American Airlines Call Centers Will Pitch Credit Cards Instead Of Avis Car Rentals

When you call American Airlines reservations they’ll offer to transfer you to Avis or Budget for a rental car. Sometimes I’ll say yes just to bump up the conversion numbers. I don’t actually want to speak with Avis by phone – I’ll compare rates across agencies, I’ll do it online, and I’ll search various deals. I’ll always get a better deal comparison shopping myself, and it’s easier to see and assess my options when they’re on a screen in front of me.

I’ve never looked into how valuable the lead generation business is for an airline sending its customers over to book rental cars. United Airlines once thought being the ‘total trip provider’ would be such a good business that they spent the 1970s and 1980s buying Hilton, Westin, and Hertz. (United changed its corporate name to Allegis in 1987 – and the enterprise was such a disaster they divested all of the other companies and changed their name back to UAL Corporation just 11 months later.)

The Avis warm call handoff business may not be as good as it used to be. Regardless, American Airlines is switching what their call center agents pitch to customers – and it seems like an obvious play. Instead of suggesting Avis, how about a credit card from Citibank? According to an internal company memo shared with View From The Wing this changeover takes place May 15:

American Airlines has two co-brand credit card partners. Barclays can market their AAdvantage products inflight and in the airport (but not within 100 feet of an American Airlines club). Citibank gets the rest of the channels. The inflight channel is so important that when the airline stopped serving snacks at the start of the pandemic, ostensibly to limit contact between flight attendants and passengers, they were reminding crew to hand out paper credit card applications. Only about 14% of passengers are co-brand credit card customers.

In-person sales to an audience likely to be disposed to the product are highly effective. That’s why they extended incentives to airport agents as well. Now they’re bringing telephone agents into the picture.

Co-brand deals are the primary source of revenue for major airline frequent flyer program, and the AAdvantage program often represents the entire profit for American Airlines in a given quarter. Taking advantage of all opportunities to encourage customers to get the card is one of the most leveraged things that the airline can do.

They have to take care not to annoy customers too much in the process, though. Inflight card pitches shouldn’t be done before 8 a.m., or on redeye flights for instance. And reservations agents should be encouraged to decide when a call has gone well enough that a customer will be receptive – rather than making the ask every time.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The in-flight pitches are a freaking nightmare and a rude intrusion. The cabin is already awash with PA announcements, and the breathless “enough points for two tickets to the Caribbean” nonsense is beyond maddening. Just hand out the apps during boarding or leave them in seatbacks.

  2. Hoping this won’t spread too much to EXP agents, but I will use the “rate this call” survey to rate poorly every time an agent ends the call with a credit card pitch.

  3. All airlines are doing it. Very rarely do I call their service center. When I get onboard I immediately put on my noise canceling headphone and listen to my music. It doesn’t bother me. I could care less. I was talking to a flight attendant at United and they told me that the airline is making millions off these credit card enrollments on the plane. This is all about making money. Just last week I flew on Hawaiian and they are also doing it. Don’t like it, but on you headphones and find something to listen too.

  4. They should have different availability of flights depending on your credit card. Like I can’t find that connection in DFW unless you pay with the new AA card.

  5. I love when they announce on board our best offer ever with 40 and 50k offers
    and it can get you up to 4 one way tickets
    NOT! Scammers
    lucky to get a coach ticket one way to dfw from the west coast
    was 43 k last week or 100k in first lol
    American the new Delta?

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