My Call From American’s “Executive Liaison Office”

Last week I received a call from a woman who identified herself as with American’s ‘executive liaison office’ asking about how I feel about American and AAdvantage as one of their most valued customers.

  • I told them that I could abide by higher award prices (devaluation) if it meant better availability, but we’ve gotten worse saver award davailability.

  • There are fewer systemwide upgrades given to 100,000 mile flyers, but we can’t use those anymore either, since January there’s not even availability to use them on domestic flights most of the time (since American switched inventory buckets from A to C for confirmed upgrades from coach to domestic first). Fewer systemwides should mean more availability not less.

  • I told them that revenue requirements for earning elite status are fine if once they decide someone is a valuable customer they treat them well every time, but basic economy fares mean there’s a cash co-pay to access the benefits I’ve earned on each ticket now.

    If I spend $30,000 a year but buy the cheapest tickets they offer me once on a leisure trip I don’t even get to sit next to my family? That isn’t right. She agreed emphatically with me on this. And said she’s heard similar things from other customers.

  • When I needed to book travel in the past I used to just go to AA.com, which meant I might pay more and connect through Dallas when other airlines offered non-stop. American treated me well, so they got the bulk of my wallet share. I’ll still qualify for Executive Platinum this year but I’ve flown Southwest and United fairly regularly and I’ve flown Delta, Alaska, and Virgin America for my domestic travels too. I look at schedule and price now as primary determinants of my travel because AAdvantage killed loyalty.


American Airlines New York JFK

All of this will mean absolutely bupkis of course. But the woman calling claimed that,

It’s great feedback, I agree with you on these things and I’ve been told that now that we have our revenue ship righted we’re planning to distinguish ourselves from the competition again.

I don’t know the details but we’re planning to really set AAdvantage apart from other programs soon. Watch for that announcement.

Ultimately I expect that changes coming to AAdvantage won’t be significant relative to the negative changes that have been made over the last two years.


American Airlines Chicago O’Hare

The woman who called me did give me 10,000 miles as an apology and for taking the call.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Interesting post, and hopefully AA will actually improve award seat availability per your comment to them.
    Thanks for sharing Gary.

  2. Re the supposedly positive changes coming down the pike: I’m believe it when I see it, and I don’t expect to see it.

  3. I fly for leisure and not for work. That means that every dollar I spend come straight out of my pocket. For this reason, the revenue requirements are not “ok” with me. That has always been the red line.

    This year, since American Airlines implemented the revenue requirements, my anticipated spending is decreasing from around $12,000 to around $3,000 and my miles from 100,000 to around 30,000 (not counting point flying).

    Next year, of course, my spending with American Airlines will probably go close to zero as I will lose my Executive Platinum

  4. So what else is new. Most of your comments are also pretty well applicable to British Airways for international travel. Coach availability is great, but it’s waste of miles to use it, since it’s essentially as cheap to buy the tickets. And Premium Economy and Biz are incredible tight on availability.

    They lost my loyalty a couple of years ago due to poor available, and massive downgrading of Avios values.

    It’s sort of the irony of many companies’ business values…when the economy is doing fine, you don’t need to compete for the customers loyalty.

  5. I received a call as well. I told the person that the old AAdvantage program was superior to UA/DL, so I went out of my way to fly AA. Now that they’ve lost their ahem, advantage, I fly what makes the most sense – which is not always AA. Bottom line: AA has about 50% less business from me than they used to. Delta is the big winner.

  6. Well said Mr Leff!
    I’m another former American customer who left after 20 plus years of Executive Plat and Plat status and 8 million miles earned.
    Had planned to fly them the rest of my life till they became US Air with an AA logo
    Now fly with Alaska where action speaks louder than fake words at American
    I simply pick up the phone with any issue at all and problem 98% of the time or more solved with their outstanding customer service and goodwill gesture if applicable
    What a shame American who started FF programs and for decades ran the best would
    destroy just about everything that was working for them
    No wonder why nobody can see the clear future at American where short term gain
    overrides long term customer loyalty.
    Their stock can barely budge as customers fly them primarily when they feel forced.
    I hate American now and cringe on the rare occasion I fly them
    Almost everything is better or the same at their competition with some slight exceptions

    What American fails to understand is that saver seat availability was the number one chance to hold onto customers no matter how horrible all the rest of their pitiful operation was or is
    It was the one carrot and stick that we would put up with and suck up all the vast majority of their failure of an operation.
    Late flights, lost luggage, rude employees,mechanical issues from poorly serviced planes that cant depart
    They simply have no brand assurance of any kind.Its a deplorable airline
    I can redeem now in other programs for considerably less and no longer stuck with abhorrent non empowered agents who might dare to help a customer who would get in trouble if they did
    American Airlines is also an airline with no customer relations line phone number
    If I ran an airline that crappy I would disconnect my phone number too

  7. I agree with Flyer Fun. Since all purchases come out of my wallet i just look for the lowest cost. Still have plenty of miles but never find a discounted award level to use them

  8. Did I leave out Americans rotten stinking food in any cabin unfit frequently for human consumption on the ground or in the air?My apologies 🙂

  9. They gave me (a monthly leisure and commuter flyer) Gold to try to bribe me to come back, which translates into getting a preferred seat or half priced Extra Legroom seat. Just like when United did this for the rest of 2016, this has gotten me to include AA in my searches again where Virgin Alaska don’t fly, and I might use them on routes where they only compete with Southwest since they are also devalued. I don’t care about 500 mile Upgrades but will take them on flight under 500 miles if offered.

    I wish you would have made it clear to her that they need to restore full miles to even begin to repair the slap in the face to long time customers who were accustomed to fairly regular Award tickets and now have seen that yanked away. Why would we not fly Virgin Alaska instead if they fly there, unless someone we don’t care about getting a frequent Award ticket – and I do!

    Like with United’s failed bribe, I will use up my miles to get better seats while I’m Gold, though. Thanks for that, AA. Now give us our miles back.

  10. @Gary, thanks for being an advocate. You can only give the feedback. Up to them to determine if they will actually leverage it.

    @dwondermeant Right on, well said.

    Note to Parker: Why don’t you give the team another pay increase that was unexpected and unearned and you can for it by cutting the value proposition for your customers. When the economy turns and / or fuel price rise, and sooner or later they will, I plan to have a very long memory. I live in Dallas, am lifetime platinum, and fly American only when there is no reasonable alternative.

  11. At the end of the day, AA will offer frequent flyer benefits that add to their bottom line and discontinue benefits that don’t. In general, in the past 30 years, it’s been way too easy to game the frequent flyer system to get way more value than you’re “worth” to the airline. The world has changed, which has triggered the “crackdown.” It’s human nature to complain when you get less than you used to, but it’s also human nature to move on. If the “value equation” no longer works, the customer has an easy solution: don’t be loyal. If your loyalty is truly “worth it” to the airline, they’l rejigger their program to encourage your loyalty. I don’t think that’s too likely, but in some circumstances, it’s certainly possible.

  12. Or, they will pull a Delta and announce…Great News! In order to improve the program, we’re raising requirements ten fold!

  13. I have reduced my AA spend and seat-miles by about 2/3 since they went to rev-based earnings. I see that many others have as well. I cannot imagine that this has not shown up in a YUGE way in their ledgers.

    Only 13% of AA customers fly the airline more than once a year, but we make up 50% of total revenue. How are they even surviving if most of us have stopped flying them ?!?!

  14. Is 10,000 miles normal for a survey? I had took one of them a few months back and wasn’t overly happy with them but didn’t get offered 10,000 miles.

  15. No change has meant more to me than changing the domestic upgrade bucket from A to C. From a dollar perspective, yup, I get it. They can sell that ticket to somebody else for more than what they sell it to me (a coach ticket plus $75 plus 15,000 miles), but that means that I have taken all of my other travel to other airlines, as well. I have the advantage of living in Boston, which means that I have three airlines (AA, Delta and JetBlue) offering similar availability for my business. And for now, I’ve moved to JetBlue, with Delta as my back-up.

    Truthfully, they probably don’t care about losing me that much. I’m not exactly a high-value customer. But load factors won’t be this high forever. We’ll see what their attitude is when the economy turns down again.

  16. I fully expect another devaluation when they cost in the Premium Economy award mileage numbers. J will go up, F is mostly going away and they will increase J to make room for PE in between that and coach.

    They really do need to open up availability. I’m sitting on a million AA miles and availability is AWFUL. I will redeem on partners when I can but why not open up space on their own metal?

  17. Just like the multi-state lottery authority characterizes extra balls in the hopper as “more ways to win,” AA’s improvements will likely amount to “More ways to redeem your miles.”

  18. “AAdvantage killed loyalty” is a great point. It’s like saving Green Stamps for years so you can get a free $100 item at the Green Stamp store. You show up and find that not only is the store empty but there is a British store next door that has the item you want for the same price in stamps but they want a $110 surcharge along with the stamps.

  19. At least American is reaching out. Am I hopeful they’ll make any real changes? No..

    Revenue requirements aren’t going anywhere. But, maybe airlines are learning their lesson with BE. Im torn between United and AA as other offer crap now, but small changes to improve would steer me one way or the other. I love Jet Blue but network doesn’t fit my needs out of D.C. Area as well.

  20. I got similar calls last year after I stopped flying AA following the US merger. My “complaints” were about lack of Y+ on all a/c, the incredible downgrade in F quality and their D+0 program. She agreed with all that I said and called back a couple times thereafter.

    By that time I had started flying DL and have never looked back

  21. Soon we will reach the tipping point where American gives out more redeemable miles as consolation for screwing up than they do for butt-in-seat flying.

  22. I am surprised you did not say that you expected them to aspire to the level of service offered by Emirates/Qatar/Singapore et. al. rather than grasping at any pretext to ban competition. Nobody has been more subsidized than the “Chapter 11 Three” when it comes to airlines. They remind you of the “Detroit Three” in the auto business, now manufacturing fewer than half the vehicles built in the U.S. ,seeking protection and taxpayer subsidies rather than sorting themselves out.

  23. “we’re planning to distinguish ourselves” and “we’re planning to really set AAdvantage apart” doesn’t necessarily mean AAdvantage will become better, as she probably would like us to infer. We’ll see when they announce changes, but I am very skeptical there will be any real improvement. So far, this is all I’ll believe:

    AAdvantage + DP & USAir cronies = DisAAdvantage

  24. I had a call couple weeks ago from an AA liaison. They noticed that I was not so “up in the air” this year as last and wondered why that might be. I am life time Plat (2.8 M miles) and hit 75 K EQM and a whole bunch of EQD last year – fell off the EXP a couple years ago. Don’t particularly miss it, though for a decade or more it was grand. I took the nice lady through my January trip to Hong Kong; booked CX business class Bos to HKG over the Web and then rang up the Plat desk to get the seat next to me for my wife. Nothing. Tried every combo possible (e.g. AA, JAL, CX, BA) over the week before the meetings and the week after. Nothing in business. So I cancelled my ticket and booked Emirates, saved my company $2400 in fare, had a limo take me to Logan, transferred Amex miles to Emirates, paid the onerous fee but got a seat. No issues, no crap, a real business class seat right next to mine for points (and fees, not cheap). That opened the flood gates. Emirates sure throws a nice business class. Since January I have used jet Blue and Southwest where in the past I would have just visited AA.com. For the miles. But if you can’t use them for the traditional target of taking the spouse along on a cool trip, why bother? That said, we are off next week to Tokyo on two Saver tickets business class DFW to NRT, back first week in November. That was all the availability I could see, out first Wed October, back first Wed Nov. There are a few Saver fares out there, but the days of ready availability do indeed seem to be well in the past. This one is holiday, on me, and the month between out and back availability would have killed it for a business trip. For me it is all about availability of award space. I will overpay, a bit, take the bounces off DFW and ORD, but when it comes to using my miles I want seats available at Saver levels. Bring that back and I am again a happy AA camper. Even if I have to stay Platinum Pro forever.

  25. One aspect of this issue of “stay or go” vis a vis the AA loyalty program doesn’t seem to have been meaningfully addressed: the price of readmission to the top tier once all one’s elite status has reset to zero.
    Although prospects of a turnaround in these programs is bleak, I’d love to hear your analysis of the opportunity cost in various scenarios. Stay the course (highly disagreeable), Bail and never return (“so long and thanks for all the fish”), or something in between.

  26. Believe me, AA will find a way to make it worse. They’ve been going downhill for 10+ years and there’s no shift/reason to believe the “falling knife” is stopping anytime soon. Unless the stock drops.

  27. I trust this woman from AA as much as I trust Trump to provide cheaper & better and more beautiful health care. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the improvements you suggested. They all lie.

  28. Since the great recession, my travel has decreased pretty dramatically, so I’m less concerned with status and less likely to achieve any meaningful level anyway.

    That said, what I’m doing probably would work for a lot of people in this new age.

    First off, I’m picking the airline that hits 2.5/3 on my trifecta of best fare, schedule/shortest flight, acceptable product. If any flight hits 2 of these solidly and I can accept the missing attribute, that’s my flight, regardless of who it’s on.

    Then I’m paying to improve my experience. Priority Club gets me at least some lounge access most places I go. Paid upgrades to first, either when buying the ticket or checking in, make a lot of flights better. And the couple of thousand bucks I might spend on paid upgrades is about the same as I’d spend on choosing more expensive or less direct flights to achieve a status which still might not get me up front.

    And, even as a big guy that finds regular coach seats uncomfortable, I’d rather splurge on a nicer hotel than pay $100 more to fly UA over F9 for a 2-hour flight. When the difference is $300, as it was on a recent trip, I can buy into F9’s stretch seats and upgrade my hotel selection for less money than it’d cost to sit in regular economy (probably a middle seat) on UA.

    So, airline loyalty is dead to me.

  29. Gary, good write up and some grea comments from all. To think we were the target audience and niw we avoid. Alaska/Virgin domestically for me when I can but I am now a free agent.

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