Letters – February, 26 2003

Letters – February, 26 2003

Delta Changes Miss the Mark
The following letter was sent to Delta Air Lines:
Fully realizing that the so-called “business traveler” as opposed to the “leisure traveler” is the airlines’ primary market thrust, I believe the new Delta frequent-flyer program is overly discriminatory to the leisure traveler.

I have held a Platinum status for three of the past four years. I called upon receipt of your January 2003 letter and the specialist was, as usual, most helpful. I even received a gratuitous return call telling me about lifetime Gold status when I reach the 2-million mile mark. I am fortunate that, even though my business traveling days are basically over, I should pass the 2-million mile mark within the next year, even under the new system, to achieve lifetime Gold status.

As a healthy senior citizen, I am likely to continue a high level of travel. Yes, my travel will be at lower cost fares for obvious reasons, but my spouse will join me on practically all trips. And very frequently, one or two grandchildren will join us. From Delta’s perspective, your revenue from my “bank” for leisure travel will approximate your prior revenue from my employment activities. Furthermore, many of my grandchildren and other guests (except for my spouse) will probably never earn enough miles for even one free trip — unless they become regular Delta customers as a result of flying with us (I have one 14-year-old grandchild who traveled four segments with me this past summer, and the Crown Rooms were one of the highlights of his travel).

It simply seems to me that penalizing what I suspect is a fairly large number of heretofore loyal customers is not good for Delta or the customer. I am sure you have analyzed the passenger travel habits of millions of us, and I may be wrong about the book value of the benefits to Delta under this change. My perception, however, is that the benefit to me is a distinct loss and that the change is “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
J Hugh Nichols

Good Luck, and Goodbye, Hilton
The following letter was sent to Hilton HHonors:
First, let me say that my admiration and loyalty to your family of hotels during the past few years has been unyielding. In my opinion, all of your hotels are at the top of the food chain in their respective classes, so it pains me to have to inform you that I have changed my hotel loyalty/affiliation to one of your competitors because of the increase in your award charts, especially the VIPs.

People like me who travel constantly and have a family, stay at hotels that offer the best and fastest way to earn points for a special vacation for that family. Your VIP awards were the best in the industry in regards to earning ability vs. redemption value. This is why I made Hilton my hotel chain of choice. Now, not only are you not the best, you’re far from it. I’m disappointed to be leaving you, and I wanted to let you know that I appreciate the award stays I’ve had in the past. I just wish they could continue. You must have your reasons for increasing this award so drastically, but I have to believe that there are other Diamond members who will be leaving your program because of it also.

Again, thanks for the past recognition of my loyalty, and good luck in the future.
Peter Altick

Angry Down Under
The following letter was sent to Air New Zealand:
I have just received the brochure for the new Star Alliance Awards. I am horrified to find that many routes now cost considerably more Airpoints than before … (in some cases) an 87.5 percent increase!

Stiffing your most loyal customers?! It takes us years of flights on Air NZ and partners to accumulate significant numbers of points, only to find that the cost of the awards that kept our loyalty has shot up! Well, my loyalty is suffering!

(Also) I was very disappointed to receive your recent letter in which you declined to credit Airpoints due despite my sending original boarding cards, since I was unable to also supply the original tickets.

Over the years, I have had to send boarding cards on several occasions since partner airlines, despite my having always presented my membership card at check-in, have on occasion not posted the points to my account. Original boarding cards have always been sufficient in the past to ensure that points due are credited.

I feel it is quite unfair that customers should in effect be penalized for the failings of your partners.
Martin Green

Citibank AAdvantage Card Woes
In the beginning of January 2003, I called Citibank’s American Airlines AAdvantage Credit Card. I requested a card for myself, and an additional card for my fiancee. As the representative took my information, I had mentioned that I had other Citibank cards and was hoping to have a similar credit line. However, when I gave the representative my address, I listed my New York address, not the addresses listed on my other Citibank cards. I also gave the representative my frequent-flyer number.

Approximately two weeks later, I received a phone call from my mother letting me know that the credit cards I requested were sent to my original Citibank Credit Card address (my mother’s address) and not to the address that I had requested. I called Citibank to let them know of the problem, and to change the address to the current one listed above. In addition, I also explained to the representative my frustration; my fiancee’s birthday was coming up. I wanted to give my fiancee the card as one of her gifts. Moreover, I explained that this delay was going to cause me to miss giving the card for her birthday. The operator asked me if I wanted a new credit card with her name on it UPS Next Day delivered to our address in Manhattan. Since there was no one to sign for it, much less accept the package, I asked my mother to mail me the cards.

After receiving the cards, I have found that the two cards that were sent to me were both in my name. I called up Citibank a second time and explained how furious I was at the second mistake, and how it is impacting my fiancee and myself. The representative asked me if I wanted to have the credit card UPS Next Day delivered. I explained to the representative why that was not acceptable. The representative apologized, told me that they would send a card with her name on it immediately and that it would take 7-10 days for me to receive it.

Approximately a week later, I still did not receive a card with my fiancee’s name. At this time I had become livid. I called AAdvantage and explained the entire problem from the beginning. This time the representative blew me off and treated me like I was causing them a problem. I asked for a supervisor. I explained the problems I was having to the supervisor, and asked him for compensation for any miles I would loose. He asked me to send in a copy of the other credit card bills I had charged expenses to and I would be reimbursed for the miles I had lost. He apologized for the problems and any inconvenience I’d had, then reminded me that the new card with my fiancee’s name could take up to 7-10 days. He asked me if I wanted him to send out another card with the new name on it. I thanked him for reimbursing the miles and told him that I would wait another few days.

About five days later, I called Citibank again (the 4th time). This time I asked them to UPS Next Day deliver the card to our address in Pennsylvania and to our address in New York. I explained that my fiancee was going to be leaving on a business trip from our house in Pennsylvania. This way she would have the card if it came before she left. If not, I would wait around our apartment in Manhattan for the UPS package to arrive. The representative told me that this was not possible and I could call up after this package went out to have it again next day delivered. I told the representative to next day deliver it to Pennsylvania and if it didn’t arrive in time I’d call back and re-request it. The representative told me that I should call back later to get the tracking number. I called back and Citibank still did not have the tracking number. I finally got the tracking number much later.

Finally, having the tracking number I called UPS, who told me the package was sitting in Philadelphia, but they would not deliver the package until Monday. I immediately called Citibank once again to find out why. Furiously, I asked for a supervisor. A supervisor asked me if there was Saturday delivery where the package was being shipped. I responded I really didn’t know, but she told me not to worry. I explained the entire incident, and explained why I was so upset, and further reiterated the fact that both cards with the correct names should have been in hand three weeks ago. She explained that they are not responsible for the postal service and UPS. She further reassured me that I would be reimbursed for any loss of miles for any other purchases.

I called back UPS and asked why the package was not being delivered until Monday. UPS replied that Citibank did not request Saturday delivery, which costs extra money. I called back Citibank and spoke to another supervisor. I told him what UPS has told me, and the entire situation. I asked him to call UPS and find out what was going on. He explained that he would check into it immediately, and he would call me back with in the hour. He did not call me back. However, my fiancee did, in fact, finally receive the new credit card.

Later that day, my fiancee called me to ask whose AAdvantage number was on her credit card. I immediately looked at my credit card and found no AAdvantage number listed on either of the two cards that were in my name. I asked her for the AAdvantage number listed on her card and called Citibank again! The representative who answered the phone blatantly refused to let me speak to a supervisor until I explained the entire problem I was having. After about five minutes arguing with the guy, he finally transferred me to another supervisor.

This supervisor asked me what problem I was having with the card. As I started to explain, he asked me to hold. About five minutes later he came back and said clearly, “So what is your problem, and what do you want me to do about it?” I responded that I wasn’t sure why her credit card has some unknown AAdvantage number because when I first signed up with the card, I gave my AAdvantage number. In addition, my fiancee already has an AAdvantage number. Mr. Taylor cut me off in mid-sentence to tell me that only the primary card should have the primary cardholder’s AAdvantage number on it. I shared with him that I am in fact the primary holder, and her card has neither my AAdvantage number nor her AAdvantage number. Angrily, he replied back that I should call American Airlines to deal with the problem and that they would take care of it, then hung up abruptly on me. I called American Airlines and they combined my two accounts together.

However, I have concerns that this card is not set up correctly and about how customer service deals with their customer complaints. Aside from the first supervisor I spoke to, nearly all the other representatives of Citibank have been short, rude, and obnoxious. In addition, I really have little desire to stay with the AAdvantage credit card.

At this time, I question if I should cancel it. I feel we should share with my friends, employees, and colleagues, in addition to my fiancee’s colleagues, that we should not fly American Airlines to gain frequent-flyer miles. Instead, we should start using an airline that has a miles credit card which supports their customers. I furthermore question if Citibank credit cards are all the same and if I should cancel my existing credit cards with them.
Michael Kessler

Big Changes at Delta
Have you checked your mileage statement this year?

Beginning January 1, Delta announced new qualifications for Silver, Gold and Platinum Frequent Flyers (2003 SkyMiles Medallion Program Update).

As a Delta Million Miler and a Platinum it seems a lot has been taken away. We are no longer viewed as good, long time, loyal customers. Instead we are evaluated by how much we spend on our airline tickets.

It seems to go against my human nature and it feels kind of un-American.

Don’t all of us like to get the most value for our money? If we purchase an automobile, furnishings or clothing we tell our friends that we got a good deal; we even shop at different grocery stores to get a better price on a name brand item.

Do you remember when being a Silver, Gold or Platinum had some value? Constantly there are questions which arise because of unforeseen circumstances in travel. Being a Medallion carried a little bit of weight. Now it is how much you paid for your ticket and that is the yardstick by which your loyalty is measured.

Would that please us in clothing to note to our friends that we paid more for the same suit of clothing he or she is wearing. Would we expect the price we paid for an automobile to influence the manufacturer on a warranty question (I paid a thousand dollars more from dealer X rather than dealer Y so I should be treated better)? Is there any conceivable situation in all of retailing or wholesaling where our loyalty as customers is evaluated by how much we paid; is it not usually something that both the buyer and the seller corroborate on that the buyer got a good price and good value and the buyer shows appreciation for the customer frequently continuing to purchase?

We constantly hear that airlines are losing money. Could it be they are driving off their most loyal customers? Let’s not even talk right now about a grossly iniquitous fare structure. First came small change fees, then larger change fees. Recently we were told that if we standby for another flight there is to be a charge even if that flight has empty seats and even if we have no checked luggage. If I go to the department store for one item and see something else rather than that item will the store sell it to me? Will I be up-charged because I told the clerk I wanted a pair of pants but decided rather on a shirt?

Maybe it is a group of consultants who have concocted this recent change; and maybe its some ill informed revenue control people deep within the airline.

What they have forgotten is that a lot of travel is very optional particularly for the huge group of us who are in business for ourselves and make all of our travel decisions.

And there are people who work for companies who petition their bosses to make a trip who might now simply do their business by phone, e mail or video conference.

We used to collect flight segments and they were very straightforward. One hundred segments a year made you a platinum so we tended to pace ourselves. Now if we purchase a lower fare ticket the airline only gives us half, that’s right, half of the miles we actually fly. That is not only outrageously difficult to compute but it is massively de-motivating.

For those who work for companies how are the flyers going to talk the accounting department into spending more money for a higher priced ticket? For those of us spending our own money, why would we spend more to go someplace particularly for the same seat?

There are little perks we have enjoyed as Platinums like free membership in the Crown Rooms. The excellent Caribou Coffee has disappeared in those rooms so the coffee is better now at Starbucks; the ambiance and the people watching opportunities there are more appealing to some.

Many of us flew coach to accumulate segments for those times when we really wanted to try for an upgrade. It seems that in the long run it might just cost less to buy a first class seat through one of their program when we want it but with the cutback in food service it often seems there is really no point in moving up front.

I don’t know about you but all of my motivation to advance in rank or maintain one just flew away.

Something Nice To Say
The following letter was sent to Captain Gary Rogaliner, a United Airlines pilot:
Dear Captain Rogaliner:
Thank you for your card which the flight attendant brought back to me on a recent flight — United #590 from ORD to MCO on January 24. I enjoyed your note and your acknowledgment. Interestingly, your note was the second good thing to happen to me on United in January! On a previous flight from LAX to SFO the flight attendant asked me to move from coach to an empty first-class seat. Her generous offer made my day. I wrote to United to identify and applaud her for her kindness. Now I will do the same for you.

What is more interesting, however, is that when I got your card on flight #590, I recognized your name and your custom of giving your card to United’s best customers. As soon as I got home, I dug though my United memorabilia, and I found a card that you had given to me on March 12, 2001 on Flight #490 from PHX to ORD. This is the second time that I know of that I have flown with you!

Please keep up this great practice of giving your card to customers. It might seem like a small thing to some, but your acknowledgment does make a difference to me.

I know that these are difficult times for United. I have even, from time to time, had to fly other carriers recently — especially those flying from Midway, which is actually within walking distance from home and work. Incidentally, I even grew up a block away from Midway when it was United’s headquarters! Nevertheless, the vast majority of flying is with United and will stay with United.
Karl J. Walczak

Editor’s Note: This is a practice that is almost a lost art. When Karl took the time to send this note along to Captain Rogaliner, we’re sure that several smiles resulted. As passengers, we expect to be acknowldeged and treated well. And I think the least we can do is also acknowledge the employees of airlines, hotels and car rental companies — often the people on whom our safety relies — and treat them well. Karl, you have passed this idea along. Thank you.

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