Hey United and Delta: The 90s Called. They Want Their Proprietary Data Back

I often call out the negative and probably do not do enough to acknowledge the positive things that travel providers do.

Award Wallet is the tool I use to track my frequent flyer account balances and mileage expiration.

A couple of years ago they ran into intransigence with some of the airlines whose accounts they track on behalf of members.

American shut off their access. So did Delta and United. Southwest has long had a history of hating on third party website access to their systems (dating back to sites that would automatically check in customers in order to obtain better boarding group priority).

Award Wallet tried workarounds where there systems do not even ever access the program websites — they used a plugin so it’s only the member’s computer doing the accessing, and the member’s computer storing data. Award Wallet never even held data related to program accounts. Still, Delta’s lawyers went bat shit crazy.

The only thing Award Wallet could resort to is having members give the programs an Award Wallet email address, accepting (and forwarding back to members) montly e-mail statements in order to update accounts balances.

Fortunately, American AAdvantage found a way to work with Award Wallet and members can again track their account balances on the Award Wallet website. They deserve real plaudits for that and probably don’t get enough credit for it.

United isn’t just anti-Award Wallet. They’ve shut down third party access to their award and flight bucket availability, even after bringing it back online for members.

And why would Delta object to members having easy access to their program balances? Speaking for myself I am more active in programs where I can easily see my miles increment. If I can track mileage posting without much effort I’m confident in using the program as an earning partner. And it’s better for security, too, since I see balance changes every day when I update my Award Wallet account — I’d notice right away if someone hijacked my account and redeemed awards from it. Since Delta doesn’t update in Award Wallet it would be a month before I would even know.

But from Delta’s point of view, why should they let members access their data in the manner most convenient to them?

And why would they participate in a site that helps you track mileage expiration, when Delta miles don’t expire?

After all, if you use Award Wallet you might see that miles are expiring at United and choose to earn with United to keep those miles alive. That takes away partner activity that might otherwise have gone to Delta. It keeps you a United customer, whereas if your MileagePlus miles expired you might get mad at United. Why would Delta want to participate in a system that keeps you happy with their competitors?

Too many airlines have a proprietary view. They believe they own you as a customer. They believe they own your eyeballs just because you are a member of their program.

Talking to loyalty program executives, they often forget that their members get tons of email from every other program they belong to (and the average program member belongs to about 3). And they get email from everyone else they do business with. Emails from Amazon, emails from work. All day long. So just because they communicate with a member doesn’t mean they have exclusive attention.

If they want to have an ongoing relationship, they need to adapt to the ways in which technology changes how we do business with our preferred providers. It’s important to meet customers where they are, not to make customers do extra work to engage, not to be hard to do business with.

Customer-unfriendly data policies aren’t long run winning strategies. The more transparent the better. Shutting off access to data, like United proactively removing Singapore Airlines award availability from its website so customers won’t know it exists, isn’t a way to win loyalty.

So word up to American, and thank you for letting Expertflyer.com continue to show your flight availability and especially confirmed international business class upgrade space. You members appreciate it, and find it easier to engage your program. And it saves you a ton of call center time hunting and pecking for flights with availability. Now if they would only restore access to domestic “X” upgrade inventory…

Conflict of interest watch: I have a financial relationship with Award Wallet… as a customer. Not only do I use them to track my balances, but my award booking service pays them for the software we use to manage our booking process with clients. Usually conflicts of interest are when the person writing about something receives payment from the subject. I have never received payment from Award Wallet of any kind.

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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  1. Agree 100%. Delta and United should give up their childish “it’s mine!” attitudes and do what’s right for their customers.

    And thanks to American for seeing the error of their way and coming to an agreement with AW. I love seeing actual award-mile numbers for the 3 AAdvantage accounts that I track.

  2. +1

    The fact that I can use AW to track AA miles easily, and that I can use EF to look up availability makes me happy, and that make me prefer them even more, becuase they make my life easier.

  3. I seem to be getting a whole lot of emails from United lately advertising mileage redemption options. These are typically about some special event or domestic or Latin American saver or standard award. I have no interest in using my miles for these things. But it got me thinking how they want you to redeem like that and not on intl. premium partner awards. No doubt many take their hints. I suspect eventually they want to move to revenue based redemptions as well, to properly control program costs. I guess that will be the 2015 devaluation. Don’t sit on your miles.

  4. @Nick, Revenue based redemption would add several layers of complication in terms of their global alliances. It’s easy for Southwest which has no such considerations.I’m not saying they can’t or won’t ever do it, but the steps they took recently in bumping up the mileage cost for premium partner rewards seem to be an alternative approach they’re trying first. But I totally agree about not sitting on miles.

  5. Another thing I like about Award Wallet are the notifications they send me when there’s a change in schedule, flight number, etc., of a flight I’ve booked on an airline they can track. Just today I got an email about a change on an upcoming AA reward booking. This one isn’t important, but in the past I’ve received notifications that alerted me to a problem long before the airline itself contacted me.

  6. I agree. I was thinking just yesterday how much easier it was for me to book my flight on AA versus Delta or United knowing I would be able to see my status and miles right away. These companies are keeping me from using my data in their programs.

  7. I just started using AW and was so disappointed to find out I couldn’t link to my Delta acct. What the hell? Geez.

  8. I really would not mind Delta blocking AW if they would tell us when there are equipment changes & also schedule changes right away (or ever many times). Nothing like picking your favorite seat to see it gone and IT putting you where you don’t want to be.

  9. To Gary’s point about airlines “owning” their customers, I don’t even check my marketing spam, and actually rely on his blog to tell me about the things I care about.

    Affiliate links and all. So suck it haterz.

  10. Delta what is that? Oh the airline suckers fly
    That wanna be airline with 100,000 mile domestic coach rewards for redemption to Atlanta or 500,000 miles to Sydney in their business class
    Ancient planes and horrible customer service
    That makes them one cut below rip off Spirit

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