeast Asian airlines dominated the customer service awards. Stalwarts such as Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines won year after year, with appearances from Thai and Cathay Pacific. I had to go back seven years before I found a Freddie award to a Southeast Asian airline.
When I spent three weeks in Asia in 1995, we flew Korean, Thai, and Cathay Pacific. Of the three, I was most impressed with Korean. We flew Korean from Atlanta to Seoul and on to Manila.
After dinner, I was amazed to see the flight attendants get down on their knees to brush the carpet. I’ve never seen that on any other airline.
Since there was no outbound flight to Manila by the time we arrived in Seoul after an 18-hour nonstop flight, the airline provided transportation to a hotel, provided us with a dinner voucher at the hotel, the hotel room, a breakfast voucher and picked us up at the hotel the next morning. Even though we were traveling on a super discounted “consolidator” ticket.
At flight check-in for Manila the next morning, the agent took a long time issuing our boarding passes. She looked at my ticket, looked at my passport, looked at me, back at my ticket and then started completing paperwork. I said nothing about what seemed like a delay of some sort. Finally, she handed us boarding passes and wished us a nice flight. “What was that all about?,” I wondered. I soon found out…
As we boarded the morning “commuter” flight to Manila, which was full of Korean businessmen in suits, I showed the flight attendant at the cabin entrance our boarding passes and began to walk to the right, where economy class is. She politely stopped me and said: “Sir, your seats are this way.” She was pointing to first class! She smiled at the shocked look on my face and said: “Today is your lucky day – Happy Birthday.”
The check-in agent noticed from my passport that I was born in Manila and that my birthday was in a few days. She correctly concluded that this was some sort of sentimental visit and upgraded us to first class even though she could have done that for any of the dozens of Korean businessmen who probably regulary fly the airline.
It was a three hour flight to Manila and what a three hours it was! Even before the plane took off, flight attendants brought out all sorts of goodies, including fine chocolates, fresh fruit, and alcohol. It’s the only time I’ve flown first class. Except for us, every other passenger was a Korean businessman in a suit. I’m sure they were wondering about us!
Here’s the complete listing of Freddie awards. Every winner is “first class.”