Letters – February, 26 2004

Letters – February, 26 2004

Down-Hearted in Deutschland
As a longtime American Airlines customer and Platinum member, I was disturbed by the lack of availability to use miles for upgrades on transatlantic flights due to capacity controls/seating limitations. To demonstrate this point, I cite two examples that show how American’s frequent flyer program has deteriorated to the point where business travelers may seriously consider leaving the program (in droves).

Example 1: Reduction in Upgrade Seat Availability.

I recently requested to use miles to upgrade on flights from Germany to the U.S., and was informed that there was no availability on ANY transatlantic flight to or from ANY European destination to ANY U.S. destination for at least 60 days in the future. This confounded me a bit, as winter (Jan/Feb/Mar) is not exactly high season, and I have been flying American Airlines transatlantic at least eight times a year for the past two years, and never had major problems with upgrade seat availability.

Admittedly, I am flexible with my departure location and routing and have had to change the routing on occasion to leave for the transatlantic leg out of London instead of Frankfurt, or take a connection from Dallas instead of Chicago. To be told, however, that for at least two months that there was NO upgrade possibility on ANY transatlantic flight, obviously makes the program now one of the worst in the industry in terms of upgrades.

When I checked the seat maps for seats on flights where I was told there was no availability for upgrades, guess what: Only eight seats were marked as sold, out of 32 available. I would wager that not all of these eight were “upgrades,” thus leading me to believe that American has dramatically reduced the number of available seats for transatlantic upgrades, in favor of “picking your pocket” at the airport ticket counter.

Example 2: “Picking Pockets” Preferred over Elite Traveler Support.

To my surprise, I now routinely see at the Frankfurt airport American check-in counter blatant advertisements for Business-class upgrades for flights departing to the U.S. to be purchased for $275 on the spot. So rather than offer these seats to Elite members, they are sold on a first-come-first-served basis. This is a clear message that American does not value Elite flyers, and will no longer make any effort to accommodate them. Basically, what this says to the frequent traveler is that your miles no longer have value, and for any seats remaining, we will take cash.

I have written American customer service about this concern, and have received only the most vapid of platitudes in response. Clearly, American Airlines’ dramatic destruction of what used to be one of the best programs is forcing me to switch my primary transatlantic carrier. Fortunately, other airlines offer a little known option, where you can provide them with records showing your elite status on, say, American, and they will “comp” you to like status on their airline on a provisional (short-term) basis while you accrue elite miles.
So, Auf Wiedersehen American!
Harold Rutan

The Enron of the Skies?
America needs United Airlines to successfully emerge from bankruptcy. If one of the nation’s largest air carriers “perishes,” then tens of thousands of people will be put out of work — not good for the economy. But how low should United go to fly again?

Things were looking up for a while. United received over $2.56 billion in annual labor concessions, secured bankruptcy exit financing, won pension-funding relief in the U.S. Senate, recently recalled 1,000 furloughed flight attendants back to work, and has $2 billion in cash. But in mid-January, United unexpectedly announced proposed retiree medical benefit cuts, and now there could be an “Enron” in the ointment.

The Association of Flight Attendants has filed a motion in bankruptcy court asking for an examiner to “investigate United Airlines’ scheme to intentionally mislead thousands of Flight Attendants into ending their careers and retiring early, defrauding them out of their retirement benefits.” This is a serious charge.

Until now, I have supported all the sacrifices that have been made for United to exit bankruptcy. After 26 years as a flight attendant I made a huge sacrifice last year during the restructuring process: I took a 21 percent cut in my pension every month for the rest of my life and gave up my career. By retiring seven years early, I will personally save the company half a million dollars.

Why did I do that? My wife is a cancer survivor and has no medical insurance, and my family needs the retiree health care benefits United promised flight attendants would receive if we retired by June 30, 2003. Now United wants to renege on that deal and our healthcare costs may increase tenfold. I would have to give up over 30 percent of my $955 per month pension to pay for benefits United intends to further reduce with higher deductibles and co-pays.

United says they informed prospective retirees that these cuts would be possible. This is false! Fact: I never saw any communication from United saying, in effect, “take a big pension cut, change your life irreversibly, and, by the way, we may come back and take away those health benefits we are promising you.” If United had informed us, then why did over 2,700 flight attendants go ahead and retire last year, most taking reduced pensions for early retirement? There is evidence that United may have been planning this double-cross before the June 30th deadline. That is fraud.

But United is not limiting the cuts to those 2,700 flight attendants; they are going after all 35,000 retirees. Now we are talking about older people on fixed incomes who will suffer devastating and irreversible financial harm. Their stories of hardship will haunt United for years to come.

United’s retiree health benefits cost less than 1 percent of United’s operating expenses. These unjust cuts will have no substantive effect on exiting from bankruptcy; they are not warranted.

United should immediately withdraw its proposal to cut retiree benefits because it is unnecessary, unconscionable and unethical. United can exit from bankruptcy without stooping so low. And everyone knows an Enron can’t fly.
Wm. Kirk Moore

Well Done, Delta
(The following is a letter to Ms. Patrice Miles of Delta SkyMiles.)

Dear Ms. Miles:

Finally! I would like to commend you, your staff, and Delta for the latest changes to the Medallion program announced at the end of last year! After hearing our concerns, I am glad the effort that I and countless other Medallion members put forth paid off.

Unfortunately for Delta, it may have been too late for some longstanding members. But for those of us who hung in there, Delta came through with two outs in the bottom of the ninth! I’m not saying that Delta hit a home run, but at least you had a game-winning hit!

The changes announced were especially welcomed by me since I had already written and received elite status from several other airlines. Without these changes, I would definitely be flying another airline at this moment! Delta would have been at a competitive disadvantage had the latest changes not been made.

Although still not quite the same as segments, the change to the minimum Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) was enough to satisfy me and I’m sure many others who fly shorter segments. At least now there is a better chance to qualify for elite status. The change to unlimited upgrades was especially welcomed! Four 500-mile segment upgrades for every 10,000 miles flown would not have come close to cutting it. Other airlines offer unlimited upgrades, and it is only fitting that Delta changed its policy to offer this perk to your Medallion members.

However, there are still a few other areas where Delta could improve. First, companion upgrades are great, but why should Platinum and Gold Medallion members be relegated to the status of their companions? I might agree if the companion is not a Medallion member, but if the companion is a Medallion member, then by all means, they should be able to take advantage of the higher status! Companion upgrades on other airlines work this way, and it should on Delta as well!

Next, 15,000 MQMs for next year or complimentary Silver elite status to a designated person for a Gold Medallion member who flies 75,000 MQMs is a bit unfair to a Platinum Medallion member who flies between 100,000-125,000 MQMs. Why shouldn’t the Platinum Medallion member have this benefit, when indeed, they met this requirement during the year but continued flying on Delta enough to qualify for Platinum? Finally, upgrades should be available with alliance partners Continental and Northwest. Currently, since upgrade rules are different among the airlines, these should at least be on a day-of-departure or space-available basis. Delta needs to reconsider their stance on these perks.

Overall, I am pleased with these announced changes, much to the chagrin of the other airlines that offered me elite status for 2004! Delta will continue to receive my business throughout this year and many years to come as long as there are no more announced changes that devalue the Medallion program through the eyes of its members.

Thanks again to Delta for coming to its senses! Hopefully, there will never be a repeat of the turmoil created in 2003!
Jay Zollicoffer

To Expire or Not to Expire
The Holiday Inn advertisement on page 11 of the most recent (January 2004) issue of InsideFlyer gave me quite a shock. I am a Marriott Rewards elite member, and have hundreds of thousands of unused Marriott reward points. Imagine my concern after learning from that ad that my Marriott Rewards points expire. I immediately contacted Marriott and spoke with both the Rewards desk and with Marriott Customer Service. I was unequivocally informed that “your Marriott points don’t expire until you do.” It is disappointing that Holiday Inn saw fit to commission such a misleading ad and thereby undoubtedly cause needless concern for thousands of your subscribers.

Editor’s Note:
We apologize for any undue alarm.

Nevertheless, we should make clear that almost every program — Marriott Rewards included — contains an “expiration” clause in its terms and conditions. In Marriott’s case, for example, point seven of the General Membership rules reads:

“An account may be closed at Marriott’s discretion if no points are accrued during a 24-month period. All points in the account will be forfeited at that time.”

This is, of course, simply a “CYA” clause. It is highly unlikely that Marriott or any other program would summarily close the account of any member in good standing. Nevertheless, the clause gives the program the leverage it needs in order to keep its books clear. It would be silly, for example, for a program to maintain the account of someone who hasn’t earned a single point in a decade.

In the case of InterContinental’s Priority Club program (of which Holiday Inn is a part), there is no specific “expiration clause.” However, Priority Club maintains the right to charge a fee to reactivate an account if the member registers no qualifying stays in a 12-month period.

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