American Makes a Few Fairly Insignificant Changes But Delivers the News Poorly

Well, I messed this one up. Scheduled it to go live on Thursday as my regular post, or so I thought, but here it is today. Consider this an early sneak peek if you’re reading this on Wednesday…
Any time two airlines merge, we see changes take place to try and harmonize the differences between the two. The American and US Airways merger is no different. While we’ve already seen a few minor changes, this week we saw a bigger announcement about things that would change on both sides. On the whole, the changes were actually not that big of a deal for most travelers. Yet the way American delivered the news created quite the backlash.

American Award Changes

When I first read the press release, I really didn’t think twice about it. It was clearly written and gave both the good and the bad news. Here’s what we learned.

  • US Airways Dividend Miles redemption blackout dates are removed, matching American.
  • American AAdvantage goes to a three + level award redemption system up from two, somewhat similar to what US Airways has. Some of the higher level award amounts change, but low level awards (the ones most people care about) stay the same.
  • American will now allow 2 free checked bags instead of 1 down to South America, matching US Airways.
  • American reduces Gold elite baggage allowance from 2 to 1 free, matching US Airways Silver. (American starts at Gold, there is no Silver.)
  • US Airways reduces Gold and Platinum elite baggage allowance from 3 to 2 free, matching American Platinum.
  • American travelers on full fare and AAnytime award tickets will no longer get free checked bags, matching US Airways.
  • US Airways Mastercard (minimum annual fee $79) cardholders will get 1 free checked bag, matching American Citi cardholders.
  • US Airways travelers in domestic First Class will get better meals on flights over 1,000 miles, matching American.
  • US Airways travelers in Business Class will get Bose noise canceling headsets, matching American.
  • US Airways travelers in Business Class will see double the movie options on the A330 built-in system and they will get Samsung Galaxy tablets on other aircraft, matching American.

Reading through that, I couldn’t help but not really care. Some of the product announcements at the end had already been discussed and were put into place previously. And those AAnytime award weren’t really that big of a deal. It’s a nice option to have, but it doesn’t impact the low level awards that most people want to use. The announcement was mostly positive, but some was definitely negative. Either way, it really didn’t seem like a huge change. It just seemed like they were making smart adjustments, taking the best policies from both sides.

But then I saw the outcry from the frequent flier community. You would have thought that American had grabbed a fistful of miles and punched them all in the face. Lucky at One Mile at a Time said that American “literally just destroyed their standard AAnytime award chart without any advance notice.” As you can imagine, commenters on the points and miles blogs as well as on Flyertalk and Milepoint were even less generous.

What was I missing? Granted, I realize I’m not a points and miles guy, but I was having a hard time seeing how this announcement was causing such a reaction. Then I decided to look into what was going on, and it became clear very quickly.

American did not deliver the news well at all. Here are just a few things American did wrong.

  1. American published the new award chart before it announced what was happening. That gave people plenty of time to speculate and get angry. The announcement should have gone out first.
  2. American gave zero advance notice for the mileage redemption changes. Sure, the changes doesn’t apply for travel until June 1, but that’s not enough. What an airline should do is give you a little advance notice; say that bookings beginning May 1 for travel after June 1 will be at this new level, or something like that. That gives people who have been saving up for an award time to cash in before the change happens. It’s not going to have a huge impact on the airline, but it does a lot for goodwill.
  3. American didn’t tell the whole story in the release. It didn’t mention the fact that it would eliminate the admittedly little-used oneworld Explorer awards. It’s also eliminating stopovers on award travel (previously only allowed at the North American gateway city, so not that lucrative). Oh, and there were changes to the US Airways award chart, including a 20,000 mile increase to business class awards to North Asia, that weren’t mentioned either. Again, none of these are all that huge or unexpected, but they are all negative. Don’t hide the details.
  4. American’s email to AAdvantage members sucked. It completely glossed over any of the negative impacts and instead solely focused on the good news. Anytime you send an email out like that, the savvy traveler (or even not-so-savvy) will know that you’re hiding something. And the tone just sets people off, including me.
  5. Did I mention they made the change without giving advance notice? Yeah. People hate that.

So I can certainly see why people were all up in arms, but it would have been an easy thing to avoid. The reality is that this news isn’t a big deal, and a fair bit of it is actually good. If American had simply laid out every single change somewhere (even if on a page on the website) and then given a little advance notice, nobody would care. Hopefully they learn a lesson from this going forward, because in reality, the changes aren’t the problem. It’s just the way they were presented.

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