- Rolling out a new three-tier pricing model for AAnytime awards (paying extra miles when regular award seats aren’t available).
- Eliminating free stopovers on international awards at the North American gateway city
- Eliminating distance-based oneworld explorer awards
- Increasing the telephone booking fee from $25 to $35 (they still do not waive this fee for awards that cannot be booked online, and most airline partner awards cannot be).
I wrote a post framed as my still trusting AAdvantage.
The argument was more nuanced that that, but the title detracted from understanding my argument rather than summarizing it. That’s my fault.
My point was that American AAdvantage has deeply eroded trust with its changes this week, and was very much on the brink of doing real damage right as they’re about to make many more and more significant changes such as to upgrades and their overall saver and partner award chart as they align programs between American and US Airways.
I titled the post that I still trusted American AAdvantage, and explained that I still had a modicum of trust yet, when the point and argument of the post was that I’m on the verge of not trusting them; in other words that there’s only a small amount of trust left.
Now, I am not as excised about last week’s changes as some because they weren’t that surprising — I’m mostly focused on the lack of notice. But I do understand why they’re a big deal to people who used international gateway stopovers and distanced-based awards, especially those who were saving up for a distance-based awards. If the changes hit you closer to home than they did to me (and to the vast majority of members) then it’s fair for the changes to alter your perception of the program so much the more.
My perspective in writing the post though was that it does no good whatsoever to say AAdvantage is already and irredeemably burned, otherwise there’s no reason why they should change their future behavior. My intention was to channel my anger and public shaming at the future. I wanted to communicate to American just how important it is to give notice of changes in advance. They absolutely must give ample notice. And that failure to do so will make them totally untrustworthy
Clearly seeing how that message got lost in so many comments on the blog, in discussions on other blogs, and even over at Flyertalk, I clearly didn’t do a good job in making it. That’s on me.
I love that my comments section is an open forum, and I do not mind — I appreciate even — when the comments are highly critical of me. In this case there were suggestions that I was either evil or stupid, that I was on American’s payroll, and that I was out of touch. I found that odd when, among people who commented on these changes in the mainstream media, I found my comments to be the most critical that I saw.
But it’s precisely because these were no-notice changes communicated in a way that came across as disingenous, it hit hard for many members.
I actually do think — rather surprisingly — that the changes seemed minor to American since it’s a small portion of their membership that uses the awards they changed (regarding stopovers and distance-based oneworld explorer awards) and they saw themselves as taking steps towards aligning AAdvantage and Dividend Miles.
I’m not saying that was a fair read, just that it was likely a genuine one. The best thing for them to do would be to retract and offer a grace period, but I do not expect they’ll do that. They’re focused on moving forward and likely just hope the uproar will pass (it likely will).
Fortunately this is my blog, and I get to spill as many words as I wish (this isn’t an op-ed in USA Today limited to 500 words!). And I get to repeat myself as much as I wish (though you get to choose not to continue reading).
And since I do think the argument itself is important, I hope you’ll indulge me by allowing me to repeat it here.
“No Notice Changes Are the Worst Thing a Program Can Do”
The worst thing they can do, on the other hand, is what they did — pull the rug out from members who may have spent years saving up miles for a specific award they’ve now not given any last shot for those members to book.
…Members are flying all year this year, giving American and US Airways their loyalty in exchange for promises of benefits in the future. No matter what program terms and conditions say about a legal right to change rules at will, and notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s ruling that consumers have no state law remedy against frequent flyer programs, their is a basic offer and acceptance and moral obligation to deliver on promises which is fundamentally breached when changes are made without meaningful notice.
And members save up for years for those dream trps on the basis of descriptions of what’s possible.
“loyalty and product differentiation are going to matter less at American Airlines as a whole in the future”
[T]his has nothing to do with stewardship over the AAdvantage program. It's what I expect for inflight product, and for service standards. It's about mission and focus and the message from the top. I think the DNA that came over from Arizona believes that frills are boondoggles.
Scott Kirby is a numbers and spreadsheet guy, and if you can't quantify it and show a revenue stream attached to it you're going to be hard pressed to make an investment.
…I do expect a natural skepticism from
US AirwaysAmerican leadership that customer investment is warranted, in terms of winning incremental business.
“They Only Get One Screwup With a No-Notice Change.”
It’s desperately important they don’t do it again with a material change. If they do it will fundamentally alter my view of the program.
They’re at a turning point. Certainly they know it. And we’ll all be watching.
How a Program Should Make Changes, If It Must
Changes to an Award Chart — Best Practice is Six Months’ Notice; Bare Mininum Three
For an award chart change a program should give six months’ notice. That’s what United gave for its October 2006 changes which significantly increased redemption prices.
At a bare minimum a program should give three months — that’s what United gave on November 1 when it eviscerated its premium cabin partner awards effective for the beginning of February.
The same holds true for significantly changing awards being offered by a program, or tightening up of award rules.
That gives members enough time to top off their accounts if they’ve been saving points for years. They can sign up for a credit card, or an investment account, or take some additional flights to earn the miles they need to reach the goal they’ve been working towards. And it provides enough time for those miles to post. And then to actually find the award space and make the booking.
Anything less is disingenous, pulls the rug out from under members who have given a program their loyalty.
Elite Benefits Changes Should Give A Year’s Notice.
Members are flying all year, on the promise of the benefits they will receive in the next year for reaching an elite tier.
Giving just six months’ notices for major elite benefits changes is unfair because the airline has already gotten six months of business based on a false promise of benefits. And it’s unfair because it’s ‘too late’ for a member to just change their mind about who they want to fly based on the mix of benefits on offer. (Some programs may offer status matches, but usually not to top tier.)
American Should Revert to Best Practices to Rebuild Member Trust
In a separate post I called out not just the lack of notice about these changes but also how American communicated those changes, and I said I hoped American learned its lesson,
There are lots of changes to come, everyone is going to be unhappy with something. The key going forward is to communicate with members honestly, and with respect, with an explanation for why choices are being made, and with advance notice.