Letters – May, 21 2003

Letters – May, 21 2003

Loyal — But for How Long?
I’ve managed to fly more than 100,000 miles on United in each of the last 4 years, including the last two rather difficult years, and have watched the gradual and seemingly inexorably decline of service with the grim fascination of a slow motion car crash: I keep wanting to turn away, but for some reason I can’t.

So I still fly United while my high mileage flying friends have, many of them, jumped ship to other carriers. Part of the reason is irrational loyalty for the way Mileage Plus used to treat me (several times I was even upgraded to domestic first without asking; but not in years, of course) but the main reason is that despite the anti-customer changes United has made to it’s policies, United’s employees have never failed to do their very best to make things right.

My biggest frustrations are two recent changes which I find astonishingly antagonistic to their frequent flier customer base:

The first is creating a sub-class of non-upgradable fares without providing a method by which one can purchase an upgradable, but restricted fare on ual.com. As a business traveler I can’t expense an open ticket, but spending a couple of days a month wedged into coach and not being able to get any work done isn’t a good option either. Fortunately, the counter-level employees seem to understand better than management that keeping customers happy is sound business, and they somehow have managed to circumvent the rules just often enough.

The second is eliminating the unpublished but acknowledged same-day change privilege for 1k customers. It was due to this privilege that I convinced the travel department that a slightly more expensive ticket on United was more valuable than a cheaper ticket on a discount airline with which I had no status: If a meeting went long, I could get home for no extra fee. Without that perk, I can’t justify United’s cost except by explaining that, once again thanks to United’s line employees’ better sense, change fees are usually waived in practice (if you have a good reason and smile).

United has two great assets: loyal customers and great employees. To the extent that United’s management has retained the former, it is solely due to the latter’s efforts, and no thanks to their misdirected and counterproductive revenue enhancement efforts. They would do well to listen to both to retain the loyalty of both, or there will soon be neither.
David Gessel

If It Weren’t For Us Darned Customers
For 10 years, I have — idiot that I am — maintained Elite status with Air Canada, by concentrating all my flying with you. To build up even more points, I have an Aerogold VISA card and for a time had a Aeroplan miles-earning mortgage. All this for the privilege of enjoying free travel.

Like many others, I have long accepted the fact that GOVERNMENT-IMPOSED taxes, such as immigration/customs fees and the like, are charged on what are unquestionably advertised and marketed as free tickets.

But I can not and will not accept the idea of fees to redeem my Aeroplan points, or fuel surcharges on reward tickets. What’s next — maybe a surcharge for seat covers if the price of fabric goes up? Or maybe a take-off and landing charge in the event of increases in the price of rubber tires?

When the airline filed for bankruptcy protection not even 3 weeks ago, you stated “Aeroplan top-tier benefits remain the same.” That was a false statement. A fee on what was previously free is a deterioration in the value of benefit to top level customers and all others as well.

You have gone one step too far and all I can do is to strongly urge you to reverse the decision to charge customers for redeeming free tickets. Or else just tell customers that in order to cut costs even more, no customers will be served — after all, if you have no customers, you have no need for any costs to be incurred!

From a formerly valuable customer
Robert Torok

Privileged Youth
I am Matthew Smith and I am one of your biggest fans. I am also probably one of your youngest readers, in which I am 18 years old. I have always been interested in flying and in frequent flyer programs ever since I can remember. Currently I have totaled over 1,100,000 AAdvantage miles on American Airlines and hold lifetime Gold status.

Recently United has matched my status with American with Premier status and I have about 8,000 miles in the account now (I also participate in WorldPerks and OnePass). For the past five years I have flown first class every time and I hate to even think about the day I will go back to coach (I guess you can call me AAdvantage spoiled). I just wanted to tell my “young” frequent flyer story and how you have affected my interest in traveling and accumulating miles.

Matthew Smith

[Editor’s note: We are flattered by your comments. We try very hard to provide information that will affect the travel of our readers and enjoy the chance to hear about it. We just wish we had flown first class at 18.]

Dread of the Class
I received a notification that United was offering a promotion of bonus miles for Premier Executives.

The notice stated that it was valid in classes F, P, C ,Y, B, M, H and Q and was valid only for fares purchased on the internet. When purchasing my tickets over the internet, united.com does not specify what the booking class is and the class does not appear on the printed version of the internet receipt.

My most recent boarding pass indicated the Booking Code was ‘T’ class. The passenger receipt attached to the boarding pass indicated ‘Y’ class. When I checked united.com to verify my miles were posted, the website indicated my journey was in ‘K’ class.

Whenever I see a promotion that is valid only in certain classes, I generally consider the promotion too much effort to be worth my time. This is sad because I think United is losing much needed revenue because of these confusing practices.
Neil E. Johnson

Apply at Your Own Risk
As a long time reader, I feel Inside Flyer superbly informs frequent flyers about the pros and cons of different FF programs. I therefore want to alert readers to serious FF flaws in the Citibank Quicken World MasterCard “TravelerMiles” program and the repeated refusal of Citibank officials including the President of Citigroup to acknowledge these problems and rectify them.

The Citibank TravelerMiles program was, in my humble opinion, the best credit card for obtaining airline tickets because: 1) for every $6,000 or $8,000 spent (depending upon specific program start), you received ($1=1 point/mile) certificates for $100 off any airline ticket on ANY airline; 2) you could use up to four certificates for a free ticket (most cost less than $400), use four certificates for a free ticket of TM choosing, or take $400 off the cost of any ticket above $400; 3) you would earn FF miles (and elite status) on all TM tickets unlike other credit card FF programs; and 4) Citibank is the world’s largest bank which had a good reputation for customer service.

However, as I belatedly discovered, the program also has serious flaws which have not been corrected: 1) Citibank TM originally mailed numbered certificates with expiration dates instead of mileage statements but if they were lost in the mail and never received, customers would not learn about them and they would expire unused; 2) TM acknowledged this problem in mid-2002 when it switched from certificates to quarterly point statements but gives less than three months warning about expiring points; 3) unlike other FF and credit card programs, mileage points lapsed three years after they were earned rather than at the end of the calendar year. The result is that it is nearly impossible to know when points expire and when finally informed, airline tickets are much more expensive to obtain or the points have actually expired!

When I learned of this problem in late 2001, I three times contacted Carlson Travel, the contractor that handled Citibank TM account — but they refused to send any statements. I also contacted Citibank and they took several months to provide a statement and did so only after 36,000 points expired — a full eight months after I first requested a statement! Because I never received several certificates, it was the first time I learned about them and several had already expired! When I complained to Citibank, I received a bureaucratic response in effect blaming me for not knowing about and therefore losing the FF points! Thinking this was either an aberration or a potential cover-up scandal, I wrote to Robert Wilumstad, President of Citigroup and Chairman and CEO of the Global Consumer Group. However, he simply forwarded my letter to the original Citibank officials who again refused to answer questions and remedy the situation and blamed my ignorance for the loss of points.

Inside Flyer readers (should) be forewarned. It is a disgrace that Citibank, the world’s largest financial institution, refuses to solve problems that depreciate the value of an otherwise excellent FF program, plays “gotcha” games with customers, and needlessly antagonizes loyal frequent flyers. Caveat Emptor!
Jack R. Stovis

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