How American Airlines Scores Its Customers

You know — or can at least check — your Uber rating. But did you know you have an American Airlines customer rating too? It’s re-evaluated daily and used to determine when to grant exceptions, compensate you for problems, or go above and beyond to resolve situations.

Earlier I linked to an article about businesses using projections and scores for a customer’s profitability to determine how to treat that customer. I mentioned that banks and airlines use these sorts of metrics all the time.

American Airlines has a system called Helix that it uses to tell employees when to go ‘above and beyond’ for a customer. It’s used by reservations, agents at the airport, customer relations, baggage services and others as a way to know when it’s ok to spend more on a customer. Most of what customers know about American’s system comes from JonNYC. JT Genter wrote about it back in January, although some of what he wrote is incorrect for instance how status levels correspond to customer rating.

American doesn’t discuss their system publicly. If you ask the most you’re going to get from an agent is,

Exception making is not something we discuss publicly. We continuously reevaluate our guidelines in order to make fair and sound business decisions and take many things into consideration when asked to resolve individual issues. Your business is very important to us. How can I assist you today?

The goal of the system is to accommodate:

  • high value customers
  • who are at risk of defecting

Helix will display an Eagle ranking from 1-5 for each customer. This ranking is updated each day and depends on a combination of revenue and how badly you’ve been treated by the airline.

You’re only going to get special treatment if your ranking is 3 or higher.

  1. indicates normal experience

  2. indicates slightly below normal treatment and some risk of defecting to another carrier

  3. indicates below normal treatment and risk of defecting to another carrier and brings high value business to American

  4. indicates below normal treatment and risk of defecting to another carrier and brings high value business to American

  5. indicates below normal treatment and risk of defecting to another carrier and brings high value business to American

If you’re driving revenue to American and you’ve been significantly inconvenienced you’ll have a high enough Eagle rating to get certain exceptions made. You can be high revenue, but everything goes smoothly, and your rating won’t be the highest. You can have terrible experiences, but not drive significant revenue, and your rating won’t be the highest.

I’m reminded about sharing this because of a series of tweets by JonNYC about expiring American Airlines upgrades. Officially customers need to both confirm travel and fly by the expiration date on their systemwide upgrades (4 are awarded to Executive Platinum customers, and more with additional flying).

However customers who call and request an extension — and have a high enough Eagle rating — can get one.

Generally speaking a couple of systemwides may be extendable so that it’s possible to apply them by their expiration date but fly later. This actually means of course finding confirmable upgrade space on an American Airlines flight, which can be challenging in its own right.

You can’t call American and ask your Eagle rating. However if you call American, having expiring systemwide upgrades, and ask to extend them — the answer you get should help you infer your current rating.

This number can change all the time. I do not know my current Eagle rating. I suspect it’s quite low, and was once told it was a two.

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. I give them a one
    My revenue Is 99% at their competitors now after previously having done 8 million miles with American over the past 15 years
    They are lost and clueless and being led by a fake ceo that’s a chameleon imitating its competitors bad judgments
    If it was a brick and mortar store it would be out of business
    Thank god for government approved airline monopolies

  2. I was accidentally forwarded an email from AA that noted I was 2E which I presumes means two Eagles. According to your article 2 Eagles is “was treated below normal and is at risk of defecting.” I flew 60,000 miles last year, almost all in domestic F or international PE. I guess I’m not considered a valuable customer. They were correct that I am risk of defecting – actually gone to JetBlue and DL. Maybe they should rethink their Eagles? Adios American!

  3. @Gary any idea how they determine risk of leaving for a competitor? Can they somehow see if I’ve flown or gotten status elsewhere?

  4. @rjb: Glad you’ve made a choice about a carrier that works better for you, but 60K miles, even in domestic F, and PE really isn’t all that remarkable as a customer. Certainly not particularly high value.

    As I am EXP – I am constantly amused that people would have expiring SWUs and have to worry about extension. I am already halfway through my first allotment of 2020 expiration date SWUs…

  5. I must be a 2 – EXP and already past 100k for 2018, but had a terrible experience recently with a canceled transat flight in (upgraded) biz that required me to stay overnight for the next available flight. Club agents sent me with a voucher to a hotel with no rooms left and I was forced to fend for myself. Cust service initially refused to cover my out of pocket costs, then relented, but only up to their negotiated hotel rate for the area, leaving me to deal with my credit card insurance for the rest. What a disgrAAce this airline has turned into – shouldn’t even treat non-elite Eagle 1’s like this. I can assure you that I am at risk – only thing keeping me is a corporate rate that makes it easier for me to book premium cabins, but I can’t justify for much longer.

  6. These days I’m definitely just a 1 to AA. Which is fine. While they are falling more and more behind DL in customer service, none of my “bad” experiences are really that big of a deal. I don’t worry about status anymore. Basically I just keep my expectations low with AA so I’m rarely disappointed! 😉

  7. Captain Doug has flown American Airlines into the ground. After 2 million miles with AA I’ve flushed them down the crapper. I give them a rating of negative 9. I only fly Alaska Airlines or Jet Blue.

  8. @wiliiamC & JonNYC: WOW! A twat and a hemorrhoid. You two are closely related (in proximity anyway). So why can’t we all just get along?

  9. I am curious how AA determines risk of defection, and whether home airport is a factor. DL has been steadily expanding service at RDU, and now captures at least half of my domestic business, which will likely grow next year. My annual AA spend is roughly similar as the previous 3-5 years, as I’ve been doing more int’l travel, nearly all on AA/OW carriers. As I’ve not experienced any major service failures in the past 2 years, I’m likely a 1E or 2E in AA’s eyes. However, I would say my risk of defection is very high, as DL not only offers superior domestic service from RDU, but increasingly attractive int’l options, as well. DL’s long-haul hard product is nearing parity with AA, so to this point, OW lounge access is really the only differentiating factor that has kept me from booking away from AA.

  10. I used to use American and US Airways often, including 10 trips to Latin America on American. Now I use Jet Blue for domestic and United for international. The “new” American isn’t worth the frustration. I keep my stash of AAdvantage miles from expiring by using their dining app, but that’s about it.

  11. I’ve wondered why I get treated so well even though I don’t have any status with American. I’ve had good luck with awards, but of course I do book really early. Still, I think that they are really helpful, and my calls do get answered quickly. Now I’m starting to put spending on the SPG card instead Reserve card so that I can get American miles, so I guess it is working for me.

  12. American bought US Airways, so they are the major carrier for Pittsburgh. My husband and I fly to Boston every winter for a conference. For years we’d taken Jet Blue, USAirways or American. Next year, we’re flying Delta. Last month, Delta had cheap non-stop flights to Boston from Pittsburgh. American had no non-stops and were much more expensive for the flights they did have. Yes, we have a loyalty credit card for American, but I have to wonder how long we’re going to keep it given how ridiculous their Pittsburgh flight prices are.

  13. I will rate AA by filing a camplaint with the DOT for every unreasonable deviation. It only takes about 90 seconds on the DOT website.

  14. @Laurie Actually, US Airways bought American, but since they had such a bad reputation, they kept the American name, which had previously been held in much higher esteem. After the merger, virtually all of the top level management down came from US Airways, and Parker, et al are quickly destroying what previously had been the flagship air carrier in this country. As a longtime AA frequent flyer with top tier status for many years (read EXP, not Concierge Key) I could give you numerous tales of woe about the poor, unaccommodating treatment I’ve received, most recently on a request to change an upcoming connecting flight through LHR, where the folks in the BA Concorde lounge were most accommodating, offering to chance the flight, waving the 500 pound change fee. However, because AA had ticketed our flights (2 paid 1st Class tics), BA had to call AA, who’s rep refused to make the change and put us on the later flight unless we paid a 750 pound per person change fee. I’m hoping we make our connection of 1-1/2 hours, which at LHR is very tight considering we have to change terminals and go back through security, so this is how customer loyalty toward a nearly 6 million miler who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the airline is being treated by the new AA. I only continue to fly them in markets such as the transcon where no other carrier has the 1st class product, or internationally, where I can choose equipment w/a 3 class product that actually has a 1st cabin.

  15. JonNYC(oward)

    It’s Christmas. How’s the airport lounge, where you hang out alone, muttering to yourself in Hebrew, brokering American Airlines Systemwide Upgrades on traveling

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