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.
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