This morning I wrote about a slew of changes that American and US Airways made to their AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs, all without advance notice.
These changes included:
- American has eliminated distance based oneworld Explorer awards
- American has eliminated stopovers at the gateway city on AAdvantage awards
- American has created multiple tiers of AAdvantage standard award levels
- US Airways has created multiple tiers of Dividend Miles standard award levels
- US Airways has raised the cost of Dividend Miles business class redemptions between the US and North Asia from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles
As I said in my previous post, if these changes were all announced in advance, I don’t think I’d have an issue with any of them. When I used the adjectives “disgusting” and “horrible” in my previous post, that wasn’t in reference to the actual changes, but rather how they’re being implemented.
My issue is twofold:
No advance notice for tickets being issued going forward.
Say you’ve been slowly racking up miles for years towards a “dream” Explorer Award, and you were planning on booking in the next few days. Heck, maybe you’ve purchased miles in the current AAdvantage sale, or are waiting on points to transfer from SPG.
Overnight that option has disappeared, without any advance notice.
I mean, I can’t think of any US airline in the past few years that has made such radical changes to their program without advance notice. Some airlines have changes award costs without notice, but American has changed award costs, eliminated award types, and gutted stopovers, all without notice.
Not Delta (they did increase costs without notice, but didn’t change stopover rules or eliminate an award type).
Not any US program I can think of has made changes to this level without notice.
Not only is there no advance notice, but the changes STILL aren’t being communicated clearly or transparently.
There is nowhere on the American website that lists the change to the stopover policy, and you have to dig to find the announcement that OneWorld awards have been discontinued.
Don’t even get me started on the Twitter situation, but suffice it to say there hasn’t been an official announcement there either.
To their credit, American did send out an email to AAdvantage members about an hour ago. However, they don’t even mention the overwhelmingly negative changes, but rather only the few scenarios where the change is positive.
It’s not even that they tried to spin the changes to stopovers and Explorer Awards, which I would at least understand the rationale behind. They are simply not mentioned. At all.
Ultimately I like to do business with companies I can trust, where I can rest at ease knowing they won’t radically alter things overnight. That’s not to say companies can’t and won’t make changes over time, but you trust that the changes will be reasonable and there will be advance notice.
In fact, I have used American Airlines and the AAdvantage program as a past example of how to engender trust among your customer base. Historically, American has been really transparent.
American’s approach to these changes today is concerning not because of the changes themselves, but because the way the changes are being communicated creates a sense of distrust and fear. That is terrible for a loyalty program.
I mean, as an Executive Platinum member I get free award redeposits, so should I basically be speculatively redeeming all my miles at any given time, in the unlikely event that the airline chooses to devalue their program overnight? Miles are a currency, so think of it this way — you want to trust your currency is safe in a bank, and not have to store it in gold bars under your mattress. I’m starting to feel like I should be keeping all my AAdvantage miles under my bed!
Or to give a really simple example, say your local coffee place has a punch card, where you get a free cup of coffee after 12 stamps. You accrue your 12 stamps, and then go to redeem for your free coffee, only to be told “oh, as of today we actually require 15 stamps for a free coffee.” Without advance notice I think anyone would feel screwed by such a change.
American’s perspective on the changes
This morning I had the chance to speak with Suzanne Rubin, President of American AAdvantage. I really appreciated that she took the time to speak with me.
Based on talking to her I certainly got the impression American wasn’t expecting such a negative response. I think my opinion on the way the changes were executed is clear above, so I won’t inject it into the below, and will instead simply share what I was told.
American’s intent was to walk customers through these changes, and not for them to be rolled out prior to customers receiving communications of the changes (emails are going out to AAdvantage members right now explaining the changes… sort of).
The intent was apparently that these updates were part of a broad list of changes that went out today (the others involved checked baggage policies and inflight enhancements), and their intent was to introduce the changes in a more bundled manner, rather than having them trickle in over time.
Her explanation was that they’re laser focused on delivering the benefits of the integration, so they’re trying to align as many policies as possible. Apparently the next major thing they’re working on is reciprocal upgrades.
I asked if we should assume that these are all the award chart changes coming in the near future or if these are just intermediate changes. I didn’t get a clear answer one way or another, and even asked twice, though Suzanne explained that they’ll continue to monitor the competitive landscape and act accordingly. So I didn’t necessarily get the impression that these are all the changes we should expect.
American’s email to AAdvantage members
As I mentioned above, American just sent out the following email to AAdvantage members:
As we integrate our two airlines, our goal is simple: restore American Airlines to its status as the greatest airline in the world. That’s why we’re taking delivery of two new aircraft every week, have given you access to the world’s best network through a codeshare agreement, and now offer the ability to earn and redeem miles on both carriers.
As we continue to align our business, we have a few updates to share with you about our new award travel levels and checked bag policies:
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.
For complete information, visit the American Airlines award chart.
Checked Baggage — We’ve also updated our baggage policies, effective for tickets issued on American Airlines flights on or after April 8 and for tickets issued on US Airways flights on or after April 23.
For complete information, visit aa.com/baggage.
Thank you for flying with us. We appreciate your loyalty and will keep you updated as we continue to build the new American.
Frankly I’m kind of speechless that this is how they’re choosing to communicate the changes. It’s so disconcerting.
The email subject line said “We’ve made some changes,” so I was expecting the email would actually be honest and outline the changes, both positive and negative.
If they knew the changes were positive they would have had a much more upbeat subject line.
But the only thing they mention about changes to AAdvantage awards is that we can “Redeem for Less?”
They don’t even reference that a vast majority of standard awards went up in price, that they eliminated oneworld Explorer Awards, or that they eliminated stopovers?
Bottom line — let American know the biggest “sin” here is the lack of advance notice
None of these changes radically alter my valuation of AAdvantage miles or Dividend Miles. Yes, my “sweet spot” 90K business class redemption went up in cost by a little over 20%, but it’s still an amazing value, given that you can route via Europe. Yes, Explorer Awards were nice, but there are still plenty of great values on American’s partner award chart.
So I’d by all means recommend sharing your feedback with American on Twitter or Facebook, or through customer relations. But I’d suggest being clear about the feedback. I don’t think anyone likes the changes themselves, but the real problem here is that they did this without advance notice, and that’s what I’d focus my feedback on.
All of their responses to customers have been along these lines:
- “These policy changes ensure we can invest in and deliver the best possible products and services.”
- “These changes are based on industry trends of our global competitors. We’re sorry for your disappointment.”
- “These changes also allow us to be more consistent across combined network ensuring customers know what to expect when traveling.”
So get out ahead of them and be very clear that it’s the lack of advance notice you take issue with, and not the changes themselves. If you’re not feeling too creative, feel free to retweet my Tweet expressing my disappointment in the lack of advance notice.
That’s something they haven’t addressed, and frankly something they won’t have a good response for, because it’s inexcusable.