Thursday, May 03, 2012
Travel Thursday - Why bother engaging? American Airlines and Status Matching
Magnolia Stellata on Rue des blancs manteaux, Paris, March 2011.
Your words can speak louder than your actions. Think about it before you put anything out there onto
the interwebs. I had to leave a conversation on twitter with @americanair because they were starting to make me cranky and it was not going to be pretty in the end. To their credit, they do attempt to be proactive and engage with their best customers. In this case, they were just spouting the company line.
I am not currently very pleased with American Airlines, the legacy airline to which I have been chained to for what appears to be an eternity. I originally stayed with them because they acquired TWA and all their elites. They treated us well. I traveled a lot, some for work, and much for pleasure. I was lucky, I found some decent fares, usually got upgraded and rarely was disappointed, until now.
The airlines have been hit by high fuel costs, high salaries and benefit costs, and shrinking networks. The results are downgrades to basic amenities such as clean toilets and nourishment on flights and fewer and more crowded flights. Flying is really no longer fun, even in premium classes. I approach each trip as if I am going to Alaska to do field work. I pack plenty of snacks and carry an extra book. I make sure I have my phone charger and an extra pair of underwear in my carry on because who knows if I'll end up with an unexpected overnight in Cold Bay. I am grateful if my bag makes it to my final destination.
It is sad to see something that used to make me so giddy with excitement now fill me with dread. The new developments make it even more irritating.
American Airlines is offering status matches to United Airlines/Continental fliers at a tier to tier match up. I know this sounds like Urdu to some of you, but they are giving the same level of elite recognition to fliers with high elite status on one airline to another, including free domestic upgrades and eight international upgrades. The fliers can choose to fly or not after being granted these perks. While the perks are not allowed to be traded or sold, they can be "gifted" to friends and family; so there are now eight more opportunities for you to give your parents the trip of their lifetime. In the past, they have had to challenge (fly a certain number of miles or earn a certain number of points) to prove their mettle and dedication and still only granted the mid tier of status. Matches have also been granted on a case by case basis, or done very quietly . Social media and community forums have put an end to that -- everything is fair game and everyone can get in on the deal if they are eligible.
Its all so awesome, right? Bonus! Score! How nice of them! Fraternity! Equality! Liberty!
So what happens to the schmucks that either fly weekly for work, monthly for leisure or try a little harder and pay a little more to fly American? They wait in the same queue as your newly minted elites and their families or "friends" for those upgrades that may or may not clear because there are now x% more of them than there were a month ago.
There as far as I can tell, no way to distinguish between the minted elites and the earned elites, unless AA's crack IT team can flag the reservations and the gods of revenue and seat management can work their magic and move them up in the priority queue. I don't have an answer. I would ask (nicely) that American Airlines think about how to retain their best customers by engaging them on or off line to figure out a way to keep them happy while courting the unhappy UAL/CO customer base.
It's just good business.