Letters – October, 23 2002

Letters – October, 23 2002

American Airlines Accolades
We all tend to write in when we are upset and want to vent. But for once, in this period of travel madness, American Airlines treated me professionally and did the right thing. So, I thought a positive letter would be appropriate.

I am an Executive Platinum member of AA. A few months ago, during a fare sale, I booked a Miami to London trip for September. I wanted to use my VIP upgrade certificates, but was told there were no seats available for upgrade on the non-stops between Miami and Heathrow. I had checked the AA Web site and saw that Business Class on both flights was wide open, but was told “Not for upgrades.” No problem, they booked and upgraded me on flights through JFK and Boston. Then in early August, AA put the same flights on a deeper discounted fare. I called the Platinum Desk to see if there was any way I could get the reduced fare and was told I could not because once the tickets were purchased, the sale was final.

I then ripped off an email to AA. Within 24 hours I actually received a phone call from AA Customer Service followed up by an email confirmation. They apologized for the misunderstanding. AA not only refunded the difference giving me the lower fare, but also put me on the non-stops Miami/London using my VIP-oneworld certificates. This is what “customer service” should be like.
Mike McDonald

Who is Pulling My Chain?
I am a Continental Gold Elite member and have been for three or four years running. Most of my travel has been booked through Rosenbluth Travel, the agency used by my place of work. For personal travel, I asked Rosenbluth Travel to book two round trip tickets Newark to Paris/CDG at the cheapest Continental fare I could upgrade. [The cheapest upgradeable fare does not guarantee an upgrade. If seats are available 30 days prior to the flight, I would be charged $300 per leg and 20K points.] After the tickets were booked, I called Continental to arrange the potential upgrade. Continental told me that the flights that were booked could not be upgraded (apparently that is correct).

I called Rosenbluth to rectify the situation. I told them that I would be happy to pay the correct fare for what I had asked for, as long as I didn’t have to pay a $150 penalty for changing my flights. Rosenbluth insisted that Continental would not allow them to do that. Continental told me that Rosenbluth booked “bulk fare” tickets and that the matter is Rosenbluth’s concern alone (or between Rosenbluth and a consolidator).

Who is pulling my chain, and is there anything I can do?
Curtis Panzer

We Fly and Do Math
Having tried on several occasions to refinance with mortgage firms affiliated with American Airlines over the last few years, I can tell you why only 11% use this service. Quite simply, it’s not a good deal. Both times, I found that better deals could be found elsewhere. The rates and fees were lower at companies not giving airline miles in conjunction with the mortgage. Factoring in a standard $.02 per mile amount, the miles earned were just not worth the extra cost. It was more cost effective to grab the lower cost mortgage and use the savings to buy an airline ticket. Plus you would earn miles for the flight(s) taken. Simple as that!

Consumers aren’t dumb. We can do the math.
Dennis Gimian

US Air: I Believe You Forgot Me
(The following was sent to Mr B. Ben Baldanza, senior vice president of marketing for US Airways, before the airline decided to rescind its decision to change its elite level qualifications).

As I read your new pricing press release this morning, an old Aretha Franklin song kept going through my head:

You better think,
Think, about what you’re trying to do to me…
You need me, and I need you …

I have held Chairman status since 1999, and I love to fly US Air. The staff treats me like royalty, and the benefits have been unmatched. When we discuss airlines at work, which is often since airlines control so much of our lives, I always brag about my relationship with US Air. In fact, I can claim numerous frequent flyer “converts” over the years. I have dozens of US Air stories about exemplary customer service, and no bad experiences. In return, I always fly US Air, even if it means taking a connection. But now, sadly, all that will change.

I am a consultant, and like most consultants, my airfare is dictated by my client of the moment. In this economy, I must fly on a discounted fare. I cannot purchase nonrefundable tickets, and never have had this privilege, even in the hay days of the late 1990s. So, under your new policy, I will become a “nobody” on US Air on March 1, 2004, when my 2003 Chairman status expires.

For me, this will mean the search for a new airline next year, because I will want to achieve Gold status before 2004. For you, it will mean the loss of one of your best customers.

I believe you forgot about me, and the thousands of other consultants in the same situation. You aimed your new policy at business executives, forgetting the consultant who racks up so many miles. So, you better think – yes, we book lower fares, but can you do without us? My flights may average only $500 each, but I fly approximately 50 times a year. Do you not need that $25,000 annually that I alone bring to you?

There are other, less strict options that other airlines have adopted: eliminate status earning miles on the deep discount fares, but not all restricted fares like Delta or have your highest status become a combination of miles and dollars spent, like American.

Lastly, I hope you will remember that I am not alone. All you have to do is visit the webflyer.com Web site chat rooms to see the reaction you have caused amongst frequent flyers.

I love to travel US Air, but I will leave you if you proceed down this path. Never forget – Delta, Northwest and Continental would love to welcome me aboard, and their new alliance makes them a very attractive alternative.
Rosemary Lavoie

Loyalty Has its Price
With 20 years on Delta and more than 1.5 million miles plus memberships in United, American, Continental, USAir, Southwest, America West and others I can tell you without exception what the result of US Airways changes in elite-level qualifications will be. Southwest will overnight become the single airline of choice for business travel.

Why? Simple. We are required by our companies to purchase the lowest cost ticket at the time we book a flight. We have no choice. Almost never is that a “stay over a Saturday night” fare. My typical non-refundable tickets cost between $350 to $1000 dollars and I fly with tourists on $99 roundtrip tickets.

If the airline won’t give frequent flyer mileage credit for my $500 and $800 non-refundable tickets, I’ll simply fly on Southwest where we get great service, low fares and frequent flyer miles. My sister is Chairman’s Preferred on US Air and flies 50 weeks out of the year. She is switching to Delta. A co-worker with almost two million miles has been a Chairman’s Preferred member for six years on US Air and he’s switching to Delta. If Delta follows US Air’s lead, look to Southwest to become the nation’s largest carrier of business travelers.

Yes, our loyalty has a price. US Air better figure it out quickly and the other airlines need to realize it and not follow suit or Southwest is going to love it. That’s the story you need to write but please interview real road warriors, not the once a year tourists on $99 tickets.
John Thomas

US Airways Doesn’t Deserve Loyalty
I had the opportunity to read the comments attributed to Senior Vice President of marketing B. Ben Baldanza in USA Today on Aug. 29, 2002. If he was quoted accurately, his comments were an affront and an insult to every US Airways’ preferred flyer who supported the carrier for years. I fly US Airways more than 100,000 each year. Yet under Mr Baldanza’s theory of “loyalty” as of Jan. 1, loyalty will be based on the price of a ticket and not how often you fly. Thus a traveler on US Airways who spends $10,000 on nonrefundable tickets is not a loyal customer because they didn’t spend $10,000 on business fare tickets. US Airways seeks to penalize those of us who fly weekly by denying us frequent flyer miles and the ability to reach preferred status level based on regular and consistent flying.

Mr Baldanza was quoted as saying, “Someone who flies a lot isn’t necessarily loyal if what they are doing is buying the lowest-priced ticket each and every time they fly. That’s not necessarily the kind of loyalty we want to reward.”

I have news for Mr Baldanza, it is precisely the people who fly regularly and who have flown for years on nonrefundable tickets that should be rewarded. It is people like myself who have gone out of our way to choose US Airways even when the nonrefundable fare was not the lowest in the market and when travel time was twice as long as the competitors. It is a group of loyal customers who will bring US Airways back to viability. But how would Mr Baldanza know? He’s only been at US Airways for about nine months.

The last time I looked, the only service US Airways offered was a steel tube with a seat designed to move a traveler from Point A to Point B. Other than free beverages and a slightly wider seat in first class, there is little difference between the product US Airways offers versus that of its competitors. For some reason, US Airways believes that I should spend $700 for a 50 minute flight from DCA-ALB to demonstrate loyalty. And for this type of one-way loyalty, the customer rides in a cramped Dash 8 and suffers increased travel time. With this type of strategy, I don’t see much future for this airline or for Mr Baldanza.
I stopped flying US Airways on July 9, because of repeated failures in service and fare structure. I intended on reevaluating my decision in January. Mr Baldanza’s Aug. comments closed the door on that reevaluation. I am now going to actively encourage all of my chairman’s preferred gold and silver colleagues to stop using US Airways until the “loyalty” policy is reversed. After reading Mr Baldanza’s insulting comments, I am convinced US Airways doesn’t deserve loyalty in any way, shape or form.
Stephen G. DeNigris

A Slap in the Face
(The following letter was sent to the customer service department for Continental Airlines)

I am writing in regard to what I believe to be very poor (and possibly illegal) customer service.

On April 16, my wife and I traveled from New Orleans to Amsterdam, Netherlands using OnePass miles. The reservation for travel had been made about eight months prior to the trip. At the time I made the reservation, I requested two roundtrip business class seats between New Orleans and Amsterdam. I was told by your reservation agent that business class seats could not be confirmed at the time, but that business class mileage would be deducted from my account. The reservation agent indicated that in the event that the business class seats did not clear, the difference between coach mileage and business would be re-deposited into my account.

As a faithful OnePass member for many years it is extremely disturbing when a request for business class is made so long in advance of the flight, with the willingness to use appropriate earned miles, that others who make reservations much closer to the flight time may take priority. Personally, I perceive that policy to be a rather nasty slap in the face in reward for my faithfulness to Continental.

About once a month after making the reservation, I followed your reservationist’s recommendation and telephoned the reservation center to see if our seats in business class had cleared. Each month the answer was basically, “…No, but keep, on trying…” Finally about three weeks before the outbound flights, during one of those calls that I initiated, I was told that the initial reservation had been done improperly and needed to be revised. At the time, the requested business class seats were made available to us between Newark and Amsterdam.

Of course, during the ensuing weeks and up until the return flight time, I continued to check with your reservations department to see if business class had cleared for the return flights. I was told it never did clear. When I checked-in in London for the return flights, I again asked the ticket agent and I was told that the return trip would be in coach class. The coach seats between London and Newark were immediately behind the business class section. Because of that, we were able to clearly observe the seating in the business class section. The final slap in the face was that there were numerous vacant seats between London and Newark in the business class section. In the presence of that slap in the face, I fully expect Continental to redeposit miles in my account since those business class miles were not used. That has not occurred.

In view of the above circumstances, I have asked an attorney to investigate whether or not it was proper for Continental Airlines to charge business class miles against my account and subsequently fail to provide such accommodations for my interests and possibly numerous other OnePass members. Further, I would like to know whether or not your office does in fact care about such poor treatment by the OnePass program and what can be done to prevent recurrence in the future. I would also like to know why we were not accommodated in business class on return flights, while far more seating than necessary remained vacant in business class.
Michael Seidemann

Excessive Charges Abroad
In March I purchased two tickets on BMI from Copenhagen to London/Heathrow on Flight BD3705 on June 26. The flight was serviced by SAS. The cost of each ticket was $164. When we arrived for the flight, we were informed by SAS that the three bags between the two of us exceeded the weight limit for two passengers and we would be charged. I gave them my credit card but it wasn’t until I received the bill that I discovered that we had been charged $302.41 – almost what we paid for the airline tickets. On a good note, I was promptly granted my frequent flyer miles on United, the partner of both BMI and SAS. When we flew from Philadelphia to London on US Air there were not any additional charges for the three bags.
Frank Rowland

The Good and the Bad
I would like to comment on Henry Osserman’s letter about first class discrimination on Northwest. My family of five flew coast-to-coast on Northwest and we used miles to upgrade my son. We were told that one of the legs could not be confirmed, but we should check at the gate to see if any became available. At the gate, we were promised to be on the list. At takeoff, four of us sat in first class while a fifth sat in coach. Next to us was an empty first class seat. In flight, a person in first class got approval from the flight attendant to bring up a friend from coach. When I approached Northwest’s Customer Service, they told nothing was done wrong.

I beg to differ.

In response to Marcia Cloutier’s letter, “Kudos to Continental,” I also have much praise for Continental’s Customer Service. I consider theirs to be tops and the likes of British Airways and Northwest to be at the bottom.

Once, I got a $75 voucher PLUS a $50 gift certificate for a minor problem on a flight. What makes it so special is that we were on a discounted award ticket (25,000 miles to Europe). But, I am multi-year elite member and have had my share of problems booking award travel and upgrades, even as far as 10 months in advance. I have seen surveys that tend to rank Continental rather low on award availability and I would have to agree. To add to the pain, even if you get an award, you will have to suffer through Continental’s coach meals which have to be the worst I have experienced.
Ken Whitford

First Class Not a Birth Right
Regarding Mr. H.M. Osserman’s letter to the editor in your September 2002 edition, did it ever dawn on him that the “gorgeous woman” who was seated in first class was a passenger who paid for that seat? Such a passenger would not have been on the waiting list he saw that only contained the names of men. Perhaps the cabin crew was telling the truth despite his doubts. Just because the lady did not board the plane when he did and his friend did not get the first class seat he wanted doesn’t mean that Northwest did anything wrong or that the crew was lying. Maybe Mr. Osserman should realize that some of us have actually paid for these seats and not everyone in first class gets there from an upgrade list. Upgrades are also sometimes given by the airlines for passengers who have been distressed by the airline. This has happened to me many times in the past. Mr. Osserman sounds like he thinks first class is a birthright from the airlines. It is not.
Jon Feiwell

Taxes Hurt Airlines
Would you answer this question: What percentage of our airline ticket is federal taxes? If the federal government is truly concerned about the airline industry, why kill the airlines with unusual taxes? I think these taxes get hidden in our airline tickets because people think that flyers are rich and won’t notice. But these taxes do cut down on the number of passengers and they hurt our opportunities to travel. It is time that we demand congress take action to cut federal taxes that are hidden in our airline tickets. Let’s do this before some airlines are forced out of business by taxes.
Mark Terry

Editor’s note: The taxes are not hidden and they do vary depending on airports and if travel is overseas. It is difficult to say what percentage of an airline ticket is taxed because of varying segments of flights, prices and airport regulations. We aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for Congress to dump the taxes, as it just recently added the security tax.

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