AAdvantage President Bridget Blaise-Shamai appeared on the latest American Airlines employee podcast Tell Me Why which is also uploaded on several public podcast hosting sites.
American’s New 75,000 MIle Platinum Pro Elite Tier Works
US Airways had a 75,000 mile elite tier as a legacy of their merger with America West — America West’s top level was at 75,000 miles while the top US Airways elite level had been 100,000 miles. Instead of choosing one or the other US Airways Dividend Miles became the first US airline program with four elite levels.
American adopted the US Airways model and it certainly makes sense to incentivize travel beyond 50,000 flown miles for customers that won’t hit 100,000 miles.
Bridget reports that the level has met “with great success” in changing consumer behavior, shifting wallet share to American over other airlines.
ConciergeKey Improvements Had to Wait on Technology
American’s ConciergeKey had largely been an unpublished VIP level for years. A year and a half ago they made it effectively the new top elite tier with upgrade and wait list priority and public recognition at the boarding gate. She explains that to get there they “had to do some technology” to separate them from Executive Platinums.
I’d rather be a ConciergeKey member than a Delta 360 or United Global Services member at this point.
Award availability is Getting Better
The percentage of American’s seats occupied by award customers is lower than that of competitor airlines and has been declining ever since US Airways management took over at the airline. American has been filling about 6% of seats with awards compared to nearly 8% at United and Delta and 13% at Southwest.
She acknowledges that “we had moved to a point on availability that really wasn’t commensurate with the size of our loyalty program.” She underscores that “today” (with vocal emphasis) “we have only two price points that allows our customers to use their miles to use their ticket.” I worry about American adding redemption price levels between current saver and anytime awards and becoming even more revenue-based than their approach to offering married segment availability for coach tickets has become.
Indeed, saver and anytime awards are described as not “ideally work[ing] for the customer and does not ideally work for American.” In fact capacity controls and last seat availability awards do work for the customer — the airline just has to release award space as they used to and price extra availability appropriately.
It should work for the airline considering the billions of dollars the program is driving for the business. What doesn’t work for the customer is continuing to squeeze cost out of providing a return on past loyalty in accumulating miles.
That said American’s award availability – at least domestic coach award availability — has gotten better, in her words “the last few months we are on a path towards putting our availability much more closer to the competitive levels of like a Delta or a United.” I just wish United and Delta levels of availability weren’t seen as the goals to shoot for.
Premium Economy Awards and Upgrades are Coming
American offers premium economy on much of their international fleet, and by all accounts it’s been a positive development for the airline upselling customers without trading off with business class sales.
A domestic first class experience between coach and business class is great for customers, except that it’s means in some cases fewer business class seats on planes and retrofits have also taken away from ‘Main Cabin Extra’ coach seats with more legroom.
To date it hasn’t been possible to upgrade into premium economy. Economy upgrades are to business class. It hasn’t been possible to use miles for premium economy. When that changes hopefully it will become possible to redeem for awards in premium economy on American’s partners like British Airways, Qantas and Japan Airlines as well.
Bridget says that “we certainly have it in our plan to allow our customers to use their miles to purchase premium economy and to upgrade into premium economy… time to market still being worked on but it is certainly going to happen.”
I expect that upgrades to premium economy will not be good for upgrades from economy to business, and that award pricing for business class could increase in order to make room for a meaningful difference between coach and premium economy and between premium economy and business class awards.
American Airlines Premium Economy, Boeing 787-9
Inflight Credit Card Solicitations are Win-Win-Win
Citibank has all marketing channels for the AAdvantage co-brand except for inflight and inside of airports (except for within 100 feet of an American club). Barclays has those other channels, and hasn’t done tabling in airports to pitch cards, in airport they’ve only done advertising. If I were them I’d be more aggressive given the limited acquisition space they have.
Customers frequently dislike the inflight pitches stopping inflight entertainment, waking customers from sleep, sometimes the information given by flight attendants in their pitches is inaccurate.
Flight attendants “go through a modest training to become certified” to offer the card inflight. “This is a win for our employees, for our customers, and for our company because on any given flight we know that on average 87% of customers are flying their only time in 12 months so by and large when our flight attendants are having the marketing message folks on the plane are hearing it for the first time and maybe for the only time the whole year.”
Barclays AAdvantage Credit Card Gate Activation
Here’s the full discussion: