As everyone and their brother knows by now, American and US Airways made some huge changes to their respective mileage programs on Tuesday, including the following:
- American eliminated distance based oneworld Explorer awards
- American eliminated stopovers at the gateway city on AAdvantage awards
- American created multiple tiers of AAdvantage standard award levels
- US Airways created multiple tiers of Dividend Miles standard award levels
- US Airways raised the cost of Dividend Miles business class redemptions between the US and North Asia from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles
But the worst part wasn’t the changes themselves — which were somewhat anticipated, and are forgivable if announced in advance as far as I’m concerned — but rather how there was no advance notice and how poorly everything was communicated.
Gary still trusts American AAdvantage
Gary had an interesting post yesterday entitled “Here’s Why I Still Trust American AAdvantage. Should You?”
Our interpretation of the situation is identical — American is totally within their rights to make the changes they did, and these changes were the “low hanging fruit,” and we’ll likely see worse changes in the future. As Gary says, changes without notice are the worst thing a program can do.
But Gary still trusts AAdvantage because in his mind, they now have a fair warning as to how customers will respond to this type of situation in the future:
For me they get one screw-up.
How they behave next time — advance notice of changes and clear, transparent communication about those changes — will factor much more into my own opinion about the trustworthiness of the program than this one-off incident.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this.
I’ve long been American’s biggest cheerleader/fanboy and I agree with where Gary is coming from about American and the AAdvantage leadership deserving to get one “screw up.”
I just don’t see this as their first big mishandling of the program, and I don’t think the response from American or AAdvantage over the past few days can count as one screw up, so I’m not quite as forgiving.
Why am I not as forgiving?
American AAdvantage has already had the opportunity to see the impact of changes without notice
Last August I broke what I thought at the time was news about American beginning to impose fuel surcharges effective immediately for travel on OneWorld carriers.
This was based on a memo an AAdvantage agent read to me word-for-word, and was even confirmed by American’s Twitter team. As it turns out it was a huge miscommunication, and was intended to apply to revenue fares and not award tickets (even though the fuel surcharges were appearing on award tickets as well).
Some wondered whether American actually was planning on implementing the changes and reconsidered due to the crazy amount of negative feedback they got in a short period of time.
I don’t think that was the case, I do believe it was just a huge failure of communication across all channels.
But American’s reaction was prompt, and impressive. Leadership quickly got to the bottom of the issue, the actual policy was quickly communicated, impacted customers were refunded, and it was handled well.
What I took away from that experience is that there’s no doubt American took note of our response, all the way up to their top executives. They knew how customers would respond to a major mileage program change without advance notice.
The unfortunate thing for a loyalty program (or any company, really), is that it can take years of hard work to build credibility, all of which can be destroyed overnight.
So as far as I’m concerned this week’s changes aren’t strike one, they’re strike two, even if the first instance was a “fire drill.”
American AAdvantage didn’t screw up the changes in just one way
Let’s give AAdvantage leadership the benefit of the doubt on not having “remembered” what happens when you make changes without notice. We might as well.
American still screwed up these changes in more ways than one. It’s one (poorly conceived) thing to give absolutely no advance notice of program changes, but how they communicated these changes to members is embarrassing on it’s own.
This is the email they starter sending out to members relating to the changes, more than eight hours after the changes had gone live in American’s systems (some members only got the email ~24 hours later):
Redeem for less. Effective today for travel starting June 1, 2014, a one‑way AAnytime award now starts as low as 20,000 miles plus applicable taxes and carrier–imposed fees. Plus we’ve lowered the minimum number of miles needed for AAnytime awards to popular destinations like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Europe. Our lowest AAnytime mileage levels are available for more than 50% of the year. Don’t forget we still offer MileSAAver awards that can be redeemed for as low as 12,500 miles each way, plus applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees.
No blackout dates! Continue to use your miles for any seat on any American Airlines flight using an AAnytime Award. Award levels vary by date and a few select dates throughout the year are now offered at higher mileage levels.
This is so deceptive I can’t even begin to wrap my head around it.
So AAdvantage eliminates stopovers on award tickets, eliminates Explorer Awards, and adds award tiers which raise award costs under a vast majority of circumstances, and the two headlines they use to communicate these changes are “Redeem for less” and “No blackout dates?”
Even if we give American the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t realize how negative a devaluation without notice would be, can anyone, with a straight face, argue that email constitutes honest communication from a program we should trust?
Can big companies admit they’re wrong… or even meaningfully acknowledge feedback?
I’ve never worked for a big company. I’ve only ever been self employed. And when I screw up (which happens a lot) I don’t mind admitting it. I think it’s important.
I’ve adjusted my expectations sufficiently so that I don’t actually expect big companies to apologize. Is it too much to ask, though, that they acknowledge the feedback and try to take it to consideration in the future?
Yesterday I posted about a huge American customer relations fail, where a reader sent American an email about the award chart changes, only to get a response explaining the new baggage policy.
That sucked, but sadly it gets even worse than that.
Another reader shared the response he received from an email he sent to American, also expressing his disappointment in the AAdvantage changes. Here’s the response (bolding mine):
As an AAdvantage Executive Platinum® member, your feedback is always appreciated. Thank you for your candid remarks and for believing in us enough to share your thoughts. Please allow us to share our perspective:
Although it is true that the terms and conditions governing the AAdvantage program allow changes with or without notice, we prefer to provide as much advanced notice as possible. The most recent changes were designed to harmonize several policies between our two carriers. Making these adjustments quickly ensures that our customers know what to expect when traveling on either American Airlines or US Airways, which helps them better plan their travel. As such, it was not feasible to delay enacting action that bring US Airways and American Airlines even closer together.
Thank you for participating in the AAdvantage program. We appreciate your business.
I barely know what to say to this.
So after American screwed up by not providing advance notice, and screwed up the way they communicated the changes, their response to concerned customers is to tell them that making the changes the way they did allows us to “know what to expect when traveling,” and that “it was not feasible to delay enacting action.”
They’re basically telling us to go f*&$ ourselves, and that we’re wrong.
I sure would prefer a one line response that simply says “we appreciate your feedback and will certainly take it into consideration for future changes.”
But there’s none of that. Not even a hint of it. Just that we’re wrong, and that it wasn’t feasible to do it any other way.
No regret, no sincerity, nothing.
And this isn’t a one off response. It’s clear that this is a copy & paste form response to everyone, so this message is being communicated from a high level.
Companies should know it’s just not right to make changes without notice, particularly loyalty programs.
I’m also not someone who considers one service failure to be the end of the world, and I agree airlines deserve at least one screw-up. But we’re way past that point with American:
- Strike one was that they should have known better due to the “fire drill” involving fuel surcharges
- Strike two was the email they sent out which was completely misleading, with incomplete information and a spin that no one could possibly interpret as genuine
- Strike three was how they’re handling this after the fact, telling customers they didn’t have any other choice, and that they’re doing this so that we know what to expect when traveling
I’m forgiving, but I’m not that forgiving.
In 24 hours I went from trusting AAdvantage more than any other airline program, to putting them in the same league as the other legacies.
I’m not changing my behavior yet, necessarily, but I am now very cautious. And that makes me sad, really, because I’ve felt like American has done a phenomenal job of garnering the support of their frequent fliers throughout the bankruptcy and merger, and truly created a sense of “we’re in it together.”
And within the space of a week, that feeling is gone.
If anyone running American has any common sense, could we please have some executive tell us in no uncertain terms that they see where we’re coming from, that they’ve recognized our feedback, and that they’ll take it into account going forward?
Or is that really too much to ask for? I’m not even asking for them to promise us advance notice going forward, but just that they actually see where we’re coming from, and especially that the way they’ve handled the communication of this leaves a lot to be desired.
I just don’t see why we would trust a program to do anything differently in the future when the way they respond to criticism of this change is to say that it wasn’t feasible to do it any other way. If they couldn’t have done it any other way, sounds to me like they’re keen on repeating it in the future…
How about you? Do you still trust American AAdvantage?