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…
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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.

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

  1. shane says:

    CF: by now you must have standard language for your posts because it seems like each of the big 3 makes a similar type of announcement quarterly, whether it be about product changes, frequent flyer changes, hub and route changes, etc. Every time they lay out all of the great benefits that reductions in service will be and how great the changes will be for consumers. Granted, usually there is more time for consumers to absorb these changes, but the communication is still the same.

    • Jon says:

      If you didn’t expect a devaluation, then you’re utterly delusional. Every other US airline has had a devaluation, and quite frankly, the AAdvantage devaluation from 4/7 is easily the least painful amongst the big-3. Considering none of the Saaver awards were changed (which are the values used for partner redemptions), this devaluation is actually easier to stomach than even the Southwest devaluation, if only because WN raised redemption rates across the board.

      Assuming you were expecting a devaluation to drop *some* point soon (which I most certainly was), the only real (and quite concerning) issue is the completely terrible, mind-numbingly offensive way in which it was communicated to Aadvantage members.

      • Consumer Mike says:

        Jon, As a long time follower of the Cranky Blog, an Aadvantage member since 1981 and someone who has traveled on airlines (domestrically and internationally) for 50 years I always monitor the changes in the industry and compare changes and benefits of every FF program. Therefore, I also was expecting some changes on the Aadvantage program, especially after US Air CEO Parker got his hands on AA. We also all know that CF has never been a points and miles guy. He has said so more than once over the years, so I am not surprised that he may not put his reporting attention, priority or sympathy to those of us who loyally do business with a single airline in the hope that they will gain some benefits and award travel by stating with any airline through thick N’ thin times. Having said that, I hope you all realize that this is only the begining of more changes (devaluations) to come. It doesn’t really matter to me how these “take backs” are presented to the public, the bottom line remains that we will get less benefits and be charged more to fly in the not so friendly skies. So the question for Aadvantage members is: Does it make sense to remain with this program? Or ANY FF program?? Some people will never leave, others will start to wonder and jump. I personally may not stay with Citi or Aadvantage, since I am seeing less ADVANTAGE to remain.

        Personally, now that I have lost no fee domestic check – in of 1 piece of luggage as a Gold member and expect more take back changes to follow, once these new ones have been digested by the public, I am definitely comparing other (non-airline) Rewards card programs. For instance, my credit union has a no fee Rewards program which offers air tickets, free travel insurance, no foreign currency fee, choice of hotel, commercial gift cards to many stores and businesses, etc. So, as the airline industry continues to change, so MUST the consumers loyalty plans and habits. AA has demonstrated what their attitude is regarding their “Loyalty” program, and I am very confident the worst is yet to come. I see this as the begining of the end to my favorite FF program.

        Lastly, CF says that Citi card holders still have free check-in previlages. I am not aware of this benefit at all. AA did not stipulate ANY deviation from their NEW domestic fee charges. Please let us know what is the true fee status of Citi card holders vis a vis luggage fees.

        • CF says:

          Consumer Mike – I find it hard to believe that these changes have somehow pushed you away from your loyalty to American. You’ve just been waiting for an excuse since your mind is already made up that US Airways and Doug Parker are evil. But if you try to shelve that thought for a minute, let’s look at this.

          How often do you check two bags when you fly? As a Gold, you still get 1 bag for free. If you do check two bags often, then I would suggest flying Southwest if you aren’t willing to pay for the second bag.

          Also, none of the low level awards have changed their value here. Do you often use miles for AAnytime awards? If so, you might find that the price has gone down. In other cases, the price may have gone up. But you aren’t going to find anything better elsewhere.

          Regarding Citi cards, it depends upon the card you have but there are cards that waive the first bag fee.
          https://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/earnMiles/beyondTravel/creditDebit/main.jsp

          Certainly there will be further changes going forward. And if enough people are angered by them, then they’ll reverse course. But the changes made here really aren’t a big deal.

          • Consumer Mike says:

            Cranky, the current negative changes to Aadvantage have not yet pushed me to totally abandon the AA loyalty program. However, as you correctly state, there will continue to be further changes in the future. I believe they will not be beneficial to Aadvantage members, in fact I think there will be Draconian cuts to benefits and little or no pluses. The Parker/US Air actions will slowly kill a good FF program by a thousand cuts.

            Therefore, I will wait and see how much I will personally tolerate until I make a total break. It pains me to have to prepare an escape plan to a more customer friendly – AND beneficial Rewards/Loyalty Program, in case I must move. After 33 years it would be difficult to change travel habits, but it would not stop me, if pushed.

            Bottom line: Cranky, I do not see Parkers management style and business history in the same light as you have stated. So, I guess we can agree to disagree on this point. However, I do respect your opinion.

  2. Glenn says:

    “It’s also eliminating stopovers on award travel (previously only allowed at the North American gateway city, so not that lucrative).”

    I have to disagree with you about the NA gateway city stopovers not being that lucrative. Coming back on an F or J award from Asia to let’s say LAX–the stopover was an easy way to get a free flight segment in F to HNL or another Hawaiian city, which can be pretty lucrative, depending on the time of year.

    • Chase says:

      Yup, if you lived in a North American gateway city (or used to like I did), this was a lucrative benefit to get a ‘free’ one way out of AA before or after your trip overseas. What it means for me is not being able to visit friends in that city or plan to use that city as a stopover altogether because of the changes. Granted, it’s not a big deal, none of this is because we knew it was coming due to the merger. But how it was presented with no notice was deplorable and leads to alot of mistrust with frequent fliers. Furthermore, this is status quo for US Airways’ frequent flier program (no notice on changes) so it instills more fear that AAdvantage has been taken over by the morons at US.

      • Jon says:

        What’s funny is that people in AA Gateway cities (DFW, NYC, MIA, and LAX) are crying foul, while the rest of us who don’t live in gateway cities are brushing the change right off. You should be happy you were able to take advantage of those free flights for as long as you did. Most of us didn’t really have that luxury without going way out of our way (which, means it’s no longer a luxury anyways).

    • CF says:

      Glenn – You’re right. That was a bad word choice. What I meant was that it wasn’t something that people took advantage of all that often. Stopovers are generally more useful when on the destination continent for the same trip, but those who knew the trick and lived in a gateway city would get a free flight out of it. And that has to be why they’re stopping it.

  3. Jason says:

    I dont understand why you dont think these are a big deal:
    A) AA makes it look like AAnytime awards are going only from 50,000 domestically to 60,000 when they are actually hiding the Level 3 award prices? If they had announced the prices, the headline would have read “award prices more than double for some days”
    B) The Level 3 award prices so insanely high, they make delta look cheap. For example, 100,000 miles for aanytime on 20 or so days a year. Want to go home for thanksgiving? Last year was 50,000 miles…this year is double! That 200,000 miles business class aanytime seat is now 350,000 or more!

    Going across the pond is insane since BA is the only airline with saver seats but the “fuel surcharge” is around $1000!

    • CF says:

      Jason – Domestically, AAnytime awards are actually going down to 40,000 for some (roundtrip) and up to 60,000 for others. That highest tier is weird, but you can see what it is when you do a search. I only really see it on super peak holiday days so far. But I haven’t looked around that hard. I’m trying to find out how many redemptions are actually on AAnytime awards. I can’t imagine it’s all that many compared to MileSAAver.

  4. Alan says:

    As a recent AA convert, based in Chicago, I’ve come to love AA vs UA or DL from my previous base, IND. I’ve not yet booked any AA awards but, in the two years I’ve lived in Chicago, have accumulated over 600k miles – mostly based on flying but a credit card bonus as well. The biggest frustration for me is that non-stop options from ORD, a major hub, are now basically non-existent on the new chart. Friends are getting married in Mexico next February, for example, and I’ve been waiting on them to pin down dates before I book tickets. As recently as Monday, 37.5k coach or 60k biz got me to CUN non-stop. As of today, either option as the Mile sAAVer level requires a minimum of 1 connection and poor connecting times. Mileage requirements for nonstops have increased a minimum of 50%. I’m less likely to think this is based on yield or availability but rather on the new philosophy that “we’ll offer the least convenient sAAVer options possible, forcing our customers to burn more miles on AAnytime awards”. Sure – it’s not the end of the world but frustrating nonetheless. And, as Cranky mentioned, the lack of notice did nothing for goodwill. Next year’s trip to Croatia also got more challenging but, with some flexibility, shouldn’t be too big a deal.

  5. CM says:

    I think the outrage is more about the tone that this sets for changes going forward rather than these specific changes.

    With the prior two big mergers, we had airline CEO’s touting “changes you’re going to like” and “best in class” programs. What we got were substantial devaluations in frequent flier programs, especially for those who focus on international premium cabin awards and overall reductions in frequent flier benefits. In many cases, airlines announced these changes as enhancements. I think that many in the miles and points community hoped that this merger was going to be different. Perhaps the new American wouldn’t make the significant changes that Delta and United made and even if they did, they would be handled much better than United or Delta. This announcement, and the way it was dealt with shattered that hope.

    • CF says:

      CM – No question that this announcement was handled poorly, but the good news is that the airline has been roasted for it. I don’t think it was done this way on purpose. I think they just got lazy and sloppy here, and my bet is that they will be far more careful next time. That says nothing about the content of those future announcements and whether they’re good or bad, but I would really hope they’ll handle it better.

      Now if they do it again, then I’d agree that hope would be “shattered” for a more adult communication that doesn’t play games. But I’d say it’s worth waiting to see how it goes next time.

  6. Chest Rockwell says:

    “American AAdvantage goes to a three + level award redemption system up from two, ”

    Inflation on the high end can be 80%+ including a level so high that they didn’t have the balls to actually publish the new levels in the chart. This is a really big deal for anyone that uses miles for peak travel.

  7. David SF eastbay says:

    4.American’s email to AAdvantage members sucked.

    What email? Now that sucks!

  8. John G says:

    What AA really did was up the miles needed for real awards, and they hid it in a bunch of BS.

    Before, there were two tiers for domestic travel, 25,000 RT and 50,000 RT. The pickings for the lower level were sometimes slim, especially closer to the date of departure, but if seats were available, it was 50,000, period. Now, that will be anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

    Looking at Christmas this year, I picked DFW-LGA just for grins. Departing on Saturday the 20th or Sunday the 21st, the ONLY coach award is 100,000 miles round trip. That’s right. 100,000 miles. However, there are still a few flights each of the other days in the 25,000 mile award. Once those are gone, it’s 60,000 miles.

    So they took US Airways’ blackout dates, and jacked up American’s award costs on those days. So…they can claim they don’t have blackout dates, but you have to REALLY want to fly an award on that day.

  9. Maarten says:

    It is certainly all much better than Delta’s Skymiles. Smart to not devalue like Delta have done, but given DL’s profitability and AA’s struggles to get there I expect a change for the worse for AA consumers, but for the better for AA’s shareholders at some point!

    • A says:

      You nailed it Maarten. Of the big 3 legacy carriers DL is clearly doing the best job right now and they have devalued their FF program the most. I’ve long thought that FF programs are hold overs from a different era and no longer have the correlation to profits they once did.

  10. Gary says:

    all these changes, on AA/US or others remind me of casinos. Everyone thinks they can win….but in the end, no… House wins. None of the frequent flier program changes are customer friendly UNLESS the airline wins first. then the customer advantage (small “a”…pardon the pun) is a bi-product. Yes, as hard as we may want to think otherwise, cynicism prevails.

  11. Tuesday night I flew, for the first time, US Air. I flew from Greensboro to Philadelphia. Pilot gets on PA after we prepare to land in Philly and says there is a back up into Philly and he cant circle because he does not have enough fuel. We land at BWI and I hear Capt. tell gate attendant we are gas and go which we did but I find it ridiculous to run out of gas. On return to ORD I change my flight home and US Air agent tells me my seat is in rear, I am a Platinum with AA. I tell her I want to sit in front she charges me $45 for row 12D. I say to her I never pay AA for front seats and she tell me that no matter of the buy out US Air will always charge for front seats. I ask her to bet me and she says get out of here. Last time I fly US Air for sure

    • Consumer Mike says:

      Lee, this has ALWAYS been the US Air attitude regarding travelers. So now that they own AA you had better get use to it. I have already decided to use my car as much as possible instead of flyinging. Naturally, it has to make sense and I do not mean coast to coast. BUT, I am cutting back on flying as am tired of the escalating fees, air fares and bad service as well as long security lines. I have had it! The mega mergers have killed competition and travelers are being gouged and treated more in the style of air travelers in Russia. I don’t need it. I do not accept the “Take It or Leave It” attitude of the airlines and their personnel.

    • CF says:

      Lee – Your flight to Philly/Baltimore was actually operated by Republic Airlines, an airline that also flies for United and American. Not sure what happened with dispatch on your particular flight but that could have happened to anyone.

      On the seating thing, yeah, US Airways has Choice seats which are always charged and are separate from the seats set aside for elites (which must have been full on your flight). I’ll be curious to see if Choice seats stick around after the merger or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went away in their current form and looked more like the way American does it today.

  12. E says:

    For what it’s worth, the changes so far aren’t as bad as some are making them out to be, but the lack of advance notice is inexcusable.

    I happened to be shopping for an award on Tuesday, and started getting odd results on the website. Really odd results.. which I now know were due in part to AA loading the changes for the award levels. In the middle of the day. They were loading stuff in the middle of the day. Seriously?….

    It was so odd I even called the web help desk, and they told me that they were loading changes into the website. The call center clearly knew in advance, so why couldn’t the customers get a heads up?…

    Glad I waited — what would have been a 50K trip x 2 just fell down to 25K x 2. Had I cashed out the miles on Tuesday due to screwed up availability and caching on the mileage needed to fly the itinerary we needed, I would have been extra pissed.

    The release totally begged the question of what happens with the 75K elite level that US has and AA doesn’t. Only AA has held out on creating that fourth tier level, and it is one I would have easily met for 7 of the last 8 years, instead of constantly jumping back and forth between PLT and EXP… I could live with all the other changes if they’d just make up their mind on that (and give me credit for having achieved it last year!).

  13. Steven H says:

    Where’s the story on how Spirit is about to announce it’s moving it’s FLL hub to MIA? Look forward to your insight on that.

    • CF says:

      Steven H – I’ve seen the reports, but until it’s more than rumor I won’t write about it. But if (when?) it does happen, I will most definitely be chiming in.

  14. Lee Rosenberg says:

    Wait, AA owns US air, not the other way around. I like AA, it’s US air I can do without

    • Consumer Mike says:

      Sorry Lee, that is not the case. I wish it was. U.S. Air took over AA during the AA bankruptcy process, but kept the name. The vultures at U.S. Air will be changing the AA company more like the image of U.S. Air as time rolls on. CEO Parker & Co. will squeeze until it really hurts. The people who see no problem with losing competition in the airline industry are the ones to blame for allowing these Mega mergers to happen. It is bad enough that we have lost airlines due to the economic crisis or super high fuel costs in the past years.

      Seriously, if your destination is reasonably close I recommend the train or car. If not, we must “Bite the Bullet”. Good Luck!

  15. JaybB says:

    Probably a couple, maybe more, class action lawyers looking at the situation and trying to see what they might be able to stir up. Typically, these things have nothing to do with nature of the changes, just whether or not the changes were given proper and/or timely notice to the account holders.

    Wasn’t that the big issue with UA when it make a lot of changes and the courts, or whoever, said the notice wasn’t proper or timely? I seen to recall getting lots of UA scrip, entitling me to something. A few expired. I’m sure UA made a killing on them, having people pay for high-priced tickets that the scrip covered only in part.

    Incidently, has anyone ever had their account hacked and the miles/points appropriated for someone else’s uses? Like somebody like UA runs a system so secure this wouldn’t be possible? And, if it happened, does DOT have any authority to get involved with it? Probably not. Why should they?

    • Consumer Mike says:

      Too late for lawyers and frivolous actions. Perhaps an earlier posted opinion is correct, the time for FF programs has passed. If that is correct, it is time for consumers to move on to other contemporary Rewards programs that do not consistently devalue your points (miles). Individuals should consider if it may be time to exit airline FF programs.

  16. MeanMeosh says:

    Fair or not, there was/is a sizeable amount of distrust of Doug Parker and the rest of the US management team among AA regulars. A devaluation only a few months after a merger where fliers were promised oodles of benefits, and with poor communication to boot, just reinforces the negative perception that’s already out there. That’s something USAA management should really think about before deciding to just quietly bury the negative side of the next round of “enhancements”.

    I do have to disagree with you on one point – the AAnytime devaluation is a pretty serious deal. The “Level 3″ award has doubled redemption requirements in some cases as pointed out by John G, which strikes me as little more than a backdoor way to implement blackout dates without actually doing it. After all, what’s the point of throwing 100,000 miles away on a domestic ticket? Plus it’s pretty crappy to not even disclose in the chart how much those nebulous “Level 3″ awards will cost, or even what dates they will apply (which begs the question, is AA now going to play games and move around the dates to which “Level 3″ applies at will?). That being said, I think it’s rather disingenuous and unfair of those that blame this on the merger. If you’ve been following the domestic airline industry even a little, it should have been pretty plainly obvious that a devaluation was on the way, merger or not, given the changes that DL and UA have made over the last 12 months. I also find all of the outrage over at Flyertalk and upgrd.com over the devaluation of “AAnytime” awards just a little ironic, given that both sites’ bread and butter is maximizing use of Mile SAAver and Oneworld awards, which didn’t change at all (and availability of which is still far superior to DL and UA).

    In any event, let this be a cautionary tale to those with a wheelbarrow full of AAdvantage miles – use them up sooner rather than later before the next program “enhancement” to better align with DL and UA comes a knockin’ at the door!

    • CF says:

      MeanMeosh – I dunno, it just doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me because it’s the low level awards that people really care about. And it’s still better than what United offers. UA won’t even give you an “anytime” style option on peak flights unless you’re an elite. Usually you get nothing.

      It just doesn’t bug me. The way the announcement was handled? THAT bugs me.

  17. realist says:

    Every reference to “American” in this post should be changed to US Airways, as it was US Airways’ managers who bungled this announcement. “Old” AA managers I know were embarrassed by the amateurism and ticked off that they had to clean up the the mess after putting up with the condescension and arrogance from US Airways managers for the past several months. It’s just one more example of how Parker/Kirby and company are perhaps in over their heads trying to run the World’s biggest airline. But don’t expect Brett to comment on that since we all know what he thinks about Parker/Kirby.

    • Consumer Mike says:

      Agreed.

    • MeanMeosh says:

      Only one problem – Suzanne Rubin is one of the few holdovers from old AA. I don’t exactly care for Parker/Kirby, either, but can’t pin this one on them.

      • realist says:

        Don’t kid yourself, the US Airways management is very top down and all the decisions are being made at the SVP level. Just because Rubin had to take the bullets after the debacle doesn’t mean she was the one to blame.

  18. Doug Swalen says:

    People can and have deservedly trashed United on how it has bungled the merger and really turned off customers. But give them credit…they gave huge notice on the awards devaluation they put in place last Feb. Apparently American isn’t following the United playbook…it’s following the Delta playbook…

  19. JB says:

    CF, sometimes I think we are in a different reality. I was puzzled when you blessed the AAUS merger as a good thing. Now I am mystified by your characterization of the end of Explorer awards and stopovers as ‘not a big deal.’ I can tell if you are more fatalistic than I am or operate on some kind of mystical travel plane were devaluations are karmic tests of our loyalty.

    • Remember CF’s and my take on loyalty programs is get miles, because hey they’re free! But don’t be wed to any program. I’m not that frequent of a flier but I’ve got an US, AS, and DL account, all with some miles in em. Every so often I get a free ticket, I consider it nice gravy, but it doesn’t drive my loyalty.

      I’m more about avoidance, no say I’m flying UA again if I can avoid it. Though I’ll go with my hometown airline, AS, if its reasonably priced.

    • CF says:

      JB – Most people don’t even know what the Explorer awards are, so it’s hardly a loss to them. Sure, the hardcore points and miles guys aren’t happy, but they’re really never happy with any change. You have to do what’s right for the airline, and something like this just doesn’t have a very wide impact. I feel the same way about stopovers. Most people don’t want stopovers in North America. The people who do are more often going to be the ones who are trying to tag on that free extra segment a few months later. Again, that’s a miles and points person thing.

  20. JB says:

    Reasonable response. I don’t remember a time before I maximized award tickets and parsed the routing rules of ff programs. If I step back and fairly appraise U.S. airlines as transportation services, then I think Delta is the best and Spirit airlines make sense. Loyalty is anachronistic. Everyone knows price is by far the deciding metric for air travel purchasing and pitch and width are an abstraction. Am I now the Cranky one?
    “cranky”
    ill-tempered; irritable.
    Ex: “he was bored and cranky after eight hours of flying”

  21. Hi, Brett,

    There was great opportunity here to combine the two airlines and merge the best features of both. I think former AA CEO Robert Crandall even said so. Instead, my perception so far has been one of the new boss coming in and eroding the benefits of the AAdvantage program, which I thought prior to the merger was the best domestic frequent flyer program.

    AAdvantage Gold or Platinum since the early 90′s. Since US Airways took control of American, here are some of the recent changes which have negatively impacted me as an AAdvantage Elite:

    1.) Buried in the weekend news cycle, the new AA announces the end of Admirals Club access to AmEx Platinum cardholders. Okay. That sucked, but they gave us plenty of notice. I’m sure this had been in the works for a while before the merger, but the timing just seemed a little suspicious on that one.

    2.) The new AA announced that Gold level elites will no longer have complimentary Main Cabin Extra access until check in. Okay, that sucks, too, but that was a benefit that we were told from the outset wouldn’t last, although the original end date of that benefit we were told was last November, I think.

    3.) They also announced that Golds will only get one complimentary checked bag — to bring the level in line with the industry standard.

    These are the changes they’ve announced to the AAdvantage program and these aren’t even “the big changes” that are rumored to be coming.

    Not to sound like I’m whining here, but I fly American Airlines almost exclusively. With DFW as my home airport, I am often paying more to fly the same route to do so. While I’m not flying Ex Plat levels of travel, 25,000/min. miles a year is still nothing to sneeze at.

    If I’d wanted to fly an airline that was “the industry standard”, I’d be flying Delta or Continental/United. American Airlines truly was “something special in the air” as far as US domestic carriers go.

    There was an opportunity here to merge the best of both US Airways and AA’s frequent flyer programs. Instead, it’s disheartening for me to watch them erode the benefits and value of the Gold-level elites. I still spend a lot of money with American annually. What these changes tell me is that the new airline doesn’t value my loyalty as much as they prefer to chase clients who fly even more than I do.

    =M=

    • Consumer Mike says:

      Marty, I think you are right on target. I agree with you that the worst is yet to come. Doug Parker & Co. have just started to gut the Aadvantage program. Yes, until the “Merger” I believe the Aadvantage program was the best airline loyalty program offered. However, I believe that may be fading fast. Like the last passengers on the Titanic, there may be no more life boats to save the remaining members of Aadvantage. Therefore, as I have suggested earlier, it may be time for us to search and jump to other – MORE VIABLE – reward programs, many of which do not charge anthing to join!

      Citi may be another loser in the new devaluation plan coming from the US Air management group. They probably will start to lose revenue from 1) card holders annual fees and 2) lose the revenue of current card holders who use their credit card. This will also impact AA as Citi pays AA for those miles, so this is a very good and valuable source of revenue as well as a big part of the value of the Aadvantage program to AA (US Air/Parker). What I am trying to say is that the current and planned negative changes to Aadvantage benefits are like “Killing the Golden Goose” for AA assets AND loyalty.

      Does Parker care? Since he (AA) will only react to financial pain and impact, it may take a while to sink in. Don’t forget, not everyone follows airline events and changes like blogers on Bretts CF Blog. Some will not find out about the negative changes until they arrive at the airport.

      Those that think that loyal FF and Aadvantage members will not react to the loss and devaluation of their program are whistling in the dark. In my opinion, I must disagree with Bretts position that airline loyalty programs are not important in planing air travel. Until now AA has been the last bastion (Bataan) of resistance to erosion of FF benefits. It now appears it is the begining of the end for the loyal Aadvantage members (and the financial windfall for Citi). Only an immediate turn around of the take-back campaign of AA (US Air) can save the show (perhaps even adding benefits). Do I think it will happen. NO. It is not in Doug Parkers DNA, therefore there will be no incentive to change the slow death of what has been a very good loyalty rewards program.

    • CF says:

      MartyNearDFW – I’ll try to address this bit by bit here. Thanks for taking the time to write it up. In short, I think you’re putting a lot of blame on the merger when much of this wasn’t related to it.

      1) The end of the Admirals Club access by Platinum holders is a Citibank issue. These guys want the exclusive benefits for their cardholders, or so I’m told. So it’s not a merger issue.

      2) That was announced the day this program was launched, before the merger had even happened. It was extended later, but that was more generous. Again, this isn’t a merger issue.

      3) This is a merger issue. Golds will get 1 free checked bag instead of 2. Do you check 2 bags a lot? I just find it hard to believe that most Golds need to check more than one bag when they fly. It’s still a tangible benefit, just not as generous. But does it really matter?

      • Consumer Mike says:

        Cranky, we do alot of international travel, so YES, the 2 bag Gold policy was important to us and probably many other over water travelers. Citi says if you have their cc you are still allowed i free bag on domestic flights. At least that is what they claim.

        • CF says:

          Consumer Mike – Well if you travel internationally, you’re in luck. Asia travel gets 2 bags free of charge and South America was just increased from 1 to 2 bags free thanks to an policy change implemented by the evil Doug Parker and his team. How dare they pretend to do something friendly for the consumer!

          But looking at the rules, it appears that elite baggage benefits only apply within the US/Caribbean and on some Europe flights anyway.

          http://www.aa.com/i18n/disclaimers/mileageBonuses.jsp#airportBenefits
          “This benefit applies when traveling in the Main Cabin on American Airlines within the United States and for travel to and from certain locations in Europe to the United States and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

          Anyone know if that’s a new clause or if that’s always been the rule?

          • Consumer Mike says:

            Cranky, thank you for highlighting the new limitations of the benefits of elite Aadvantage. Although it is true that the generous soul of Mr. Doug Parker saw fit to continue 2 bags to Asia and now includes South America, as well as the very limited destinations to Europe (which does not help me and I believe the majority of Euro FF). I guess the point you make is “He Taketh and [very reluctantly] Givith”.

            It appears that elite FF must plan to limit their travels to the “Chosen Lands” if you want to utilize the new luggage benefit offers. Unfortunately, this new rule will not help me very much, perhaps not the majority of Aadvantage members either.

            Thanks for your attempt to boost morale and remind us of how generous the new leader of AA actually can be.

  22. Consumer Mike says:

    Cranky, we do alot of international travel, so YES, the 2 bag Gold policy was important to us and probably many other over water travelers. Citi says if you have their cc you are still allowed i free bag on domestic flights. At least that is what they claim.

  23. Nealo says:

    I have the upmost respect for Cranky (except for his adoration of the US team), but on this one I have to cry foul and put him in the same category as Gary Leff in being in the wrong about US AAir then and now; still defending Parker & Co, having blessed the AA/US merger and now saying the end of Explorer awards and stopovers are ‘not a big deal.’

    Travel is about emotions, lifetime memories… wish fulfillment. Loyalty programs play a big part of that. Sometimes its best to take the analyst hat off and look at things through the eyes of a traveler. This is a big deal, because there is way more bad new to come: AA said they wanted to be honest and different from the crap UA put out with “changes you will like” and DL with “best in class” while gutting their programs.

  24. John G says:

    Here is the reality of consolidation. There is less competition, and you have far fewer choices. The three big boys and Southwest have much more leverage over the public.

    FF benefits and awards are intended to generate traffic. In the past, loyalty mattered, because there were lots of choices. Today, there are far less choices so the airlines don’t need your loyalty as much as they used to. They are more interested in using these benefits to drive the bigger spenders. That is the loyalty they care about.

    It is just the way it’s going to be. It used to be “you have a choice when you fly”. Now you don’t.

  25. Pingback: [BLOCKED BY STBV] American Makes a Few More Minor Changes, But This Time There’s Plenty of Advance Notice | The Cranky Flier

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