For several years American Airlines offered a clear value proposition. It made sense to fly American and earn status in the AAdvantage program because they were more rewarding than Delta or United.
I’ve written for many years that benefits which are significantly more rewarding than average won’t last, and it’s no surprise that American has cut back on its generosity.
Delta earns a revenue premium not because of its SkyMiles program, but in spite of it. Their recent IT meltdown notwithstanding, they offer a better on-time reliable product. American isn’t Delta. You don’t choose American in spite of AAdvantage, the underlying airline isn’t nearly as good.
With the airline operation lagging, cuts to the AAdvantage program, and strong indications of more cuts to come, I’ve been flying American less.
I requalified as a 100,000 mile Executive Platinum flyer in June, but have taken only 2 American Airlines flights since then. Just like at Delta the message from American has clearly been that customers should buy exaclty the flight product they want, so I do that — from whatever airline offers it with the best schedule and price. I’ve flown more United segments since June than American segments, it looks like I’ll earn United status also this year. (And I’ve also flown Southwest and Virgin America.)
I would never have even considered buying tickets from an airline other than American in the past if American offered service to where I was going. When I needed to go somewhere, I would go to the American Airlines website and buy flights. I’d spend more to fly American and I’d take a connection instead of a non-stop. It seems they no longer want me to do that.
Here are 7 things that American could do to get back to great:
- Don’t take away elite benefits on the basic economy fares that are coming. I am not my fare. I am either a valuable customer (and remember, I’m not just flying next year I have minimum spend requirements too) or I am not. And if I am that needs to be true every time I step into the airport and onto an American Airlines plane.
- Stop making it harder and less convenient to fly. Rescind the ‘no checked bags on separate tickets’ rule, or at least allow an exception for top tier elites.
The rule allows American to fully capture checked bag fees, despite DOT rules requiring no more than one fee per checkin. But American’s 100,000 mile flyers don’t pay checked bag fees anyway, so why make life harder? Cut out the D0 nonsense that causes agents to board early, not to process upgrades properly, and start updating flight delays before boarding time.
As it is, I have to leave the club early in case the aircraft starts boarding before published boarding time so I can get overhead bin space. But since American doesn’t update departure delays until the last minute generally I get to the gate to find no aircraft there. I stand around and waste time. The goal should be to help customers fly efficiently rather than creating ways to waste my time.
- Offer a consistent product. There shouldn’t be share buybacks until the airline actually invests in its fleet. Legacy US Airways aircraft should all have power ports and Main Cabin Extra additional legroom seating. Don’t reduce first class seating to do the retrofit. Don’t make me try to go out of my way to avoid Legacy US Airways planes, let me be a customer of the entire airline.
Legacy American Airlines Airbus A319
- Stop slow-walking updates to Admirals Clubs. We need more seating in overcrowded clubs and better workspaces, Delta and now even United are ahead here.
American Airlines Admirals Club Buenos Aires
- American went from first to worst in lifetime status, so reverse that. American devalued lifetime Platinum status (2 million miler) by reducing bonus miles given to Platinums from 100% to 60% and by introducing a level between Platinum and Executive Platinum.
American has the least competitive million miler benefits of the big US airlines. Delta lets you earn lifetime 75,000 mile Platinum status and gives substantive gifts at million mile thresholds. United doesn’t just let you earn lifetime 1K status, they even offer lifetime Global Services, and they extend spouse benefits to lifetime elites.
First American should rename ‘Platinum Pro’ because the name is stupid (even Platinum 75K would have been fine) and then make 3 million milers Platinum 75K for life and 4 million milers lifetime Executive Platinum and introduce a spouse benefit like United’s.
- Actually offer saver awards on American flights. American’s award availability has gone from best domestically to worst, and internationally from middle of the pack to worst. AAdvantage has become worse than SkyPesos for own-flight redemption. We’ve just had a really big devaluation higher prices should come with better award availability.
- Cut out making changes without notice. The multiple tiers of awards on premium cross country flights represents a fundamental departure from the way extra miles AAnytime awards supposedly work. American didn’t announce the change in advance and they haven’t even explained what’s changed. New higher levels on South Pacific AAnytime awards are being introduced with next to no notice (I wouldn’t have known about them coming this month if I hadn’t specifically asked). And the change to checked bag policy was made without notice, again I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t seen it on American’s Agency Reference site.
I want to point out things that aren’t on my list.
- I don’t say anything about reduced redeemable mileage earning for flights as a result of awarding miles based on the cost of a ticket. Fewer miles from flying? That’s fine if they can at least fix availability.
- Fewer systemwide upgrades for top elites? Again, fine if they can make inventory available to use the ones customers get.
American Airlines Boeing 777-200 New Business Class (Zodiac Seat)
- Minimum spend for elite status (“Elite qualifying dollars”)? Let them decide what constitutes a loyal flyer they want to reward but then actually reward those flyers don’t introduce fares that won’t offer benefits.
The clear message out of American and AAdvantage has been — like at Delta and United before — that the airline is focused on the bulk of customers who fly the airline at most once a year, and get treatment equivalent to exactly what they they pay for in hopes they’ll pay more — and that loyalty matters a lot less than before.
If American wants to earn a revenue premium they need to treat their high frequency customers well. There’s been a shift at the top with American’s President going to United and with a new Senior Vice President of Marketing and Loyalty who was impressive when he led the AAdvantage program a decade ago. There’s an opportunity to really focus on Making American Great Again.
What do you think?