Consumers love to be appreciated for their loyalty—from a free coffee on their birthday to something as simple as cash back on their credit card. When it comes to flying, it’s no different. Most airlines have frequent flyer programs for their most loyal customers, many of which offer free upgrades, lounge access, and even free flights. Which got us thinking: what motivates travelers to be loyal to a specific airline in the first place? We asked more than 1,000 travelers and found that almost half are loyal for the free checked bags. Airfarewatchdog founder and travel expert George Hobica doesn’t think that’s such a great idea:

“Since most airlines have credit cards that give consumers free checked bags, if that’s the main reason they’re sticking to one airline over another, perhaps they need to find another reason. For me, the free upgrades to business or first class make most sense to be loyal, but these are getting harder to come by.”

Beyond free checked bags, travelers also cited free upgrades (16%) and overall service of the airline (11%) above things like higher rebooking priority (7%) and price (3%).

You can’t discuss airline loyalty without mentioning frequent flyer programs. In fact, about 630 million travelers worldwide belong to one. Even with so many travelers belonging to a frequent flyer program— the top three major U.S. airlines are starting to require a minimum annual spend to gain status in their programs. Along with these recent changes, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced that they are considering new rules to regulate these programs. However, before implementing regulations, they’ve asked travelers to send direct comments and complaints to them about their frequent flyer programs. With the recent announcement by the DOT, we wanted to see how travelers felt about the possibility of new regulation.

We asked: Do you think there should be more regulation of frequent flyer programs?

  • Most travelers (39%) haven’t given it much thought.
  • A little over a third (35%) voted yes for more regulation.
  • About a quarter (26%) voted no.

With 65 percent of travelers not giving more regulation much thought or simply thinking that there is no need for more regulation, is the DOT wasting their time? Could time be spent doing something else? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

For a view of the full results of either poll or to speak with George Hobica, reach out to the team at

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